If you’re driving a diesel car right now, it’s likely the best diesel vehicle you will ever drive. As research in the automotive industry turns to electric and hydrogen drive trains, and ramps up on connected and autonomous vehicles, other areas are being dropped from research programmes. An ‘in car entertainment suite’ (the electronic programming which drives everything from navigation, air conditioning to media options) can cost £100 million to design so the industry has to focus its resources.
The automotive industry is focusing on the fuels and business models of the future - which basically means that they are ceasing to invest in researching, refining and developing internal combustion engines. This means that the engines which are rolling off the production lines right now represent the summit of achievement for petrol and diesel. The best diesel car money can - or will ever - buy.
Don’t believe me? Think about the Canon 1v and Nikon F6 and film cameras. They were, and still are, the most advanced film cameras ever. Launched in 2000 and 2004 respectively, these two pinnacles of their respective companies were photographers’ most lusted after cameras. They represented decades of research and advancement in film camera technology. But hot on its heels were digital successors. Whilst there are still photographers who value film and print, they cater to a niche market.
Digital cameras which don’t need expensive film or photographic processing and provide instant results which can be transmitted online (almost) instantly proved far too practical for both professionals seeking to deliver work quickly and economically and amateurs able to take many frames for ‘free’ then select their favourite. Film rapidly and dramatically became almost obsolete - the province of artists and collectors - with companies like Kodak plunging from global players to basket cases and desperately trying to reinvent themselves overnight. The Nikon F6, which is still in production, remains the last, best film camera - still coveted by a few with time and inclination. An icon at the turning point of an industry.
And so with diesel. I borrowed a friend’s Audi 31 TDV6 the other day. It’s a remarkable piece of engineering. It’s the flagship model, a fantastic drive and moreover designed with incredible thought when it comes to every single possible detail. Even the windows are double glazed. This ensures the kind of deep quiet that prevents the occupants being disturbed by engine noise, or even being startled by a knock on the window.
Matrix LED headlights dip from full beam automatically when they detect an oncoming vehicle. They even switch beam direction from left to right when the satnav detects we’ve crossed the channel. Air suspension allows each driver to set and control their preferred road feel. Oh, and the cup holders are sprung so that any size receptacle will nestle safely in position.
It’s possibly the best car I’ve ever driven. And my friend bought it with a whopping 60% depreciation at just over a year old (as is often the way with flagship models). Whilst I would argue this kind of depreciation is a great reason to buy GAP insurance if you go for a flagship model, this was not the first thing in my mind when I took the Audi out on a jaunt.
This is a car at the summit of development, the peak of achievement and engineered to perfection. But it’s a particular type of perfection. It’s definitely living up to the Audi promise of ‘Vorsprung durch Technik’ but the truth is that Technik is moving on, and Vorsprung - directly translated ‘a leap forward’ is focusing on new technologies. Electric vehicles are hot on its heels with their own smart engineering and savvy details. Hydrogen may well join them on the roads too.
So we will look back at the Audi as a great car from the ‘peak diesel’ era. A fantastic car of its time, and representing decades of advancement in diesel car technology - but a time which is likely to be fleeting and rapidly superseded. Just like you’ll never be able to buy a better film camera than the Nikon F6, it’s unlikely that diesel cars will get any better than they are right now. But unlike the Nikon, which is still in production, 15 years after its original launch, you’re probably not going to be able to say the same about diesel in 2034.
By Beate Kubitz at 28 Feb 2019, 00:00 AM