New Zealand motorists are only just starting to realise the advantages of diesel-fuelled cars as more and more of this type of passenger vehicle slips on to our market.
The uptake of diesel passenger vehicles here has been slow compared with Europe and Great Britain.
One reason for this is the dirty, smelly image created by cheap used imports that have not been properly serviced.
Another is a reluctance by the Government to recognise the advantages of this fuel - highlighted a few years ago by a subtle tax increase when it did away with the two-tonne road user charge that covered most passenger cars.
Instead, diesel car owners have to buy a 3-tonne licence, paying a tax on the fuel, as truck owners do.
Yet there would be major advantages in encouraging more use of modern diesel cars. Most now come with Euro4 emission standard engines, producing less CO 2 than petrol cars.
They are also extremely frugal, with fuel consumption closer to that of hybrid electric cars.
There is a perception is that you have to be travelling long distances to justify diesel. That is changing, with diesel car prices close to or equivalent to their petrol counterparts and servicing now out to 15,000km.
There is the cost of road user charges, but the improved fuel consumption takes care of some of that - then you reap the benefits of the everyday savings at the diesel pump.
So why aren't more people buying them?
Three diesel passenger vehicles - the Hyundai Accent, Kia Cerato and Peugeot 307 wagon - to come my way recently proved that in performance, comfort and noise levels there is not a lot between them and their petrol equivalents.
In order of price, they were:
Hyundai Accent 1.5CRDI ($27,990)
The Accent is the smallest of the trio, with its 1.5-litre engine producing 81kW in power and 235Nm in torque, but it represents the best value for money.
Its performance is not shamed by its smaller engine, the key being torque output, which means it can cruise at low revs all day.
Its lighter weight gives it a performance not far short of the larger Kia, which it achieves with a surprising lack of effort, helped by a light and positive five-speed manual transmission.
That gives the driver a better chance of accessing the excellent mid-range torque, which the Accent uses at the 100kmh open-road limit. Around town, fourth provides the best response. From a standing start, especially uphill, takeoff can be slow, but once the turbo kicks in, it is all go.
Five adults can be carried at a squeeze, and the hatchback styling provides good luggage room.
Ride is aimed at comfort, although handling is adequate and cornering is competent rather than outstanding.
Styling is attractive and chunky and the exterior lacks for nothing, so the Accent does not appear to be a cheap diesel version of the petrol model.
Kia Cerato EX Diesel ($29,950)
The Kia was my favourite because of its looks, price, performance and open road ability.
The Cerato has a 1.6-litre engine, producing 85kW in power and 255Nm of torque and comes only with a five-speed transmission.
It will seat five in comfort, and has a full-sized boot rather than a hatch.
Ride is firmer than the Accent - more European in feel - and handling is better. In fact, the Cerato has a real sporting feel. It is also more composed over rougher surfaces.
The gear change is light and accurate and the steering well-weighted. But its big advantage is price, which comes in well below comparable products from Europe, yet it shares similar attributes.
Peugeot 307 SW HDi Leisure (from $39,990)
This was the most expensive of the trio, and it shows in what you get. That is obvious from the outside, with the full-length glass ‘‘moon roof'' covered by a blind and offering a different perspective.
The 307 can also be had with a third row of seats, meaning it can seat up to seven.
The $39,990 version is the four-speed auto - the test car was the $44,990 six-speed automatic.
Both share a 2-litre engine that thumps the other two diesels, with 100kW in power and 320Nm in torque.
With six speeds on tap, the 307 covers all the bases, keeping the lusty but quiet engine operating perfectly within the turbo power band.
Performance matches its petrol equivalent, mainly through its prodigious torque, and it is extremely long-legged on the open road in top gear.
The 307 has better spread of performance throughout its rev range, thanks to the larger engine. The car cruises on the torque band, helped by a transmission that has an uncanny ability to out-think the driver, making its manual mode somewhat superfluous.
The longer wheelbase of the 307 provides a typical Peugeot cossetting ride with a flexible chassis that manages to give nothing away in handling.
Steering is very communicative and the 307 has a sporting feel to it. The supple suspension takes care of bumps in the corner without the 307 deviating from its line.
It looks good with its massive, smiling grille - now a Peugeot family trait.
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