Driving a Diesel in Denmark- Is This What Makes The Danes So Happy? (Pt.1)

Driving a Diesel in Denmark- Is This What Makes The Danes So Happy? (Pt.1)
Drive it Like the Danes Do!
What's better than watching the sunset? Watching it at 10:30pm!

What’s better than watching the sunset? Watching it at 10:30pm!

“You know, they say that the Danes are considered the happiest people in the world.” This statement was presented to me by my friend Flemming (who also happens to be my brother-in-law to be) as we sat together on his patio, enjoying a craft beer and admiring a beautiful 10:00pm sunset at his lovely, rural, Danish home. Either the effects of the alcohol were beginning to set in, or it could have been my clouded, jet lagged mind, but his statement resounded with me and it truly gave me something to consider throughout my entire visit.

Considering that he, his wife and my girlfriend (the twin of his wife) are all orchestral musicians and my feeble attempts at playing an instrument render me novice at best, I tended to politely nod and smile when the conversation focused on classical music. However, when we began discussing their recent acquisition of their 2013 Kia Rio ECOdynamics hatchback, I was fully engaged in the conversation. After all, I have always been a huge advocate of bringing more diesels to the US, so this piqued my interest.

Being that their family home is in the remote area of Hadsten, and he performs in Aarhus, while his wife plays in Aalborg, purchasing a vehicle was a necessity in order to keep up with their challenging professions and the needs of their two year old son. Aside from adding convenience to their daily lives, their Kia would serve as the official mode of transportation for my fiancee and me as we adventured through Denmark.  Having a diesel power plant, mated to a manual transmission and housed within a hatchback body, I knew our daily jaunts down the rural roads would become very entertaining.

Our chariot awaits!

Our chariot awaits!

Wanting to acquaint me with the Danish rules of the road in addition to serving as his personal taxi to acquire more craft beer (Oh, did I mention that now he finally has a need to obtain his driver’s license… at the age of 35?), the next morning my brother in law suggested that I get behind the wheel and take a 15km “warmup” drive to the town of Hammel. I am not sure what excited me more, getting the chance to navigate foreign roadways or the opportunity to acquire some local craft beer?

Shaking off the jet lag, I climbed in their barely used Kia and set out for Voldby Købmandsgaard, where it would soon become apparent to me that these people are passionate about fine beer. Pressing in the clutch and hearing the 1.4 litre turbo diesel fire up, brought a brimming grin to my sleep deprived face. A quick toss of the shifter sent us on our way as I did my best to mentally calculate kilometers into miles for my own personal reference.

This is just a small sample of what Flemming and I had o choose from.

This is just a small sample of what Flemming and I had o choose from.

Approximately 3 minutes into our drive, Flemming kindly explained the rules for unmarked speed zones (50km within town, 80km outside of towns, and 130km on a motorway), as well as some common courtesies to keep in mind while navigating the Danish roads. It was soon apparent to me that my lack of signaling when leaving a roundabout prompted immediate confusion and internationally know gestures among the other motorists. “Cultural differences” aside, we safely made it to Voldby Købmandsgaard and were instantly impressed with their extensive knowledge and selection of fine beer.

Two days later, my stakes were raised. His wife had a concert in the city of Aalborg, but someone had to get their son home in time to have a nap, dinner and subsequently be put to sleep for the night. Uncle John to the rescue! This was it- A chance for me to experience a true open road driving experience in Denmark and prove to me soon to be in-laws, that I was a responsible uncle.


Strapping their son into the rearward-facing safety seat was a simple task. The compact Kia offers several ISOFIX (or LATCH, as we know it in the States) points on the rear of the driver’s seat, allowing for a variety of child seat mounting options and a very secure fit. Additionally, the wide swinging rear doors made loading him into the seat an easy task as well. The rear passenger head restraint provided a convenient place to hang a small mirror to watch his expressions as I motored along.

Even James is all smiles about the Kia's well designed LATCH system.

Even James is all smiles about the Kia’s well designed LATCH system.

It is approximately 95km to get to Hadsten from Aalborg. Along this route, I would have the luxury of experiencing a major motorway, secondary roads and side roads which led through towns as we headed south. After my brief experience from my earlier beer run, I was anxious to see how well this torquey diesel would react to various driving conditions and I thought that this should make for a good test.

Driving through congested areas, I found the fairly long take up on the clutch to be a bit annoying at first, however the action was smooth and the “sweet spot” was predictable. In spite of it’s relatively low horsepower (about 89 bhp), the small turbo diesel provided a wealth of torque (162 lb-ft) in a smooth delivery, that made it 2nd gear starts possible- provided you are generous with the accelerator.

Moving onto the open highway, that flat torque band made it’s presence known yet again. Acceleration, although not break-neck quick, proved to be more than adequate for merging onto a busy motorway. Aside from the wealth of available torque, the large side-view mirrors added to the sense of security as well.

Cruising along at 130km in 6th gear emitted a muffled growl from the engine compartment. In spite of the helpfully large mirrors, wind noise was surprising abated and there were moments where I forgot that I was in a Kia… as did their son who was deep asleep 15 minutes into the trip. This little Kia was beginning to win me over in a big way.

During his moments of slumber as we trotted along the major motorway, I was mentally calculating fuel consumption and realized that so long as I kept it in 6th gear and maintained a steady pace, I was averaging well over 65 miles per gallon. Needless to say, 6th gear was quite tall- as to be expected, but the torquey diesel was able to easily accelerate without having to force a downshift. Suck on that Prius!

Not much to see here people. Just a very fuel efficient engine and a bunch of torque.

Not much to see here people. Just a very fuel efficient engine and a bunch of torque.

Transitioning from a fairly flat and straight motorway to winding, hilly, secondary roads made me ponder if I would appreciate a low-revving engine as much. To be honest, I had to get use to not feeling the usual sensations we came to know with freer revving gasolene, engines, but the smooth gear changes and broad torque range more than compensated for this.

The little Kia fared well during our excursion to deliver our precious cargo to its bed for rest, but I wanted to experience more. I wanted to really get a real feel for this vehicle and truly embrace the Danish driving experience. So immediately after we settled “the little one” in for the evening, my fiancee and I plotted our next road excursion- Ebeltoft. More to come in Part 2.
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