I hate the Government's ridiculous Road User Charges regime for diesel-powered cars. I really do. It has to rate as one of most unfair money-grabbing exercises in New Zealand today.
It's fair enough that anyone using the country's roads should contribute towards their upkeep. In that regard, it is fair that owners of petrol-powered vehicles do this via levies included in the price of their fuel.
But where it starts to become unfair is when the owners of diesel vehicles have to pay their levies not at the pump, but based on distance travelled.
The unfair part is that it doesn't matter whether the owner is driving a dinky little sub-1000 kg hatchback or a big 3.5-tonne truck, the RUC is the same at $48 per 1000 kilometres.
And where it becomes grossly unfair is when the smallest vehicles do their utmost to be as fuel-efficient as possible. They can never win, because for every litre per 100 kilometres they save, they are nailed by the RUC of $4.80 for that distance travelled.
Take the car I've just been driving, the Suzuki Swift diesel, as a classic example.
All Swift hatchbacks - petrol and diesel - have 42-litre fuel tanks. Therefore at current average fuel prices it costs $88 to fill with petrol, and $63 to fill with diesel. The petrol model with manual transmission has an official average fuel consumption of 5.5 L/100km which means it has a range of 764 km, while the manual-only diesel with its 4.2 L/100 km consumption has a range of 1000 km.
On the face of things, the diesel looks the far better proposition for really economical motoring. But, once the RUC is factored in, the real cost of travelling that 1000 km is $111 - which is just a whisker short of what it would cost a petrol Swift to travel that same distance.
And here's the rub. The 1.3-litre Swift diesel retails for $25,990, which is $2490 more expensive the top Limited version of the petrol Swift range. That means a diesel owner would have to travel a massive distance for its superior fuel consumption to get anywhere near earning back that extra retail cost - and that's why I've got to ask why anyone would bother.
It's such a pity. The recent week I spent behind the wheel of the Swift diesel was a really enjoyable experience, and I was forever finding it real fun to zip here and there in this torquey little hatch.
It only sipped at its fuel too, which I would have thought should be something the bureaucrats should be celebrating and encouraging, not penalising via that awful road tax regime.
It's relevant that the diesel Swift - badged DDiS, whatever that means - should be compared with the petrol-powered Limited model, because the two cars closely share their specification.
Standard equipment includes 16-inch alloy wheels, air- conditioning with pollen filter, six- speaker audio, heated door mirrors, and the safety benefits of electronic stability control, ABS braking, and seven airbags.
It even has a computer that tells you how your fuel consumption is going, which is always nice to to know even though the results have been rendered meaningless by those tax-grabbing bureaucrats.
Incidentally, it is easily possible to achieve an average consumption superior to the official figure.
One of my motoring journalism mates Donn Anderson of Auckland drove one of these Swifts from Auckland to Wellington and back, and finally ran out of fuel just 60 km short of home base. His consumption was a mere 3.27 L/100 km.
Under the car's snubby little bonnet is a Fiat-sourced 1250cc direct-injection diesel that offers 55 kilowatts of power - and, more importantly, 190 Newton metres of torque, which becomes fully available from 1750 rpm.
It's quite a noisy engine, particularly when cold, and while it doesn't offer much perfomance at all at lower revs, when worked harder it becomes a joy to use.
I simply loved belting around town in this little hatch, and I was able to do it without having to row through the five-speed manual too much - the available torque took care of all that.
For open-road work, it would be much better if the Swift diesel had a six-speed manual - a long sixth would allow the car to have very long legs. But even so, in fifth at 100 kmh, the engine ticks over at around 2000 rpm.
Handling is Swift-sharp, maybe even better than the petrol models because of the slightly heavier weight of the diesel engine. I've got to admit that at times I found myself hanging onto the steering wheel a bit as I enjoyed the very sharp turn-in this vehicle offers.
The diesel is identical in size to all the other Swifts on the market, which means it has excellent room up front, reasonable for those in the back, and a small load area of 211 litres that can be increased to 528 litres when the back seats are folded down.
So would I buy a Suzuki Swift diesel?
I'd love to, because it takes all the good things that have made the Swift one of the darlings of New Zealand's small-car set, and it adds diesel torque and economy to that mix.
But I wouldn't buy one - not because there is anything wrong with the car at all, but because all its benefits are ruined by that awful RUC regime. Tragic.
SUZUKI SWIFT DDIS POWER PLANT: 1248cc direct-injected DOHC 16-valve four-cylinder turbodiesel, 55 kW at 4000 rpm, 190 Nm at 1750 rpm.
RUNNING GEAR: Front- wheel drive. Five-speed manual transmission. MacPherson strut front suspension, torsion beam at the rear.
HOW BIG: Length 3850mm, width 1690mm, height 1510mm, wheelbase 2430mm.
HOW MUCH: $25,990
WHAT'S GOOD: Punchy diesel performance, excellent small-car specification.
WHAT'S NOT: Noisy engine, higher price.
OUR VERDICT: Lovely little car - but everything's ruined by the Road User Charges.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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