It is pretty amazing, but General Motor’s past experiences with diesel-powered cars still remain a punch line of many jokes. It’s no surprise then that it has taken them decades to very carefully come out with a new diesel offering. That new diesel, a 2-liter, four cylinder was installed under the hood of the midsized Chevy Cruze, a significantly more conservative choice than the company’s diesel models of the past.
Chevy makes no secrets that the Cruze is aimed directly at the hot-selling Jetta TDi. Chevy will quickly point out their car is more powerful, with 151hp and 250lb-ft, more efficient, and less expensive when comparably equipped (MSPR: $25,695). If Volkswagen was here to defend themselves, they would say that their car has a lower starting price and is available with a manual transmission, which has a very high take.
In my quick spin of the new Cruze Diesel I found the Opel-sourced engine to be sufficiently powerful, if a bit loud at idle compared to the VW TDi standards. The problem is the six-speed automatic transmission which is eager to upshift and slow to downshift, all in the name of fuel economy. A manual mode allows the driver to shift, but there should really be a sport mode, as on the Beetle TDi, which would keep the driver from shifting yet remain entertaining to drive.
Also unlike the Jetta TDI, the Cruze Clean Turbo Diesel has urea injection. Chevy says that the tank is big enough to hold more than 10,000 miles worth of the fluid. In its voyage from Europe the engine has gained a timing belt with an improved service life of 100,000 miles, ceramic glow plugs, and B20 bio-diesel compatibility. Speaking of service, Chevy will throw in two years worth of it when you buy the car.
Otherwise, the Cruze seems like a nice car. The seats are comfortable and supportive. The dash was logically laid out with fewer buttons than other GM offerings. Overall dimensions are very similar to the Jetta, which is to say about average for a midsize sedan. EPA says that the Cruze diesel should get 27mpg in the city and 46mpg on the highway, potentially giving it a cruise range of 717 miles.
Sales of this car will dictate if we will see more General Motors diesel models in the United States. Based on the amount of diesel models becoming available from so many manufactures, combined with ever-increasing amount of hybrid vehicles available, the timing for this car seems excellent yet is still risky. The real winners of this, now highly competitive, market are the buyers who now have more fuel-efficient options than ever.