The less fashionable route to efficient motoring
Diesel is now synonymous with dirty, thanks to Dieselgate, and as a result, oil burners lost favor in the mainstream. General Motors, however, thinks there’s still a future for the diesel engine and wants to prove that it’s not as bad as we think it is. Enter the 2018 Chevrolet Cruze TD, a vehicle GM hopes will help dispel the stigma on oil burners and become an alternative to gas-powered econoboxes and hybrids.
Under the hood of the 2018 Chevrolet Cruze TD is a 1.6-liter turbodiesel I-4 good for 137 hp and 240 lb-ft of torque. It’s paired to a nine-speed automatic transmission that GM co-developed with Ford. At the track, the diesel-powered Cruze sprinted to 60 mph in 8.4 seconds and finished the quarter mile in 16.5 seconds at 83.3 mph (134 km/h), putting it on par with the gas-powered model and the rest of the compact class in straight-line speed. Road test editor Chris Walton noted that with all of its torque available at 1,500 rpm, it can easily spin its front tires with the traction control off. Walton also noted that the nine-speed automatic shifts so quickly and smoothly that you can’t even feel it shifting through around six gears on the acceleration run.
When it comes to braking, the 2018 Cruze TD stopped from 60 mph in 116 feet, which is short for the class. Walton also noted that the brake pedal was firm and had a short travel and that braking performance was consistent. The 2018 Cruze TD finished the figure eight in 26.9 seconds with a 0.64 g average. On the skidpad the car generated an average of 0.86 g. Testing director and figure-eight guru Kim Reynolds noted that at its limit, the Cruze TD has a lot of understeer and that even with the electronic nannies off, they’re not fully disabled. Reynolds liked that the car was predictable and that it didn’t torque steer you into corners.
Once we were done at the track, we took the 2018 Cruze out on the road to see how it performs as a daily commuter on the streets of Los Angeles. One of the Cruze’s standout features is its comfortable ride. The suspension does a great job isolating the cabin from potholes and bumps found across Los Angeles’ less than perfect roads. With the optional 18-inch alloy wheels that come with the RS package on the diesel hatchback and the gas-powered Premier trims, the car does get unsettled over large imperfections. Like the Cruze Premier, the Cruze TD with the RS package comes with a Watt’s linkage rear suspension (Z-link in GM speak), which helps it ride better than variants with the more common torsion beam.
When equipped with the optional 18-inch alloy wheels shod in 225/40R18 tires, the Cruze TD is a secure-handling car. Sadly, it doesn’t have the fun and engaging character of the Mazda3, and it lacks the handling prowess of rivals such as the Ford Focus, Honda Civic, and Volkswagen Golf. Think of the Cruze TD as the comfortable cruiser rather than a tossable, agile, and sporty compact. Steering is well-weighted, light at low speeds and heavy at highway speeds. There’s not much communication or feedback, but at least it gives you a secure feeling on the road.
As for the 1.6-liter turbodiesel I-4, it offers generous low-end torque, so it can easily get you up grades and steep inclines, but it suffers from plenty of turbo lag. There’s not much power—only 137 hp—and it shows; you rely on the 240 lb-ft of torque to get you moving. The nine-speed automatic shifts quickly and isn’t stingy with downshifts. In traffic, however, it easily gets confused, constantly hunting for gears at low speeds. Because it’s clearly tuned for fuel economy, the transmission always wants to get to the highest gear as soon as possible. You can manually shift it via the switch on top of the shifter, but it’s slow to respond and accessible only if you put it in L mode. One thing you will notice is the diesel engine’s lack of refinement. On a cold day, it clatters loudly until it gets to its proper operating temperature, where it quiets down. There’s also an excessive amount of vibration, and you feel it on the accelerator pedal. When you get on the throttle, the vibrations get more noticeable as the engine revs higher. The start/stop system, which isn’t defeatable, is rough and causes the car to shake every time it turns on or off at stop lights.
Our automatic-equipped tester earned a 30/45 mpg (7.8/5.2 L/100km) city/highway rating from the EPA, but our friends at Real MPG testing revealed an even better result of 33.8/45.2 mpg (6.9/5.2 L/100km). Should you want even better highway fuel economy, the Cruze TD equipped with a six-speed manual gets an EPA rating of 29/48 mpg (8.1/4.9 L/100km) for the hatch or 30/52 mpg (7.8/4.5 L/100km) for the sedan. The automatic-equipped sedan is rated at 31/47 mpg (7.6/5 L/100km).
The interior is a mixed bag. There are plenty of padded areas where your arms would fall, but around them are hard plastics that feel cheap. Build quality is questionable; there are a number of panel gaps, especially on the center stack where the plastic bits are misaligned. Seat comfort, on the other hand, is wonderful, thanks to the soft cushions and side bolsters, all of which make it a good place to spend time. Rear-seat space is great with good head- and legroom for two average-sized adults for long drives. Three in a pinch is doable, thanks to the small center tunnel. Taller passengers might feel a little claustrophobic because of the swoopy roofline, which does cut into headroom.
Chevrolet’s MyLink infotainment system is available in the 2018 Cruze TD. In our tester’s case we had the optional 8.0-inch touchscreen, which is only available on automatic models with the Technology package in the hatch or Driver Confidence, Sun and Sound package in the sedan. Like in other Chevrolet models, MyLink is intuitive and doesn’t require you to consult the owner’s manual to learn all of its functions. A nine-speaker Bose premium audio system is optional, and it offers great sound; however, it’s behind the Harman family audio systems found in competitors from Subaru and Hyundai when it comes to clarity and crispness.
Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are well-integrated into the interface, which makes accessing Google Maps or Apple Maps a breeze, but there’s no onboard navigation system offered on the Cruze TD. If you like using voice commands, accessing it here requires you to hold the voice command button on the steering wheel. Simply pressing it will toggle MyLink. Otherwise everything is straightforward, making it easy for those who aren’t tech-savvy to learn. Everything can be accessed via voice commands, and like in other vehicles with Android Auto, you can’t access your entire playlist and music library. You also need to download the maps onto your phone ahead of time if you don’t want to use up your data (or use the car’s 4G LTE provided you have a subscription).
At $31,765 USD, our 2018 Chevrolet Cruze TD hatchback tester is expensive. That gets you better fuel economy than the gas-powered version, but you also lose out on active safety tech such as forward collision warning, high-beam assist, a following distance indicator, lane departure warning, and lane keeping assist. Is it worth it? Not really. You get a smooth ride and plenty of torque, but the Cruze TD is no quicker than the gas-powered model, and you get fewer features while paying quite a bit more. It’s no value proposition, but if you must have a diesel-powered compact car, there isn’t really any other choice after Dieselgate. Just make sure you can deal with its lack of refinement.
|2018 Chevrolet Cruze Hatchback TD|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$31,765|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, FWD, 5-pass, 4-door hatchback|
|ENGINE||1.6L/137-hp/240-lb-ft* turbodiesel DOHC 16-valve I-4|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||3,211 lb (62/38%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||175.3 x 70.5 x 57.7 in|
|0-60 MPH||8.4 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||16.5 sec @ 83.3 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||116 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.86 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||26.9 sec @ 0.64 g (avg)|
|REAL MPG, CITY/HWY/COMB||33.8/45.2/38.1 mpg|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||30/45/35 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||126/84 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.63 lb/mile|