With apologies to The Wizard of Oz: ding, dong, diesel is dead.
Or so we’re being endlessly told, anyway.
Despite diesel having an important part to play in the transport mix, axe-grinding mouthpieces are queuing up to tell us on national television how derv is the work of the devil.
Follow that up with a few far-reaching government pronouncements about ‘banning’ it, plus the arrival of an unattainable* emissions standard, and it’s not hard to see why buyers have been abandoning it in their droves.
In fact, by March of this year the share of diesel sales in the UK had fallen to just 32%, down from 51% two years ago. It’s a similar story in Europe, too, with just 36% of all sales being oil-fired – that’s the lowest market share in 17 years.
diesel’s market share is the lowest for 17 years
But with electric vehicles still not ready for prime time, what are we supposed to do?
Thankfully, there is an answer, and it comes in the form of our old friend, petrol.
But hang on a minute, I hear you ask: since we’re all buying SUVs these days, isn’t that more than a little inefficient?
Well, as it turns out, not so much.
And to put that particular snippet of conventional wisdom to the test, we spent a week with a Volvo XC60 T5.
First, some basics. The XC60’s T5 follows the same basic formula as the rest of Volvo’s engine line-up, namely two litres and four cylinders. From this, the Swedes have extracted a distinctly un-laid-back 250hp and 350Nm of torque. However, because they rely on turbocharging to achieve this, there are two happy side effects.
First, the T5 accelerates like a scalded cat off a greased shovel, hitting 62mph in just 6.8 seconds.
And second, anyone who’s been fed on a diet of diesels for much of their driving career won’t have to give up the accelerative shove they’ve grown used to as the turbo comes on song.
There are other benefits, too.
Gone is the characteristic diesel clatter on a cold morning, although that’s not something Volvo’s diesels were particularly afflicted with anyway.
On the move, progress is calmer, smoother, with noises from the engine bay remarkably subdued in normal driving.
Granted, the T5 can sound a little coarse if you prefer to live your life at the red line, but with peak torque arriving at just 1,800rpm and sticking around until 4,800rpm, there’s really no need to.
That’s helped by the excellent eight-speed automatic gearbox that seems to have an innate understanding of when to hold a gear and when to change up and surf the torque wave instead.
the T5’s torque makes the XC60 incredibly relaxing to drive
It’s this sympathetic use of torque that makes the XC60 so relaxing to drive – the T5 takes everything in its stride, and never feels like it has to work to keep up with traffic or pick up the pace to climb a hill, for instance.
Of course, one consequence of the anti-diesel movement is an increase in CO2 output – the T5 emits 173 g/km compared to 152 g/km for the equivalent diesel. However, because of the government’s recent changes to VED, both the T5 and diesel D5 pay the same road tax of £830 in the first year, and £140 thereafter (unless they’re over £40,000, that is).
Inevitably, though, there is a difference in fuel economy. Official figures show 48.7 mpg for the diesel and 37.8 mpg for the petrol, while at the end of a week’s testing we’d achieved a respectable average of 32 mpg. That compares favourably with the 40 mpg we achieved in the D5 XC60, and certainly less of a gap than we were expecting.
Should those figures not be enough for you, there’s always the T8 Twin Engine plug-in electric hybrid. True, it’s a much pricier option starting at just under £54,000, but the rewards are £15 road tax in the first year and an official economy figure of 122.8 mpg, although whether you achieve anything like that depends on how often you plug it in to the mains.
However, the T5 has one last trick left up its sleeve: it’s cheaper.
Spec-for-spec, the petrol T5 is substantially less expensive to buy than the equivalent diesel D5 model, and by nearly £3,500, too.
Almost makes you wonder why we’ve been buying diesel all this time.
*In the 2017 budget, the chancellor announced that any vehicle that did not meet the forthcoming Real Driving Emissions Step 2 (RDE2) standard would pay the first year tax rate of the band above. However, RDE2 doesn’t come into force until 2020/21, so there’s currently no way to certify whether a vehicle complies or not.
|Entry-level Price||£39,120||Price as tested||£51,260|
|Engine||1969cc 4-cyl turbo petrol||Transmission||8-speed auto|
|Power||250hp @ 5,500rpm||Torque||350Nm @ 1,800-4,800rpm|
|0-60||6.8 secs||Top speed||137 mph|
|Economy||37.8 mpg||CO2||173 g/km|
|Dimensions||4688 x 1999 x 1658 (LxWxH)||Kerb Weight||1777 kg|