We have two days to cross Europe in a Subaru Legacy Boxer Diesel, and what better way of seeing how many countries we can tick off using just one tank of fuel, and as cheaply as possible. You’ll be surprised just how many… and how little it all cost
Challenges – don’t we all love being issued with them? Well this one certainly sounded interesting when Editor Ian Robertson called me with the good news. ‘The new Subaru Boxer Diesel… I know it’s good, but to prove it, I’d like you to drive it across Europe… oh, and see how many countries you can get to on one tank of diesel.’ It seemed like a nice idea at the time, but if I’m honest, I wasn’t actually sure what it could prove, after all, most good diesels are blessed with a 600-mile range these days, and that means I should be able to see three or four countries before sliding onto the Eurotunnel, and home with a self-satisfied grin on my face for a job well done and a great story in What Diesel. However, sat in my hotel room looking at the map, it soon became clear that the more I pondered this drive, the more countries I could tick off my list. Now, if only I could negotiate a bonus scheme…
Kick off time, and the starting point I settled on was Como in Italy. Perched chaotically in the Southern Alps, this Italian frontier town is bustling with activity at 7.30am. There’s barely an inch of free space to park and take the customary take-off shot, but I’ve managed to double-park beneath a ‘Welcome to Italy’ sign just long enough not to get arrested by the border guards. Pointing north, it’s time to brim the tank, and see how far we can go. Will it give out in Germany, France… or perhaps make it to my intended destination of Luxembourg? There’s a reason for this, Switzerland and Luxembourg are the cheapest places in Europe to buy diesel, making this journey not only interesting, but cost effective too.
The first thing that strikes me about the Legacy Boxer Diesel is just how interesting it sounds – there’s that unmistakable flat-four thrum, so familiar to anyone with a liking for Imprezas, but it’s overlaid by the gentle and reassuring diesel soundtrack. However, it’s never loud, and unless the engine’s under load or idling, you won’t actually hear the signal diesel sound at all.
Also, as I join the northbound Swiss Autostrada, it suddenly strikes me that this sweet engine doesn’t drive like a diesel at all. For one, the turbo comes in so softly and with such progression that you’ll swear blind on many occasions that it’s a normally aspirated petrol unit. Old hands might miss that sledgehammer push in the back you get in the mid-range with a heavily tuned VAG or BMW 2-litre, but the Subaru trades punches, you just need to rev it harder to plumb the power.
Leaving the motorway behind for a quick play, I aim for the snow-capped Alpine mountain tops surrounding the St Gottard Pass, and see if the 4WD chassis is still as competent now it’s powered by diesel. As the roads get increasingly slippery, and the bends tighter, it’s soon clear there’s nothing to worry about – steering is sharp and accurate, the handling balance is neutralto- understeer, and the throttle response is beautiful. All that’s missing is a six-speed close ratio ‘box to truly exploit this revvy little engine. But as enjoyable as playing in the snow is, it’s hardly in keeping with the spirit of this economy challenge, and before I burn too much valuable fuel, I head back to the motorway, and the Austrian border to the North.
As day turns to dusk, it’s time to hit Liechtenstein, and I know that really I’m cheating just a little bit, as this is really a Principality, and not a country. But does that matter? It’s a small and congested little place, nestled in the valley between Austria and Switzerland, but that does mean that three countries are ticked off the list. However, a short queue across another relaxed border crossing, and we’re already into Austria. And that’s four.
With the fuel gauge still reading three-quarters, and the computer giving a reasonably optimistic outlook, considering the fun had before, it’s a quick turn-round back to Switzerland and another motorway slog to where Germany and France converge further to the north.
When we first set eyes on Germany just north of Basel, there’s little romance, it’s a lay-by. But the relief is palpable – five countries done, with less than half a tank left. Luckily France is a mere 300m away across a small bridge. And that’s six ticked off. It’s been a long day, but aside from the annoyingly useless SatNav, there’s little to criticise the Legacy for. It’s incredibly quiet at European cruising speeds, the seats offer all day comfort and support, and the control layout is logical to the point of simplicity. However, there’s the small matter of making it to Luxembourg in the morning, and we still have a long way to go…
Somehow, and I’m not quite sure how, I’ve actually managed to make it as far as Strasbourg in the long run through the wild east of France. The SatNav wasn’t brilliant at locating a hotel in the middle of nowhere, but somehow and with a bit of luck, I found a bed.
With 400 miles completed, there’s still the small matter of getting to Luxembourg on what’s left in the tank, and with the computer predicting a range of 200 miles for a 160 mile trip, things are beginning to look a little tight. Still, the end is in range, and the traffic along the windturbine infested Rhine Valley is light indeed, allowing a steady 80mph to be dialled in on the cruise control. The computer estimates that fuel consumption for the trip so far is 43mpg, but this is rising as each featureless motorway kilometre passes – our goal is looking very achievable indeed.
BONG! As the signs for Luxembourg approach, and I hit a seventh country, the low fuel warning light comes on. The computer insists that there’s about 70 miles left, which is good news to me. So, relying on that, I take another executive decision – let’s try and make Belgium. After all, Luxembourg’s pretty small, and that border can’t be that far away. We find out 30 miles later – another innocuous crossing and we make Belgium. And that’s eight. This time, I decide it’s time to fill-up and turn back to Luxembourg to enjoy the benefits of cheap diesel – 85p/litre is not to be sneezed at. In the end, we managed to bag eight countries, in 18-hours of driving, and enjoyed the experience for under £50. There’s no doubting that flying takes the strain out of travelling, but the Legacy Boxer Diesel has shown us that you can see Europe’s multi-faceted topography unfold before you from the ground level, and enjoy the experience in the process. Go on, let your diesel take the strain, leave the plane for the herd.