Diesel is overrated by the gearhead community. There. I said it. Here's why.
On our trip from Munich to Le Mans, Máté and I got two cars out of the Audi press fleet: An A8 3.0 TDI and an R8 V10 Plus. The idea was that we'd get two disparate cars from the spectrum that Audi has to offer. (Full Disclosure: Audi flew us to Munich and provided a hotel at Le Mans as well as the cars. We've taken care of the rest.)
Let me list the ways that the A8 was better:
In fact, it was ridiculously better on economy. But even economy couldn't save it. Even though Máté says I programmed a different route into his nav, it had us both arriving at the same location at the same time. And I stopped for gas. And I made a big wrong turn. Yet the R8 was there 25 minutes earlier. Because blasts at 185 MPH are pretty hard to overcome.
On an 1,100 KM drive, the A8 used just a tank and a half of diesel. The R8 may or may not have guzzled three full tanks of 98 RON fuel that resulted in a bill that is nearly a week's pay. And we hammered on it when we hit the motorway with frequent stints at 125 MPH and more. Its suspension was supple and the seats were coddling in a mother's bosom sort of way. The miles flew by.
But the R8. Fuckin' ay. Let me list the pros:
I may have listed sound more than once there, but it's a big part of what makes a car for me. If it doesn't sound right, it just isn't right. Bringing a diesel up to high revs, no matter the diesel (bar the R18 here at Le Mans, it sounds like a fucking spaceship), and it sounds like a tractor struggling up a hill. It just isn't a mellifluous noise that evokes an emotion other than boredom.
Or the feeling that you're just saving fuel.
There are certain places where diesel works, and a steady cruise on the autobahn or around a city are two of them. But on a top speed run or on a mountain pass, you need to be crazy to prefer diesel. The R8 is the antithesis of diesel in that it has basically no torque. That means you get to have the supreme joy of shifting gears constantly and really winding it out on corner exit.
The diesel A8 is behind the R8... where it belongs.
Diesel's one trick is that instant twist at low RPM, but gasoline fun starts at high RPM. The sound gets better at high RPM. Response increases as you rev to high RPM. The overarching theme of diesel is encouraging you to keep that engine rotating at the lowest speed possible. A great gas engine, like the V10 FSI in the R8 Plus, wants you to string it out, keep it revving, keep it going.
Sure, it was awful on fuel. Awful. My apartment gets better fuel mileage than the R8. But the sheer joy that came from pushing down that right foot after exiting a corner and winding out the engine to 7,000 RPM just can't really be matched.
I had a European friend tell me once that we need to get off our diesel evangelism in America. It's just boring. I didn't agree at the time, but after driving a truly great diesel and a truly great gas engined car back to back in similar conditions, he's right. The diesel doesn't even hold a candle to the joys of gasoline.
So, by all means, buy a diesel car for your economy runs, but don't say it's the be all/end all of enthusiast fun. A manual diesel wagon brings you less than half the joy of a dual clutch gas sedan. Drive them back to back and tell me I'm wrong.