2014 Chevy Cruze Diesel

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I’m not sure what to think of the new Chevy Cruze diesel.Cruze lead

On the one hand, it’s very appealing: EPA says 46 on the highway (I got close to 50 a couple of times). It’s also quicker to 60 than any gas-powered Cruze. And it’s quiet, doesn’t smoke – or stink.

On the other hand, it costs almost $1,900 more than a Jetta TDI  – which rates 42 MPG highway (and which also can do better than that) and which – like all modern passenger car diesels – likewise doesn’t make obnoxious noises, smoke or stink. The Jetta’s just as quick, too – but unlike the automatic-only diesel Cruze, you can get the diesel VW with a much-more-fun-to-play-with six-speed manual transmission.cruze rearview

Much worse, though – at least as I see it – is the fact that the diesel-powered Cruze isn’t all that much more fuel-efficient than a gas-engined Cruze. Fitted with its optionally available 1.4 liter “Eco” gas engine, it rates 42 on the highway – just 4 MPG shy of the diesel-powered Cruze. But this version of the Cruze only costs $19,835 – vs. $24,855 for the diesel Cruze. True, the diesel Cruze comes standard with pretty pretty much everything you can get in a Cruze – including equipment that’s either optional and extra-cost (or not offered at all) in the less-expensive LS and LT trims.Cruze close-up

But isn’t a diesel-powered vehicle supposed to be more, you know, economical? Not just to drive – but to buy?

And if it’s sporty that’s the object, how come the diesel Cruze isn’t available with a manual gearbox? Or even a snappy automatic – like the dual-clutch DSG automatic that’s optional in the Jetta TDI?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m very happy to see diesel-powered cars making a comeback.They make a lot more sense – on multiple levels – than hybrids. And modern diesels are nothing but a pleasure to drive.

I just wonder whether this diesel makes sense.

Walk with me a minute… .

WHAT IT ISCruze diesel callout

The Cruze is Chevy’s bread-and-butter (family-minded/family-priced) small sedan, one step up from a compact-sized Sonic – and just below the mid-sized Malibu.

The regular Cruze (gas-engined models) competes in the same class as other small FWD sedans such as the Ford Focus, Hyundai Elantra and Mazda3 – but the new-for-2014 diesel-powered Cruze is (for the moment) almost unique among its peers because with the exception of VW’s Jetta TDI, no other modestly priced small sedan currently on the market is available with a diesel engine.Cruze bathtub

However, more competition is coming.

Mazda, for one, has a “SkyD” diesel version of the 3 sedan on deck for 2014 – with a scheduled launch date just a couple of months down the road from now.

Chevy hangs a $24,855 to start MSRP on the new Cruze diesel – vs. $17,170 for the base-trim, gas-engined (1.8 liter) Cruze LS and $23,705 for a top-of-the Cruze LTZ with the 1.4 liter “Eco” turbocharged gas engine.

WHAT’S NEW FOR 2014Cruze badge

The Cruze diesel is not really new – just new for the U.S. market. Chevy has been selling this version of the Cruze in export markets for a couple of years now.

At last, it is available here.

WHAT’S GOOD

Excellent – best in class – fuel economy.

Incredible range: 700 miles on a full tank.

Pleasant operating characteristics – torquey, smooth and quiet.cruze factoid

Not smelly – or sooty. Doesn’t idle like an old Maxwell House coffee can half-filled with loose nuts and bolts.

At 80, the engine’s barely idling.

Very nicely finished on the inside.

Substantially more room up front than in the Jetta.

WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD

Much less expensive ($19,680) gas-engined Cruze Eco almost matches the much more expensive diesel-powered Cruze’s MPGs. And $5k – the difference in price – buys a lot of fuel.

Ditto the Jetta TDI – which comes close to matching the Cruze diesel’s MPGs (and matches its 0-60 acceleration time exactly) for $1,865 less.cruze curb

Bland exterior.

Bland driving experience.

Much less room in the back than in the Jetta.

Added expense/hassle of regular urea tank top-offs and potential car-stops-running if you don’t top it off in time (more about that below).

UNDER THE HOODCruze engine

In place of the regular (gas-engined) Cruze’s standard 1.8 and step-up 1.4 liter turbo gas engines, the diesel Cruze gets a 2.0 liter turbo diesel – the first diesel engine to be offered in a GM passenger car (in the U.S.) since the 1980s.

