At L'Echelette Cricket Club, near Tournus in Burgundy, a watery ditch bisects the prettiest cricket field in France. A 'catch in the gully' takes on a new meaning for fielders unwise enough to keep their eye on the ball.

And if le match was to be a challenge, why not make getting there another? Could we do the return journey, spouse and I, without refuelling?

We would have to take a diesel car because no petrol-powered one has a range anything like sufficient. From our home in Selsey, West Sussex, to Tournus and back was, according to the map, about 1,100 miles.

Most petrol cars have a range of 300-400 miles. Diesel derivatives will go further: same tank size, better economy. Small, slow diesels may be more frugal than big, fast ones but they invariably have disproportionately smaller tanks. It's generally the larger, more expensive turbodiesels that have the capacity to shrink continents.

According to my calculations, only five cars are theoretically capable of doing more than 1,000 miles without refuelling. Two of the long-hoppers are, appropriately, French: the Citroen XM TD and Peugeot 605 DT, both powered by a 2.1-litre, four-cylinder turbocharged engine. Both hold more than 17 gallons of fuel, giving a range per tank of just over 1,000 miles at 56mph.

Three German rivals, all from the VW group, will go farther. TDI versions of the VW Passat and Audi 80 get close to the required 1,100 miles. Audi's six- speed A6 TDI gets the award for, theoretically, exceeding it. And very nice the car is, too. Comfortable seats, incredibly long leg- room and exceptional quietness make the A6 TDI a great transcontinental express.

Outside, you can tell the five-cylinder engine is a diesel; inside, who's to say it's not petrol-powered? Not a cricketing team- mate, who was bowled over when I told him. Audi's 2.2 turbodiesel is not the most powerful in the class but few rivals better its massive torque and only Land Rover's diesel Discovery has a bigger fuel tank. None comes with more gears, though you have to pay pounds 399.50 for the extra cog. That raises the price of the A6 TDI SE to pounds 24,667.

You may by now have spotted the flaw in my plan. Driving 1,100 miles in a 125mph car capable of thumping mid-range acceleration without exceeding 56mph is unrealistic. Some compromise would have to be found. Respect for France's gendarmerie provided it.

On the autoroutes - the smoothest, least congested arterials in Europe (and the most expensive) - we would keep to the speed limit. We would not exceed 130kph, 81mph. If the Audi's rev counter occasionally strayed above 2,450rpm in sixth (that's 81mph), it was because concentration lapsed. Pity cruise control is not available on the A6 TDI.

After our outward journey of 582 miles, the standard-issue trip computer (an amusing toy on a tedious journey) indicated there was fuel for about another 200 miles. It was right. The 17.6-gallon tank has 4.6 in reserve - about 206 miles at the 44.9mpg we had averaged on the outward leg. The computer showed an optimistic 48.7mpg but the trip recorder, checked against the autoroute kilometre posts, was dead accurate. At this rate, we could have done 788 miles before running dry.

So we failed? Well, yes and no. Had we been less ambitious and started with a full tank from Dover, not Selsey, we could have made the return trip to Tournus, at slightly reduced speed, without refuelling.

Although 1,100 miles is not a realistic target, even in this long-legged Audi, 850 miles certainly is, given a modicum of restraint and greater use of normal roads where speeds are much lower. London to Berlin not out? Easy.

----------------------------------------------------------------- LONG RANGERS ----------------------------------------------------------------- The top 'continent shrinkers' are all diesels Model Tank *Miles (galls) per tank Audi A6 TD, 6-speed 17.6 818 VW Passat TDI 15.4 816 Audi 80 TD 14.5 761 Citroen XM TD 17.6 737 Peugeot 605 TD 17.5 733 Fiat Tempra TD 14.3 726 VW Golf estate TD 13.2 701 BMW 525 tds 17.6 697 Peugeot 405 D 15.4 685 VW Vento TD 12.1 669 Land Rover Discovery Tdi 19.5 667 VW Passat umwelt 15.4 662 Seat Toledo TD 13.2 649 Rover 825 TD 15.0 647 Renault 21 Savanna D 14.5 644 Citroen Xantia D 14.3 639 Toyota Carina D 13.2 633 Ford Mondeo TD 13.5 625 Vauxhall Omego D 16.5 617 Peugeot 306 dt 13.2 611 Nissan Primera D 13.2 611 BMW 325 tds 14.3 591 * Estimate based on official figures -----------------------------------------------------------------

(Photograph omitted)

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