Diesel engines might have had a slow start, but there's no stopping them now
15 October 2007

Diesel is now officially more popular than petrol. More than 898,500 new diesel cars were sold just in the UK in 2006, accounting for 38.3 per cent of the market and in the European market as a whole diesel sales exceeded the landmark 50 per cent. Yet diesel technology only really equalled petrol power in the mid-'90s, 60 years after diesel cars became available in the UK. The Mercedes 260D was the first ever diesel-powered passenger car when it went on sale in 1936, but naturally it's not that simple. The Europe-only Citroen Rosalie should have this title were it not made in so few numbers that it was never a listed production car. The technology in the Mercedes was poor enough then that we said "there was not likely to be a move towards adoption of the diesel private car" in our road test of the Mercedes 260D.We were wrong. Diesel cars might have remained specialist purchases for many years, but by the '60s that had changed. Autocar claimed that the 1965 Peugeot 404 "takes diesel right out of the taxi class and makes it a really practicable proposition for the private owner."The Volkswagen Golf LD followed in 1980, and became an Autocar favourite as it combined exceptional economy with good performance.The Peugeot 604 D Turbo also arrived in 1980 and became the first turbocharged diesel model on the market, but it was the later Audi 80 Turbo Diesel that really illustrated how a turbocharged diesel could also be a performance car.Finally, in 1993 Autocar tested the BMW 325tds. The road test told readers to "forget petrol: BMW's new diesel sport is faster, more frugal and more desirable." Not bad for a technology that began exactly 100 years earlier when Rudolf Diesel successfully used vegetable fat to run a high-compression, single-cylinder engine measuring three metres in length.

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