It makes 148 hp – 10 more than both of the Cruze’s two gas engines – and a very stout 258 lbs.-ft of torque. This is 133 ft.-lbs. more torque than the Cruze’s base 1.8 liter engine – and 110 ft.-lbs. more than the Cruz’s step-up 1.4 liter “Eco” turbocharged gas engine (148 ft.-lbs.) It’s also slightly stronger than the Jetta TDI’s 2.0 liter engine, which pegs the needle at 140 hp and 236 ft.-lbs. of torque.

As far as mileage:cruze engine 2

The diesel Cruze’s EPA rating of 33 city, 46 highway is excellent – best in class.

But if you check the stats, you’ll discover the diesel’s EPA numbers are only slightly better than the 1.4 liter “Eco” Cruze delivers. That version of the little Chevy manages a very impressive rates 28 city, 42 highway (with the available manual transmission; automatic-equipped versions come in lower at 26 city, 39 highway).

The mileage difference is not very large – but the sticker price difference is huge. You’ll pay $5,020 more to go from a 42 MPG Cruze “Eco” to a 46 MPG Cruze diesel. That’s a wad to pay for an extra 4 or so MPGs – especially when you take into account that diesel fuel costs on average 20-40 cents more per gallon than regular unleaded gas.Cruze automatic

However, there is another consideration: The diesel Cruze is the quickest Cruze you can buy – capable of getting to 60 in about 8.5 seconds, even with the mandatory six-speed automatic transmission. The turbo 1.4 liter “Eco” Cruze takes about 9.2 seconds to get to 60.

The less powerful 1.8 liter (no turbo) Cruze is even slower than that.

Still, it’s oddball.

Most people who are interested in diesels are interested in economy more than they venerate acceleration. And on the other hand, if Chevy intended the diesel Cruze to be the highest-performance Cruze, why not offer it with a manual transmission? You can get a six-speed stick in the gas-engined Cruze – but not with the diesel engine.Cruze sticker

Meanwhile, the almost-$2k less Jetta TDI is nearly as fuel efficient – and just as quick – costs a good bit less to buy and you can have it with a six-speed manual transmission. Probably, Mazda will follow suit and allow you to row your own, too – if you so wish – when it launches the “Sky-D” diesel version of its 3 sedan later this year.

I think Chevy should have made the Cruze diesel either a lot quicker than a TDI Jetta.

Or a lot more economical to buy (as well as drive) relative to a Cruze “Eco.”

ON THE ROADCruze road 1

It’s impossible to not like the road/driving manners of modern diesel-powered cars, because they all behave very much like gas-engined cars. They start immediately (no waiting for the glow plug to heat), they don’t belch plumes of sooty smoke – and they don’t shake and rattle like a Kenworth.

In addition to the low and mid-range torque for which diesels are rightly revered, modern turbo-diesel engines like the Cruze diesel’s 2.0 engine also have pretty long legs on top. The redline is a gas engine-like 5,000 RPM – not the 3,800 or so that was typical of diesels back in the day.Cruz tach

From a performance point-of-view, the Cruze’s diesel engine is superior to both the 1.4 and 1.8 liter gas engines. Not only does it make the car objectively quicker, in real world driving, the diesel powered Cruze also feels a lot more relaxed – because it’s got so much more torque available to get the car moving.

With either gas engine, you’re trying to move about the same weight (3,475 lbs.) with 100-plus fewer ft.-lbs. of torque – no small difference. You’ve also got to work those torque-light gas engines much harder – spin them much higher in the RPM band – to access whatever power they do have.

The result is a car that often feels – and sounds – overworked.Cruze road 2

The boggle is that Chevy – unlike VW – doesn’t leverage the more sporting character of the diesel-powered Cruze by offering it with a manual transmission. Or even a performance-minded automatic, like the VW’s optional dual-clutch DSG gearbox. The Cruze diesel’s mandatory six-speed automatic is a conventional (hydraulic) slushbox, without even a Sport mode – and forget paddle shifters. It gets the job done with competence, but without much in the way of personality.

The rest of the Cruze is not very sporting, either.Cruze action last

Though composed and quiet when driven in Solid Citizen fashion, tire squeal comes on much sooner in the curves than it does when driving the TDI Jetta – which can be driven harder/faster before making sad noises. Probably the reason for that is not so much the diesel Cruze’s suspension but its tires. The diesel comes standard with a low-rolling-resistance wheel and tire package optimized for economy, not sporty cornering characteristics.Cruze roads front

What the Cruze excels at is the steady-state highway cruise. For once, a car name fits the car. The under-worked diesel burbles along happily at around 2,000 RPM with the car rolling along at 80. It’s a crying shame U.S. speed limits are as retarded as they are. (And yes, retarded is the right word. The Interstate system, designed in the 1950s, was built to accommodate average speeds of 75 MPH… assuming 1950s-era car technology; there is no good reason these roads shouldn’t be posted 80 or 90 – or more – today, given 60 years of automotive advancement.)

