One of the great things about this job is that I get to
sample some of the best and worst cars on offer. And since the middle of
last year, I've made a serious attempt to boycott the petrol pumps and
drive diesel, LPG and electric models whenever possible. As a result I've
managed to substantially reduce my spending on fuel, so my financial
contribution to the Treasury Department has dropped significantly. There's
something wonderfully satisfying about climbing into an oil-burning
Volkswagen, Citroen or Audi and achieving around 50mpg. These are cars
that reduce a driver's fuel tax and duty expenditure (and therefore Gordon
Brown's take) by about a third.
What he hates even more are LPG cars that drink a liquid costing only
40-odd pence a litre. Again, Citroen is very strong in this area. With its
price reductions, fuel-efficient diesels and occasional free insurance and
zero per cent finance deals, Citroen's LPG models are really the icing on
the money-saving cake.
I was pleasantly surprised to see Nissan also offers an LPG Primera,
which is unbelievably good at what it does: provide quality, safe and
unpretentious motoring that's cheaper on a cost-per-mile basis than taking
the bus. The LPG Primera is hugely underrated, spoiled only by bland
If I'm ecstatic about diesel and LPG cars, I'm generally disappointed
with the lack of progress with electric vehicles. Honda and Toyota both
deserve praise for putting their expensive-to-build, even-dearer-to-buy
Insight and Prius electric hybrids in UK showrooms. But given the global
motor industry's desperately slow progress and lethargy over electric
cars, I can't get terribly excited about what's on sale at present.
Despite that, I can categorically say I'm happy to live without
unleaded petrol. If a new range of cars is pitched at drivers living in
the real world (not to be confused with the dream world of prohibitively
expensive, exotic supercars from which 99.9 per cent of us are excluded),
there's usually a thoroughly decent diesel version. Yes, it will probably
be a bit slower and noisier, but it will visit the filling station less
and do more miles per gallon. Which means fewer pounds for bulging
Treasury coffers and more for your pocket.
Respected performance car makers such as Alfa Romeo, Audi, BMW and
Mercedes are already using state-of-the-art diesels that make their cars
eerily refined yet surprisingly quick. It's only a matter of time before a
true supercar manufacturer will drop a diesel lump into one of its models.
Admittedly, buyers of the most expensive performance cars aren't worried
about the price of a gallon. But they are concerned about the time they
waste queueing at the pumps. And they're fascinated by advances in
engineering which give some diesel-powered cars the ability to do around
twice the legal speed limit.
Petrol has had its day. Anybody who buys a new car that runs on the
stuff is ignoring the facts, discriminating against diesel/LPG or - even
worse - keen to give Gordon Brown even more revenue that he neither needs