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Pumped over diesel

If you mention the words diesel and engine to most people they trigger memories of noisy trucks and buses that crawl down the road and belch black smoke from their tails. Or they think of an overweight four-wheel-drive heading into the outback. But times are changing - and fast - in the diesel world.

A new generation of high-tech, clean-burning diesel engines is coming on fast in everything from compact cars to luxury limousines and new-age four-wheel-drives. And eventually there will also be diesel-electric hybrid vehicles in Australia.

Take a walk around the motor show and you will see almost all themajor brands have a high-profile and high-tech diesel engine.

They are coming thanks to cleaner fuels with a lower sulphur content, as well as developments on what are called common-rail and direct-injection diesels - which deliver fuel at higher pressures and with better control to boost combustion.

Turbos also get huge gains from low-pressure turbocharging, so most of the hero motors are turbodiesels. The old days of glow plugs, which took ages to warm then fire the engine, are also gone.

Carmakers are also attracted to the massive torque available from diesel engines, which means strong acceleration at low revs, and the fuel economy benefits, which have become more important as petrol prices have risen.

Diesel power has become so impressive that Audi, which is looking to stretch its domination of the classic Le Mans 24-Hour race, has fitted a turbocharged diesel engine to the R10 racer it will use in France in June. The motor show will highlight the arrival of several leading-edge diesels.

BMW has its first diesel sedan for Australia, the 530d. It is a genuineluxury car and comes with impressive performance of 160kW and 480Nm of torque, aswell as fuel consumption of just 7.5 litres per 100km. But BMW is also pushing harder and will have its X5 and X3 all-wheel-drive diesels as well as a 320d - a huge hit in Europe and potentially BMW's biggest-selling diesel car - along with a 120d for a preview at the show.

The Volkswagen group is big on diesel and Audi has just introduced a fresh 2-litre diesel A4 and even plans tointroduce a high-performance 3-litre diesel in the A4 later this year, as well asconsidering a diesel version of its A8 limo.

Not surprisingly, Audi's turbodiesel hero at the show is the giant new Q7 all-wheel-drive wagon, which will be availablein October with a diesel.

Volkswagen will have its diesel twins, the latest Polo and Golf, along for the party at the Melbourne Exhibition Centre and intends to put diesel power into its upcoming Jetta and the new Beetle before the end of 2006.

There is also a chance that Honda could preview the Accord Euro diesel it has developed for Europe.

Even Jaguar has jumped on the diesel bandwagon, fitting a high-tech dieselengine to its luxurious S-Type sedan.

The $101,950 S-Type diesel runs a 2.7-litre diesel with twin-turbochargers, whichbump power to 153kW, and has 435Nm of torque.

Jaguar does not expect to sell too many but says that some customers will enjoythe new engine. "We know other luxury brands are doingthis but we are yet to see diesel onpeople's radar when they are shopping for a luxury brand above $50,000," says Jaguar spokesman Todd Hallenbeck.

Still, the biggest problem for any car company is getting customers to take a taste test. The task for carmakers is to get customers to test drive the new dieselmodels.

"We know that anyone who drives one (an S-Type diesel) will want it," Hallenbeck says.

"We are not just talking about people with fuel economy in mind. We are talking about a $100,000 car here; these people can afford to buy any type of fuel they want.

"This diesel offers great performance, very, veryclean emissions and, by the way, it also returns fuel economy of 8 litresper 100km."

Diesel power will also be coming from two of the pioneers in Australia, Peugeot and Mercedes-Benz, with the French company even doing a turbodiesel for the sleek 407 Coupe, which is its stand star.

The two-door model is available with a 3-litre V6 petrol or the dieselengine.

Mercedes-Benz has four new diesels this year in the latest R-Class, the compact B-Class, the mid-range E-Class wagon and its four-wheel-drive hero, the upcoming GL.

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