This car could cruise all day at 100 without working up a sweat – and probably still give you close to 40 MPG.Cruze diesel gauge

I drove it like I stole it – and never managed to register less than 34.3 MPG on the car’s mileage computer; my best-ever number was 48.6 MPG.

This brings up something else in the Cruze’ favor. Or rather, one of the best  reasons to buy a diesel-powered car over a hybrid car – if you do a lot of high-speed highway driving. Diesels are in their element on the open road – at highway speeds. Hybrids aren’t. They do their best work at speeds under 45 MPH – ideally, with lots of stop and go in between (during which time, the gas side of hybrid powertrain can shut itself down completely and thus, burn no fuel at all). But run a Prius – or whatever – at 75-80 for a couple of hours and watch the MPGs (and battery charge) plummet like Paula Dean’s ratings.

Also: The diesel’s more pleasant to drive over 40 than the hybrid because it’s got guts to spare – and the hybrid (typically) doesn’t.Cruz stats

Range in between pit stops is tremendous, too. 717.6 miles on a full tank, according to the EPA sticker.

A Prius maxxes out at 606.9 – in city driving. On the highway, the hybrid’s best-case number droops to 571 miles.

Take that, Capn’ Planet.

AT THE CURBCruze dash shot

The diesel Cruze comes loaded – which is why its sticker price is higher than any gas-engined Cruze, including the$23,705 LTZ. Among the creature features: Heated leather seats, remote start, GPS with seven inch flat screen monitor, Chevy’s MyLink telematics and voice-control operation, Bluetooth, streaming audio and real-time weather and traffic updates, special 17 inch wheel/tire package (my car came with nitrogen filled tires), all the power options – plus a standard exterior “aero” kit to reduce drag (and up the mileage), etc. You can select an upgrade Pioneer 9 speaker audio system – but the as-it-sits Cruze is a very posh car without adding a single extra-cost option.Cruze console shot

The downside, of course, is that it makes the diesel Cruze a more expensive car than its main rival – the Jetta TDI. If it had been my decision to make, I’d have offered the Cruze diesel in both base trim and higher-trim versions. The base version would have everything the entry-level Cruze LS ($17,170) does – which means, AC, the major power options (windows and locks), a decent stereo system – plus the diesel engine – for say $21k or so.

That – plus the 46 MPG EPA rating – would give VW the shivers.Cruze backseat 2

Toyota, too.

As it is, the case for the Cruze is – arguably – undermined by its higher buy-in cost. Its slight mileage advantage relative to the TDI Jetta is pretty much washed away by the almost $1,900  more you pay up front. At least, if you care about such mundane things as money.Cruze tight backseats

There’s another area where Chevy has rolled the dice: Interior space. On the upside, the Cruze has more front seat leg and headroom than the Jetta: 39.3 and 42.3 inches, respectively – vs. 37 inches and 41.2 inches for the VW. However, open the back doors. The Jetta’s got 38.1 inches of rearseat legroom – vs. the Cruz’s tortuous-in-comparison 35.4 inches. That’s nearly three inches of difference – no small thing. It’s the difference between backseats that are standard-sized adult-friendly – and not.

The Jetta’s trunk is also larger: 15.5 cubic feet vs. 13.3 cubic feet for the Chevy.

THE RESTCruze urea

There is one other thing to know about the diesel Cruze before you buy it. Two things, actually. Both relate to the emissions system. They are: the diesel particulate filter and the urea injection system. The first – the particulate filter – must periodically “regenerate.” In plain English, it must burn off accumulated soot at very high temperature. Kind of like a self-cleaning oven. This happens automatically and – hopefully – without any outward signs it is happening. However, in order for the process to work as designed, sustained periods (about 20-30 minutes) of steady-state driving at speeds over 30 MPH are needed. If the car is driven for short distances only, or in stop and go conditions, it might never get hot enough for the regeneration process to happen. If that happens, a “DPF” (Diesel Particulate Filter) warning light will come on – and if the filter is not cleaned, pronto, the car’s computer will cut back engine power and the light stays on (and the power cut) until the car is taken to a Chevy dealer for service.Cruze horse piss

Ka-ching.

The next one’s worse.

