Fuel Choice Focus – 5 Tips To The Right Fuel For You


Which fuel choice should we focus on? I will admit it. I’m a petrol person. I’ve always preferred petrol cars to diesel cars. I had the choice of buying a diesel focus but my gut told me it was better long term to go with a petrol version. Most of my friends and colleagues have been the same. But even so, we have to admit that diesel has come a long way in recent years. They’ve nearly caught petrol in terms of refinement, and in terms of speed too. Having said that, petrol is starting to close the gap in terms of economy.

So where does this leave us, and how should this inform our choice as to which direction we should go? The following five areas should provide some insight into petrol vs diesel. There will also be a bonus section on electric cars, as more become increasingly keen on these. This might even include me. I will explain why I’m not completely sold on hybrids in a future post:

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Engine choice can make or break a car
Engine choice can make or break a car

Ownership Costs
Cost is a large issue for me. Diesels tend to cost more new than the equivalent petrol car. The diesel engine needs to have a stronger block than the equivalent petrol, due to the larger compression ratios that occur. Diesel fuel itself costs more than petrol much of the time, although since diesels tend to use less of it for a given distance, there may still be savings to be had. The main costs that concern me are the maintenance costs when the car becomes older.

Anticipated Maintenance
I have heard and seen far too many stories about low and high mileage diesels needing work done on their turbos, or needing their particulate filters replaced, spare flywheels, and the like. There are more than a few used car sites that advise people looking for a used car to steer clear of diesel because of the bills that may appear later on. Of course, these faults can affect petrol versions as well, but I read and hear of less petrol trouble than I do diesel. Of course, if this changes, I will be updating both this post and my mindset accordingly.

Environmental Impact
The other cost to consider is the cost to the planet. The emissions from diesel cars has been a hot topic of late, not least with the recent talk about global warming and the welfare of the environment. Some cities are starting to charge diesel drivers extra for driving and parking there, which could easily erode all the fuel savings previously made.

Neither fuel is completely clean but the petrol choice is punished less in some cities

Drive-ability – Performance and Handling
Performance is another area where I’m more in the petrol camp than the diesel camp. To say that diesels are slower really isn’t true anymore. Not for most people and not in the real world. And in fact, the in-gear acceleration of a diesel can be quite fun and entertaining. My problem is that a diesel’s power-band is too narrow, and the drop-off in performance is too great compared with my engine. If you’re in the right gear, at the right time a diesel can be pretty quick. But at least the ones I have tried don’t have the even spread of power that more petrol engines tend to enjoy.

The stronger block that diesels have relative to petrol cars also means that diesels tend to weigh more. And weight causes issues with straight line performance, braking ability, cornering ability and component wear. A vehicle that’s lighter on its feet could also potentially be lighter on our bank accounts in this regard.

Sound – Quality and Quantity
Sound is probably not what most people think about when buying their next car. But to me, engine sound makes a big difference. It can form a large part of a car’s character, and it can also cause major irritation. Diesels have become more quiet over the years and some of the multi-cylinder versions chuck out some excellent exhaust notes.

I was once driving to the wedding of two friends a few years ago. While sat in traffic, I heard a fantastic V8 exhaust note on the Oxford ring road. I looked round to see what what causing this, and saw a Porsche Cayenne. Although I naturally assumed it to be the petrol version, it was the 4.2 V8 TDI. I actually prefer listening to this V8 than the unit in the current BMW M5 4.4 V8 TT, and I explain why in a forthcoming engine article.

Excellent choice of engine for the Focus: smooth, refined, reliable if occasionally thirsty!
Excellent choice of engine for the Focus: smooth, refined, reliable if occasionally thirsty!

The issue with sound that most will have regarding diesels is just the amount of sound rather than the quality. Diesels have long been associated with more noise, even though they have improved here. My petrol 2.0 Focus is still quieter than the 1.8 Turbo Diesel equivalent. This makes it more relaxing to drive, especially as it has a wider power band so gear choice is less critical. If and when diesels come close to petrol consistently in terms of refinement, I may change my mind. Although in truth, my interest lies more with electric cars…

A Word On Electric Cars
Contrary to popular belief, I’m actually very keen on electric cars indeed. I’m a big fan of the seamless power. I also appreciate the instant torque of the electric motor, which makes most electric cars very zippy around town. On a long drive, I appreciate the relaxed environment and the smoothness. However, there are just a couple of issues that need addressing. The range, actually, is no longer one of those issues. Lots of battery vehicles can easily clear 200 miles on a charge. And really, how often do most people drive more than that distance in one sitting?

No, one of my two issues is cost, as the cars are generally still too expensive. This includes both the cost of buying, and the cost of battery replacement. But my main issue is the time it takes to recharge. If we could get to a point (consistently) where you can add 200 (or more) miles of range to an electric car in around 15 minutes, then I will be much happier. Because to be honest, after driving for 200 miles, I’m likely to want at least 20 minutes of rest anyway! There are a few other potential advantages to electric vehicles that are less talked about in my more recent piece.

So those are my reasons, and main areas to consider, but what are your thoughts? Has this made you think differently about ordering a petrol vs a diesel car? Do you agree with my analysis, or have I missed out on something obvious? Don’t forget that we can find you a car if you’re struggling, confused or tired of searching. We’ll do the hard work for you. Thanks for reading!

What are your thoughts?