You should always test drive a car to see if it suits your needs, and thats even more true when youre choosing between a petrol-powered car and a diesel. Dont just look at the numbers on a piece of paper, because once youve driven the cars you may well find that the option you prefer is the more expensive to run, but that youre happy to pay for it.
Its a long time since diesel engines were all clatter and bang, but in general petrols are still quieter, smoother and more refined. There are always exceptions to the rule, with some small super- and turbocharged petrols coarser than you might think.
The differences in how the two engines behave is still poles apart, however. A diesel tends to develop maximum torque the shove you need to pick up speed at lower engine revs than a petrol. That means you can change up earlier as you accelerate through the gears, whereas in a petrol its better to let the engine run to higher revs before you change gear. A petrol and a diesel might have exactly the same 0-60mph sprint time, then, but theyll get there very differently.
A diesel will offer a surge in acceleration as you hit peak torque in each gear, and will feel like its being pushed along by a series of powerful waves as you change up through the gears. You might find the earlier gearchange point in the diesel more relaxing, too, simply because the engine isnt working as hard.
By contrast, a petrol engines power delivery tends to feel more progressive, with power feeding in more smoothly as the revs rise. For sheer thrills its hard to ignore the racier nature of most petrols, particularly those that have been tuned for higher performance. Youll spend more of your time changing gear, though, and for some people thats just too tiring to live with, day to day.