Does America Want Affordable Diesel Power? We’ll Soon Find Out
When General Motors began the global rollout of its Chevy Cruze in early 2009, the stakes were incredibly high. With bankruptcy looming, GM’s new compact simply had to be good. Some 2 million Cruzes have been sold worldwide since, and it’s safe to say what has become Chevy’s most popular nameplate has played a significant part in helping revitalize the biggest of the Detroit three. Now, GM believes the time is right to further expand the Cruze’s mission with the 2014 Chevrolet Cruze Diesel.
Of course we have diesel fuel here in the States — it’s listed in green at the bottom of the price sign at your corner gas station, and it is usually a bit more expensive than the other stuff. But until recently, it’s primarily been powering higher-end offerings from German automakers or American pickups with enough torque to tow the moon around its orbit.
On paper at least, diesel is a no-brainer: more power, better efficiency. It’s so obvious, in fact, that no one can say why affordable diesel cars haven’t taken off in the States, where our fast, open highways are ideal for low-end, torquey diesel power. (Memories of soot-spewing Chevette diesels may have something to do with it.) In speaking with some Chevy representatives at the Cruze Diesel launch event, the best they could come up with is, “I guess we just didn’t need it yet.” Whether it turns out to be the right move or not, Chevrolet deserves props for taking a chance with a diesel car aimed at the U.S. masses.
The Cruze was a natural platform in which to introduce diesel, as about 120,000 of those 2 million units sold outside of the U.S. came without spark plugs. The version we get here in the States is refined even further to quell any fear of the noisy/smelly/smoky diesels of yore. Sound-deadening techniques used on the Buick Verano — the Cruze’s posh sister — are ported over, along with aero techniques from the Cruze Eco such as the active aero shutters and rear spoiler.
Aside from the standard spoiler and larger grille opening, diesel iterations of the Cruze get a unique, 17-inch wheel design and standard amenities including leather trim and GM’s Mylink telematics/infotainment system in an effort to best the Volkswagen Jetta TDI, its only segment competition.
While both the Chevy and VW are powered by 2.0-liter, four-cylinder turbodiesels, Chevy’s unit makes 151 horsepower and 264 lb-ft of torque (with up to 280 for limited amounts of time in Overboost mode) as opposed to the Jetta’s 140 hp and 236 lb-ft. The EPA has rated the Cruze diesel at 46 mpg highway, easily besting the Jetta’s 42 mpg. What GM is billing as the most fuel-efficient non-hybrid vehicle on the market is also capable of a 717-mile trip when its 15.6-gallon fuel tank is filled to the tippy-top. When the Cruze Diesel goes on sale this spring starting at $25,695, you’ll also be at a $630 price advantage to the Wolfsburg variant.
While numbers and intentions are all well and good, they don’t mean diddly if the machine doesn’t work well. The press cars lined up for our consumption made that telltale tktktk’d sound, confirming there were definitely diesel engines making the wheels move. But once I was in the captain’s chair of my own rig for the day, idling out of the parking lot gave no indication of which method of propulsion was at work under the hood.
Cruising (pun kind of intended) down the lush green Michigan highway was quiet and comfortable, with cabin conversation clearer than some big sedans, even near 80 mph, thanks to the Verano sound-deadening techniques and a long sixth gear turning the engine over at about 2000 RPM.
While even today’s thriftiest cars have as much power as sports cars from a quarter century ago, some can still induce a drop of sweat or two if you misjudge the amount of time it can take to initiate a passing maneuver on the freeway. While the Cruze Diesel won’t push you into the back of your seat, power swells confidently at higher freeway speeds.
After a decent stint at a healthy highway pace and some twists and turns on suburban roads to study chassis dynamics, the Cruze’s digital MPG average read 42.6. Not bad number, considering it was achieved without trying to be economically conscious.
The Cruze has long since proved a success for GM, and the automaker is looking to set a new bar with the newest addition to the Cruze lineup. With more power and efficiency than anything comparable on the road, and a formula already proven formula around the world, the Cruze Diesel will go a long way toward anwering whether American car buyers are really ready for this type of power.
|2014 Chevrolet Cruze Diesel|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, FWD, five-passenger, four-door sedan|
|ENGINE||2.0L/151-hp/264lb-ft DOHC 16-valve turbodiesel I-4|
|CURB WEIGHT||3500 lb (mfr)|
|LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT||181.0 x 70.7 x 58.1 in|
|0-60 MPH||8.6 sec (mfr est)|
|EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON||27/46 mpg|
|ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY||125/73 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS||0.67 lb/mile|
|ON SALE IN U.S.||Currently|