The 2014 Chevy Cruze Diesel takes a winning formula—the popular Cruze sedan—and adds a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder, 151-horsepower diesel engine that's capable of 46 mpg highway, 27 mpg city, and 33 mpg combined.
Currently, only Volkswagen offers a non-luxury diesel sedan in the US, and GM clearly has the Volkswagen Jetta TDI in its sights. "It's designed to compete head-to-head with the German diesels," said Jim Dimond, the Cruze Diesel's program engineering manager, before a media presentation that highlighted the Cruze's advantages over the Jetta TDI.
Among the benefits: the Cruze Diesel offers more horsepower, better highway mileage, standard leather seats, four more airbags, optional active safety features, and a slightly lower price than a similarly-equipped Jetta TDI. There's also Chevy's trademark MyLink infotainment system, and OnStar telematics suite. Forget about the TDI, however, and you'll see the Cruze Diesel is actually better equipped than a standard gas Cruze, with four-wheel disc brakes, standard heated leather seats, and better soundproofing.
The Cruze's new diesel engine was developed in Turin, Italy for Opel, GM's European brand, and it's built in Germany. Despite that European pedigree, it's been completely customized for the US market, and the result couldn't be farther from the clattering, smoky Isuzu diesel found under the hood of the '86 Chevy Chevette Diesel, the last domestic oil-burning passenger car sold in the US.
In fact, barely anything differentiates the diesel Cruze from its gasoline counterpart. Unless the car is running, the only obvious exterior difference between the two cars is a tiny green "2.0 TD" badge on the trunklid. Start the engine, and the note is obviously that of a diesel, but there's no smoke or smell. That's due to advanced emissions controls which include exhaust gas recirculation, plus a diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) system that captures nitrogen oxide emissions. Noise isn't an issue inside the car, either. Hydraulic engine mounts and sound dampening don't just drown out the diesel, but they help keep wind and road noise down, too.
I had a brief chance to drive the Cruze Diesel, and came away generally impressed. Because diesels deliver most of their power at low RPM, it felt quite sprightly around town—like a gasoline Cruze after a shot of Red Bull. On a winding country road, it was a blast to drive a small car with such a powerful engine. The thrills faded at higher speeds, however, as less of that power became available. While the car had no problems keeping up with traffic, it felt more sluggish accelerating from 50-70 than it did from 0-50. When passing, there's a noticeable lag between the time your foot hits the pedal and when the car starts accelerating.
Still, those are small complaints for a $26,000 sedan that will get most drivers upwards of 30 mpg. I'm very curious to see what Cruze Diesel sales will look like, and whether a generation of younger buyers with no memory of the disastrous Oldsmobile diesels of the early 1980s will flock to the new car for its features, regardless of its fuel type. I predict that while the VW TDI will always have its diehards, the Cruze Diesel may just attract a whole new group of drivers who may not have otherwise considered a diesel.
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Former Editor in Chief, Reviewed Home@itskeithbarry
Keith was the Editor in Chief of Reviewed's appliance and automotive sites. His work has appeared in publications such as Wired, Car & Driver, and CityLab.
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