Just a few years ago, you'd struggle to find a diesel car in any performance magazine. They were economical but slow and about as much fun as E. coli poisoning. Not anymore, now they're threatening to usurp gas-runners at the head of the sports car field and machines like the Hartge 330d could convert the most ardent petrolhead.

Taxation and fuel prices have forced Europeans behind the wheels of oil-burners, since the gas for a long journey on the far side of the Atlantic now costs more than a Business Class ticket. The manufacturers have responded with rampant investment, technological leaps forward, and sports cars that can top 40 mpg.

Check the new Audi R10 Le Mans car for proof. If a diesel can win the world's greatest race (which it did) then we have to take the technology seriously. Cheap gas and a general lack of interest limited diesel to tractors and trucks in the States, but that is changing. The E320 Cdi has attracted healthy advance orders and BMW is watching closely. A new war is about to break out, and you'll love it.

Now the bi-turbo, 272-bhp BMW 535d and Jaguar's 207-bhp twin-turbo diesel S Class are among the superstars of Europe's motoring world. Skoda has even launched a diesel hot hatch, the Fabia RS. But, the 330d, which boasts a low pressure turbo and 228 bhp, has been lauded as the best compromise between performance and economy on the market right now. And horsepower is only half the story.

The torque delivered by diesel powerplants is monumental. Low-down torque beats high-revs power hands down on the corner exits and real-world-overtaking opportunities, and the new hardcore diesels are manna from Heaven for the tuners.

It's ridiculously simple to boost a diesel: no new airbox, no new turbo, no new exhaust, and hardly any fuel. You really struggle to throw money at these things.

Diesel is injected directly into the cylinder, ignites thanks to the heat of the compressed air, not spark plugs, and burns at a higher compression ratio than gasoline, which comes with two pluses: efficiency and a much stronger build. They won't rev high-this car runs out at 6000 rpm, but that doesn't matter when each rev produces more twisted power than a Middle Eastern dictator.

The block must be near unburstable when it leaves the production line, too. So, to tune them, you don't have to start bulking up components. It's just a case of fiddling with the ECU and changing the fuel injection parameters.

Even the standard 330d makes 369 lb-ft of torque. And Hartge's, with a new plug-and-play chip, is good for 275 bhp and produces a simply ridiculous 406 lb-ft of torque at 1900 rpm. The high-revving M5 makes just 383 lb-ft, which still beats the Ferrari F430. And, under hard use, the M5 returns about 10 mpg.

The end result is a car that can hit 60 mph in 6 seconds, but the real difference comes in the punch on the move. The great thing about diesel power is you don't need the right gear to build momentum, just mash the accelerator from cruising revs and the car just goes.

In the old days, there would be payback in noise, with a rattling, agricultural, and obscenely loud powerplant. Now, thanks to common-rail injection and a raft of other refinements, the soundtrack has a light rumble that betrays the fact you stop at the black pump, as well as a slight vibration from the clutch, but they're minor complaints. And with a pair of Hartge tips, the 330d sounds almost sonorous.

And it's not painful to drive fast. I didn't have much chance against Volke Schu in the 500-bhp Hartge H50 Kompressor, but the turn of speed this car produced in the pursuit was shocking. Out of the corners, the 330d feels slingshot fast.

This is a car that never falls short. You could cruise past gas stations, laughing at the M5s queuing to fill up, before booting the throttle and overtaking almost anything-in sixth gear. Until you've driven a modern diesel of this caliber, you just won't get it.

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