On the other, tax specialists are trumpeting its use from the rooftops, pointing out that diesel is cost-effective from a pence per mile and tax point of the view and a star in the environment stakes with its lower carbon dioxide emissions.
As a result, fleet drivers have been turning to diesel in droves since the introduction of the new benefit-in-kind tax system in April.
Climbing aboard the latest addition to our test fleet, the Volkswagen Passat 2.0 Sport, I was immediately impressed by its quiet ambience and its smooth petrol powerplant. Sorry, but no diesel I've ever driven can come close to this.
The Passat is current holder of the Fleet News' upper- medium car of the year title and in my opinion it is a worthy winner. The car might not win prizes for the style of its interior – it is typical no-nonsense plain German fare – but when it comes to engineering, you won't find better at this price.
Standard specification on this vehicle is high. ABS brakes, electronic stabilisation program, air conditioning, alarm, alloy wheels, all-round airbags, sports seats and suspension, CD autochanger and rain-sensing wipers all come as part of the package.
Our vehicle also has optional bi-xenon headlights and washers at £825, solar-powered sunroof (£675), tinted glass (£155), parking sensor (£295), winter pack (heated seats and heated windscreen washer jets (£210) and cruise control (£325). I'd definitely have the parking sensor – a brilliant yet simple safety aid – but I'd do without the rest as a way of nailing down my benefit-in-kind bill a bit.
A bit of number crunching with the fuel cost figures brought out an interesting conundrum between this car and its diesel stablemate, the TDI PD 130 Sport. On fuel, the diesel wins hands down. It achieves 50.4mpg on the combined cycle as opposed to 34.9mpg, which means that over a 60,000-mile lifecycle it will cost £4,083 in fuel against the petrol's £5,793. But the diesel is nearly £2,000 more expensive than the petrol, so the petrol wins by £235.
On the benefit-in-kind tax front, the cars are about evenly matched. The petrol model emits 194 grams of CO2 per kilometre, putting it in the 20% tax bracket. The diesel manages 157g/km and with the 3% diesel supplement, is charged at 18%. In real terms, a 22% taxpayer will cough up £62.45 a month for the diesel and £62.26 for the petrol.
So despite all the recent hoo-hah about how good diesel cars are, this petrol model still makes a strong fleet case for itself – and is nearly a second quicker in the 0-60mph dash.
Company car tax bill 2002 (22% taxpayer) £72.19 per month