A Victory & Reseda review of the 2014 Chevrolet Cruze Diesel
Remember the Chicago Auto Show in February?
I did. It was a crazy time for me. The first media day was spent hustling from Midway on the Orange Line "L" to McCormick Place. In-between, e-mails and phone calls were going back-and-forth as to when and whom I was awarding the 2012 Vehicle of The Year to. I had my roller bag in one hand ready to replay "The Amazing Race" from the "L" station, down the street to the Metra Electric Line in hopes of getting there to catch anything before the big moment.
Once I got there, General Motors had their annual press conference on the show floor. It was for a familiar car – the Chevrolet Cruze. It was already announced they would offer a turbocharged diesel for the North American market. For some, that was big news. For others – it received a response of "meh."
Before you make your judgments several months after the fact, it is now a reality. You can now go to a Chevrolet dealership, go up to a Cruze and ask if they had any in stock with the diesel option. So far, there are plenty on the ground for you to choose from.
Why do we need to make a fuss about another diesel-fueled passenger car? Would it be best to go with a gas-fueled model that has an electric motor, batteries and regenerative braking on board? Would it be better to go to a Volkswagen dealership instead since they are German and they do diesels better? After all, a German named Rudolph invented the combustion system that would allow for that more expensive fuel normally pumped into trucks.
One should really break down the importance of offering a diesel-fueled vehicle in the Cruze. First of all, this is GM rebooting its diesel passenger car efforts in North America. We would prefer to forget the debacle of Oldsmobile's diesels. Besides, the diesel has improved and widely accepted on three continents – Europe, Asia and Africa. With acceptance yielded improvements in exhaust emissions, noise and vibration and the fuel itself.
In turn, North American began to follow suit. To allow diesels in the ten states that follow California’s emissions standards, automakers began to find ways to clean the exhaust by using a magical blue fluid called urea. It is an expensive liquid, but it has a way to clean up the nasty fumes and toxins that once denoted the diesel engine in this country. They had to do this because the fuel was acceptable for our use.
However, one would argue that we are not up to standards with the Eurozone where the strictest standards are in place. The fuel itself is cleaner than the Ultra Low Sulfur stuff we sell at $3.85 a gallon in the Twin Cities. Exhaust emissions even trump that of the California Air Resource Board's own mandates. Because of all this, almost every brand sold in the European Union offers a choice of diesels in almost every model.
Now, GM is back in the diesel game – one now reserved for German luxury brands, Volkswagen and pickup trucks. Let us not forget about the Jeep Grand Cherokee.
The Cruze is the right model to offer this diesel. It is GM's best selling passenger car amongst its four brands – yes, I am throwing GMC into the mix. You can get a diesel Cruze almost everywhere else it is sold – Europe, Asia, Africa and in Oceana. The latter is known as a Holden Cruze, a model that Australians actually love that is not a Commodore.
The challenge for North American consumers is to continue the acceptance of diesels to meet the looming fuel economy standards to be imposed by the Environmental Protection Agency. The mad scramble for solutions by every automaker has become quite a dizzying race. However, GM has the capability to offer choices – even in one showroom.
On the same platform, you certainly have a major choice. You could opt for the extended range electric vehicle known as the Chevrolet Volt – it has a handy hatchback and better instrument panel graphics, if you are into such things. Or, you could get the handsome sedan with an oil burner.
In 2011, V&R reviewed the Cruze in a 1.4litre turbocharged gas model. The LTZ model with the RS package revealed a side of the compact car some enthusiasts would be interested in owning. It had superb handling, a solid ride and fine execution. It already had a good reputation within and outside of V&R.
A bit over two years later, the diesel version of the Cruze arrived for its evaluation. It was not the LTZ, though the interior and equipment level would be considered on that level. Equipment-wise, it had some tradeoffs between the two – the navigation system added with the RS package removed.
Perhaps that is fine, because the Turbo Diesel is offered as its own trim level. The high content is attractive, especially when one starts discussing what it is up against. Even taking the engine out of the equation, it truly comes down to being a Chevrolet Cruze. That is a good thing.
Yet, under the hood is where the story lies. The 2.0liter turbocharged four-cylinder diesel engine is the last piece of GM's former partnership with Fiat. One may not want you to consider this fact, but it is true – since Fiat through VM Motori supplies GM's European line up with its oil burners.
There is 151 horsepower on tap with a 264 pound-feet of torque. It will surprise you how quiet the diesel runs, though you do get some of the requisite clatter at idle. However, there is no vibration. None of the stereotypical diesel experience from the past is evident with the Cruze at all.
Even more so is the performance of the diesel – it simply gets going. Throttle response is good and there is minimal turbo lag evident. Once you get the diesel running, it loves to gobble up the miles while emitting cleaner exhaust emissions and sipping less fuel.
A six-speed automatic gearbox is connected to the turbodiesel, driving the front wheels. It is the only transmission choice for this oil burner. This caused some whining from the German corner since the Volkswagen Jetta offers their TDI turbocharged diesel with a clutch.
Having never driven a Jetta, there is no way to make such a comparison. Though one sitting in the Mexican-built Teuton did cause from concern for quality, touch points and room. Granted, the Cruze is on the small side in the cabin, quality is much better, despite a plethora of button and a few GM quirks. Frankly, it is better inside the Cruze – even when you choose the Natural/Cocoa two-tine interior ensemble.
The Cruze is a fine driver. Some compacts have some give in its ride-handling mix. The Chevy felt tighter with good control of the road, a compliant ride and decent grip from its seventeen-inch Goodyear Assurance tires.
When you have a diesel, there is an expectation of high fuel mileage – regardless whether it is a VW, Chevy, Mercedes, Audi…and so forth. The turbocharged diesel turned in an average of 35.7MPG. How many compacts can you honestly state would average over a span of ownership? That fuel consumption average figure is actually quite good.
The last thing to be concerned about would be cost. Usually, diesel models garner a premium compared to similar gas-fueled equivalents – especially here in North America. This fully equipped diesel tester came out to $28,105 – the most one would probably pay for a Cruze. If a diesel is not your choice for being efficient, Chevrolet still offers the Cruze Eco with the 1.4liter turbocharged engine, a manual gearbox and enhancements towards achieving a possible 40MPG for over $5,000 less. The Cruze lineup starts at just over $18,000 with plenty of choices from that starting point.
As a compact sedan, the Cruze exhibited many positive attributes supporting the recent headlines on its success. It simply feels successful. With a few years in the marketplace under its belt, the Cruze is becoming a true leader amongst passenger cars here and abroad in its class. After all, the Cruze is not just for us – it sells quite well in places, such as Central Asia, Eastern Europe, Russia and Australia. The latter is sold as a Holden.
With the addition of the diesel model in North America, the Cruze already delivered on a huge promise to GM and Chevrolet. It can sell a product worthy of global audiences right here at home.
DISCLAIMER: Vehicle provided by General Motors