In addition to diesel fuel, the Cruze requires Diesel Exhaust Fluid – urea, a nicer sounding name than horse pee – which is injected into the exhaust stream to chemically convert the gasses to EPA-acceptable compounds (and quantities). There is a five gallon urea tank – with a filler neck in the trunk, underneath an access panel. You must be very careful to never let the fluid tank run dry. Because if you do, the car will punish you. The computer will first slow the car to a 65 MPH max – dropping to 55 if ignored. Continue to ignore the dashboard lights and eventually, the car’s computer will cut the max speed to 4 MPH. Yes, you read that right. Parking lot creep. No more.Cruze diesel fluid

You must now add at least two quarts of urea to make the car happy – to change the computer’s mind and allow you to drive the car faster than 4 MPH. (All of this is laid out in detail in the Cruze’s owner’s manual; see section 9-28.)

These two items add a cost/hassle factor that detracts from an otherwise appealing package. It’s not Chevy’s fault, incidentally.

It’s Uncle’s.

The government has imposed virtually-impossible-to-comply-with rigmarole on diesel engines. It affects passenger vehicles – and heavy trucks. It has made diesel-powered everything less efficient – and more expensive.

Which is a damn shame.Cruze emissions

THE BOTTOM LINE

46 MPG (and 700 miles in between refills) is a cheery thing. I just wish it came in a less expensive – and less complicated – package.

Throw it in the Woods?

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  17 comments for “2014 Chevy Cruze Diesel

  1. Eric_G
    July 2, 2013 at 1:00 pm

    Sounds like this was put out there to push up the fleet fuel economy numbers and “prove” that diesels are a niche market.

    Mission accomplished!

    • Eightsouthman
      July 2, 2013 at 3:31 pm

      I have to wonder where the engine is made. If it’s an Isuzu, Toy, Mitsu, Fuji or the like, that would be a good selling point. On the other hand, if it’s Chinese it might or might not be good.

  2. July 2, 2013 at 4:19 pm

    Two observations….

    Funny how the automotive performance paradigms are trying to change. Every time I read complaints about a “diesel” car being not “sporting” enough, I experience cognitive dissonance.

    Second, for many buyers, the Cruze Diesel will never, ever be real competition for the Jetta TDI. Compared to the VW, a Chevy is extremely deficient in pride of ownership.

    • July 2, 2013 at 5:55 pm

      Hi Mike,

      I don’t think it was Chevy’s intent to go for “sporty” – the shame is they missed “economical” by over-contenting (and over-pricing) this car. If, on the other hand, it were at least quicker than a Jetta TDI… or more fun to drive… then maybe the price differential would make sense.

      Certainly, GM has a ways to go to build the same (or even comparable) reputation for diesel vehicles that VW has earned. Still, this car could really be a contender… if it were priced less than the Jetta TDI, for openers.

  3. Brian
    July 2, 2013 at 4:32 pm

    “…plummet like Paula Dean’s ratings.” Nice.

  4. SojournerMoon
    July 2, 2013 at 7:21 pm

    The question Eightsouthman asked was a good one that may shed some light on this car: where is this engine sourced?

    The diesel engine is actually made by GM/Fiat at a GM owned plant in Italy. Back about ten years ago GM attempted to Merge with Fiat and failed. In fact, part of the fallout was a several billion dollar payoff to Fiat by GM to cancel the merger, money that was ultimately paid by the US taxpayer during the bailout fiasco. Another part of that deal was that the two would jointly develop powertrains that would serve in Europe and the US. This diesel is one of those products and is already in use in a few Fiat, Alfa-Romeo, and Opel vehicles in Europe. Therefore it’s likely to be pretty reliable. (Incidentally, the new Jeep Grand Cherokee diesel available this year is also apparently in this family, but I can’t tell if any GM money went into that engine’s development. It looks like the 2.0 may be the only one with GM influence.)

    So, since Chevy is trying to compete globally, and this engine was already emissions proven for Europe and the US, they probably chose it because they already had it, not because it is sportier than the gas engined models. They could have widened the mpg gap with a 1.8L diesel, but would have narrowed the performance gap and also made it less competitive with the Jetta. Plus they didn’t want to develop a whole new engine vs. using off the shelf designs. This is, of course, looking at it from the US market perspective. The fact that the diesel happens to be the sporty model is a happy coincidence, not the point.

    As for the price point and package options, I’m guessing the market research team that decided to make the diesel Cruze a fully kitted out model did so based on evidence that’s what would sell. Maybe they figure since a Diesel engine already costs more to make than a gas engined model, they might as well shoot for the higher end of that market. I don’t know, but I’m sure that wasn’t an arbitrary decision. They’re also trying to overcome the horrible impression of diesels forged into the collective consciousness if Americans in the eighties by a raft of god awful GM diesel passenger cars back then. It’s a different market than VW.

