Petrol v diesel dilemma

Green or black pump? Diesel fan ANDY RUSSELL says the Audi A3 1.4 TFSI could turn him into a petrolhead.Diesel dilemma or petrol poser? For many drivers choosing is a real problem.

Green or black pump? Diesel fan ANDY RUSSELL says the Audi A3 1.4 TFSI could turn him into a petrolhead.

Diesel dilemma or petrol poser? For many drivers choosing is a real problem.

With fuel prices soaring again, diesel would seem the obvious choice as drivers look to save a packet at the pumps. But look at the total costs and the reality can be very different.


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Yes, diesels do more miles to the gallon and it now costs virtually the same to fill up at the black pump rather than the green one. Against this, diesel cars tend to cost more to buy and service, but you may pay less in annual road tax and company car drivers could pay less personal tax. For private owners, the financial millstone is depreciation. OK, diesels have tended to hold their money better… but modern petrol engines are increasingly attractive.

Even after you've figured it out, you have take into account whether you're a petrolhead or a die-hard diesel driver, how many miles you do a year and whether you do lots of short trips or longer runs.

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If you'd asked me a couple of years go I would have sworn by diesels, but now I'm not so sure, especially after driving the latest 1.4-litre turbo petrol Audi A3 Sportback with a standard automatic start/stop system which cuts the engine when the car is stationary and fires it up when you press the clutch pedal.

Before you even drive it, it puts up a good case for itself.

The 1.4 TFSI is nearly two grand less than the diesels, be it the new 1.6 TDI or 140PS 2.0TDI - that buys a lot of fuel. But over three years and 36,000 miles it holds its value as well as the diesels with all three worth just over half their cost new.

The 1.4 TFSI falls well short of the 1.6 TDI's claimed 68.9mpg or the 140PS 2.0 TDI's 64.2mpg on the combined cycle, but its 48.7mpg would have been considered good going from a diesel a few years ago.

I drove a 1.4 TFSI and 2.0 TDI Volkswagen Golf back to back over the same real-world test route and the reality was the diesel managed only a couple of miles per gallon more.

When you weigh up performance, the 125PS 1.4 TFSI's 0-62mph time of 9.4 seconds trounces the 105PS 1.6 TDI which takes more than three seconds longer and isn't far short of the 140PS 2.0 TDI which, like the 1.4 TFSI now also features auto start-stop as standard. The 1.4 petrol engine's emissions of 134g/km, helped by the start/stop system, means company car drivers will be taxed on 15pc of the lower list price, compared to 13pc for the diesels.

Swayed yet? Well, driving the 1.4 TFSI could seal the deal.

With 125PS on tap and a smooth, free-revving nature, this peppy little engine has more than enough performance for most situations when you make use of the slick six-speed manual gearbox. But you don't forego the low-down flexibility of a diesel with maximum torque from 1,500rpm to 4,000rpm. It makes it ideal for everyday driving, especially if you do a lot of rush-hour motoring where that start/stop function will pay dividends in your wallet and to the environment by not wasting petrol going nowhere.

The A3 is not as rewarding to drive as the rear-wheel drive BMW 1 Series but it doesn't disappoint and, with a lighter petrol engine over the front wheels, I was impressed by the agile, well-mannered feel of my Sport model test-car with its precise, well-weighted power steering and firmer sport suspension which makes it feel tauter through corners. The downside is that, combined with bigger 17in wheels, the ride is firmer and tyre noise more noticeable, partly because the engine is so muted, but if you're looking for a more entertaining drive it's a worthwhile trade-off.

AUDI A3 SPORTBACK 1.4 TFSI START/STOP SPORT

The A3 has always been a popular Audi, new or used, especially the five-door Sportback. The interior is classy, well-built and easy on the eye and the hands with straightforward switchgear, there's decent legroom in the back for six-foot passengers and a deep, square 370-litre boot. Fold the 60/40 rear seats down and you have a small estate although they step up from the boot floor and there is a sill to lift loads over.

The A3 is available in Standard, SE, Sport and S line models. All come with air-conditioning, six airbags, stability control and anti-lock brakes. SE adds steering wheel controls, trip computer, front fog lamps and upgraded alloy wheels and Sport has sports seats, aluminium cabin inlays and sport suspension. S line gets 18in wheels, sporty bodykit and interior trim and part-leather upholstery.

Figuring out whether to choose diesel or petrol involves serious number-crunching. If you do high mileage, the diesels make sense but for the average driver the 1.4 TFSI engine certainly adds up.

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