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.
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.
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… .
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.
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.
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.
Excellent – best in class – fuel economy.
Incredible range: 700 miles on a full tank.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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 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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?