    Another bit of speculation involves the gearbox. Since about the only manuals that Chevy makes nowadays either go in low-end econoboxes or the Camaro/Corvette, they may not have an inexpensive box capable of managing the torque output of that diesel. An automatic might be all they have in the shelf in this range.

    Lastly, EPA ratings tend to overestimate gas engine mpg while underestimating diesel performance. The real world gap between the 1.8L gas and the 2.0L diesel economy may be an additional 2-3 mpg or more vs what the EPA estimates show. Thus you’ll struggle to get the EPA rating with the gas engine and have to drive granny style to do it, while you can drive normally to somewhat aggressively in a diesel and still get good or better numbers vs. EPA.

  5. Eightsouthman
    July 2, 2013 at 10:06 pm

    Sojourner, I think you’re correct about the transmission and know you are about the diesel. I’ve seen pics of the HQ in Italy and know it’s a joint venture. I remember when GM made the deal with Fiat and then had to pay billions, how the hell could they afford that? Not well apparently. The trim level was what I expected since they want to push the most options and were dealing with what they thought was a crowd used to paying more. And that level of comfort and options combined with a reliable, cheaply fed engine will give the sort of feedback they want from customers. It also keeps everybody thinking they’re going to have to pay more for diesels of any brand and they’re right.

  6. HelenIE
    July 3, 2013 at 3:13 am

    Geeeezzzz! Just get a Honda Accord and call it a day!
    You will also have angst when you can’t find a gas station with a diesel pump when you need one.

    • Mike7.62
      July 6, 2013 at 12:59 am

      Any truckstop will sell you diesel. Pretty easy to find actually; you can even find it at Farm Co-op stores.

      I have a 2010 Jetta Sportwagon TDI and it’s a great car. Handles well, gets 43 on the highway doing 75 with AC running, and requires no horse piss to run.

      Has VW been forced to use the horse piss in the newer versions of the Jetta, or is it still straight diesel? I know that the Passat TDI has the urea injection.

      Also, can you run real horse piis in the urea tank? I can get plenty of that where I live for free.

  7. chiph
    July 3, 2013 at 3:16 am

    Eric – I’m with you on the trim levels. If they had introduced it with both entry and high trim levels, it would really have shaken the market up. The tire thing is no big deal — annoying, yes. But most people would never notice/care (I replaced the squirmy tires on the Civic with some far better Michelins, and am keeping the OEMs for when I turn it in).

    However, I think your comparison of the 1.4 turbo Eco motor to the 2.0 turbo diesel is a false one — with a 110 ft-lb torque difference, the one I’d choose to drive is clear – torque wins for everyday driving, every time.

    Chip H.

    • July 3, 2013 at 9:41 am

      Hi Chip,

      Yup!

      Overall, I liked the car a lot. And I’d like it a lot more if it cost around $21k!

      The base LS trim has all the features most people consider necessary – AC, power windows and locks, a decent stereo. Add the diesel engine and you’ve got a winner.

      On the other hand, at pushing $25k to start – almost $2k more than a Jetta TDI – it makes less sense, from an economics point-of-view. Yes, it’s nicely kitted out. But I’m betting many people would rather skip the leather seats, the high-end trim and so on. I guess we’ll see.

      I agree with your point about torque – assuming guys like you and I behind the wheel.

      However, the average Clover will probably not notice.

      The gulf between what a car can do – and how the typical driver makes use of that capability – is widening. Every time I happen to be out and about in my old truck, I’m reminded of this. I am almost always moving faster than every car in my vicinity – and that includes in the curves, too. In a ’98 four-cylinder Frontier with 140,000 miles! My pace is typically 10 over the posted limit. This is sufficient to leave 9 out of 10 cars in my wake, including “high performance” and “sporty” cars….

  8. Anti Federalist
    July 4, 2013 at 8:35 am

    I’m now about 4 months into a 2013 VW Jetta TDI wagon, and have become an evangelist. Couldn’t be happier with this car, so far. The upsides in trim, finish, and driving performance, not to mention lacking the horse pee bottle, an EDR and god knows what other big brother boxes Government Motors shoves into their products these days, makes me more than comfortable with my choice.

    Fahrvergnügen, indeed.

  9. Tony
    July 6, 2013 at 1:27 pm

    Why cant we get the wagon here in the USA?

  10. Bineno
    July 13, 2013 at 5:35 pm

    One of the major reasons I purchased my diesel VW was for longevity. To me, that means a transmission that will live as long as the engine. I would be very interested if this came with a manual. My Jetta is over 400,000 miles now, and I’m weighing my options for a replacement.

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