Chevrolet Cruze Diesel — High efficiency

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Diesel engines have become more powerful, more refined and more fuel efficient, yet the number of diesel-powered cars in the U.S. remain almost non-existent. People who want the advantages of a diesel engine in their family vehicle have turned to Volkswagen, which for years has held a virtual monopoly on the affordable diesel-car market.

Chevrolet hopes
to change things up with its new 2014 Cruze clean turbo diesel. We found it a worthy alternative to the popular VW Jetta diesel. And the fact that it's housed in the Cruze — perhaps the best compact sedan to ever wear the bowtie emblem and one of the most popular sedans in America with a quarter million sold last year — is a big plus. Add to that 46 mpg highway mileage, the best of any new non-hybrid car in America.

If you have no recent experience with diesel engines, but remember the bad times of the past, forget it. The last Chevrolet diesel came in the 1986 Chevette, a bad car and a bad engine. Technology has come a long way including diesel development.

All traces of diesel smell and sluggishness are gone and all that remains is a low, unobtrusive, mostly unheard sound of diesel clatter. Cruze has the same extra sound deadening material that
goes into the upscale Buick Verano creating the interior solitude. And Chevrolet has considerable experience with this diesel engine with more than 35,000 sold globally last year.

The 2.0-liter 4-cylinder makes 151 horsepower and 264 pound-feet of torque. Mated to a reworked version of the Cruze six-speed automatic it will move the sedan from 0 to 60 mph in a respectable 8.6 seconds. And in hundreds of miles of testing we found accelerating around slower moving vehicles was a snap, as was merging into 65 mph traffic. One reason for the exemplary mid-range power is an “overboost” feature capable of increasing torque to an estimated 280 pound-feet for short bursts when needed. If extra momentum is needed even at 75 mph and a steady 2,000 rpm the Cruze diesel responds with gusto. 

The engine has an estimated range of 717 highway miles on one tank of fuel with its 27/46 mpg rating, which will result in more pit stops for the restroom than for fuel on a long-distance drive. And unlike hybrids, where realizing the EPA numbers takes a great measure of careful driving, it's not unusual for a diesel engine driven responsibly to exceed the published mileage. Hybrids do have an advantage in stop and go driving where they perform at their best.

With all good things automotive, there are downsides. Like many other diesels in the U.S., the Cruze has to use urea injected into the exhaust stream to neutralize pollution. It has to be replaced every 10,000 to 15,000 miles. And the 4.5-gallon tank that holds the chemical has forced elimination of the spare tire. In its place is a can of fix-a-flat. Another downside is the cost of diesel, which is now running on average about 30 cents more per gallon than regular.

The Cruze has a well-made and very attractive cabin. Fit and finish are as good as it gets in the segment. Textures are pleasing. Knobs are soft to the touch and impart a substantial feel. The glossy black insets, the brushed-aluminum trim and the blue backlit gauges all speak of substance beyond the price point of the car.

We think Chevrolet’s gauge layout is among the best in the segment. We particularly like the digital information screen between the speedometer and tachometer.

Exterior styling is also on the positive side. Chevrolet designers have taken the safe route and they have done a creditable job in creating an attractive, but conservative stance that should wear well over the decade. We like it when manufacturers push the design envelope and get away with it (Hyundai Sonata and Elantra, for instance), but there’s something to be said for staying on the safe side, especially when it’s done as well as the Cruze.

Chevrolet has put the Cruze diesel at the top of the lineup starting at $25,695. If you are looking strictly for fuel economy, the mid-trim Eco model with the 1.4-liter gas engine starts at $20,645 and is EPA-rated at 28 city/42 highway. But if you enjoy some of the amenities of driving life and planned on purchasing at least a mid-level trim, than the diesel makes sense. Our test car came with some desirable options including navigation and a premium nine-speaker audio system. Bottom line: $27,315.

Base price: $25,695; as driven, $27,315
Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder diesel
Horsepower: 151 @ 4,000 rpm
Torque: 264 pound-feet @ 2,600 rpm
Drive: front wheel
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 105.7 inches
Length: 181 inches
Curb weight: 3,475 pounds
Turning circle: 35.7 feet
Luggage capacity: 13.3 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 15.6 gallons (diesel)
EPA rating: 46 highway, 27 city
0-60: 8.6 seconds (manufacturer)
Also consider: VW Jetta diesel, Ford C-Max hybrid, Toyota Prius v

The good
• Fuel-efficient diesel engine
• Rewarding performance
• Attractive interior

The Bad
• High cost of diesel fuel

The Ugly
• Urea tank eliminates spare tire