2014 Chevrolet Cruze Diesel: First Drive

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2014 Chevrolet Cruze Diesel, test drive in Hell, Michigan

2014 Chevrolet Cruze Diesel, test drive in Hell, Michigan

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It’s not every day Chevrolet executives talk about launching at car that competes directly with … a Volkswagen.

The new 2014 Chevy Cruze Diesel, however, aims directly at the only affordable compact four-door sedan with a diesel engine sold in the U.S. until now: the Volkswagen Jetta TDI.

So within months of VW’s addition of a hybrid model to the Jetta lineup, Chevy has gone up against the Jetta TDI’s dominance and unveiled GM’s first diesel-engined passenger car since 1986.

While it’s pricier than various Cruze models with conventional gasoline engines, fuel economy is the Cruze Diesel’s raison d’etre: The EPA rates it at 33 mpg combined (27 mpg city, 46 mpg highway). That’s the highest highway rating for any non-hybrid vehicle sold in the U.S., as Chevy pointed out several times.

Its combined 33 mpg is exactly the same as the Cruze Eco with six-speed manual gearbox (28 mpg city, 42 mpg highway). That efficiency model is powered by a turbocharged 1.4-liter gasoline engine, and incorporates a host of weight-reduction measures and aerodynamic tweaks (some of which have made their way into the Cruze Diesel as well).

B20 biodiesel

One benefit for diesel drivers intrigued by renewable fuels: The diesel Cruze accepts fuel up to 20 percent biodiesel, or B20. It’s the only diesel passenger car to do so, although some diesel trucks now take B20 as well. But the Jetta TDI, for instance, is only warranted up to B5.

With its 15.6-gallon fuel tank, the diesel Cruze offers a real-world highway range of 700 miles or more. While that’s likely far beyond the range of most occupants’ bladders, it does mean owners have to fill up less frequently—which makes up for having fewer fuel stations.

Today, about 60 percent of U.S. gas stations also offer diesel fuel, with roughly half of them having it on the main pump ranks. (The other half has its diesel pumps somewhere else on the property, usually in a place where semis and big rigs can fuel up.)

2014 Chevrolet Cruze Clean Turbo Diesel, 2013 Chicago Auto Show

2014 Chevrolet Cruze Clean Turbo Diesel, 2013 Chicago Auto Show

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What's it called again?

Our test car was a base 2014 Chevrolet “Cruze Turbo Diesel”—which Chevy marketing materials also sometimes call the “Cruze Clean Turbo Diesel”. We’re going to call it the Cruze Diesel from now on, as we suspect virtually every buyer will.

Our test route, unusually, had as much high-speed highway driving as secondary and rural roads on it—testimony to GM’s confidence in the diesel Cruze’s high efficiency at higher speeds.

Over the first 43-mile leg, we averaged 39.2 miles per gallon according to the car’s digital display. On the 43-mile return route, that rose incrementally to 39.4 mpg.

We conclude that in everyday usage, the Cruze Diesel should easily return 36 to 42 mpg unless there’s a lot of heavy stop-and-go driving. Anecdotal tales by Cruze Diesel testers indicate that pure highway driving can return even higher figures, as much as 50 mpg or more—though we’ll wait to confirm those numbers ourselves before we believe them.

2014 Chevrolet Cruze Clean Turbo Diesel, 2013 Chicago Auto Show

2014 Chevrolet Cruze Clean Turbo Diesel, 2013 Chicago Auto Show

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Eurodiesel engine, beefier transmission

Under the hood is a 151-horsepower 2.0-liter turbodiesel four-cylinder engine—built by GM in Germany—that puts out 264 lb-ft of torque. (The comparable figures for the VW Jetta TDI’s 2.0-liter turbodiesel engine are 140 hp and 236 lb-ft.)

The diesel engine in the Cruze is mated to a six-speed automatic made by Aisin, a beefier unit than the GM-made six-speed automatic used in gasoline Cruzes.

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Comments (23)
  1. "It’s not terribly quick off the line, but as soon as the diesel revs up, it pulls strongly."

    It is the automatic transmission. That is doing it in. I think it was really stupid of GM not to offer the diesel Cruze with a manual transmission, like the company does in the rest of the world where the diesel Cruze has been sold for several years now.

    It is a waste to mate an automatic transmission to a diesel powered vehicle. The "slushbox" sucks much of the torque away. What a waste.

  2. The Taurus SHO was initially sold with a manual, but Ford reverted back to the good ole automatic because the customer base of the Taurus wanted an automatic. The customer base drives the configuration of the product...usually.

  3. Looks like a very nice vehicle. Great to see more options on the market.

    As always, Voelcker is at his finest doing these first drive reports. Well done sir.

  4. I've never really been a fan of GM, but I sure hope this vehicle sells well, as that would be an encouraging sign that diesel can finally win some legitimate acceptance from American drivers.

  5. Price the car at $22k and it will kill sales of VW diesels. Why does it cost so much?

  6. Unimpressive product.

    My 1997 Ford Escort routinely turns higher miles per gallon than this product and it only cost $10k new. In fact a trip this weekend yielded 52.2 mpgs on the way to my destination and 50.5 on the way back (including miles to get to interstate and suburban driving).

    I don't see the value in a product that really offers no significant fuel savings and costs more. Perhaps the problem with the vehicle is its driver - to me there is no reason you can't get 50 mpgs in a diesel on the highway. But knowing that most Government Motors products are not nearly as good as the posted mpgs on the sticker (the Cruze is one of the biggest offenders of the disparity in the industry), I'm not surprised.

  7. @Revis: As we routinely have to remind others as well, your 1997 Ford Escort could not legally be sold as a new car today. It emits too many tailpipe pollutants and would fail current crash-safety standards badly. So it's hardly a relevant comparison to a car 17 years newer that has to meet a very different set of consumer expectations.

  8. Additionally, Fuelly shows real world fuel economy for the 1997 Ford escort at 28.8 mpg.

    While it is too soon to know the efficiency of the Cruze Diesel, let's consider the Jetta Diesel as a stand-in.

    2013 Jetta Diesel according to Fuelly gets 38.5 mpg in the real world. Or 10 mpg higher than the 1997 Ford Escort all while producing less pollution and being a much safer vehicle.

  9. Will there be a wagon version?

  10. @John: Not for the U.S. There is a wagon version of the current Cruze sold in Europe, but GM does not seem to believe there is demand for compact station wagons versus the crossovers that it sells quite successfully. (Nor, apparently, do Ford, Toyota, Nissan, Hyundai, or Kia. Volkswagen is the sole company offering a compact wagon for 2014 as far as I know.)

  11. What is behind the manufacturer's perception that the sportwagon would not sell in the United States? Every car enthusiast I have talked to has wanted one, and some who were not car enthusiasts that I have talked to lamented lack of sportwagons on this market.

    Some envelope calculations show a different picture than what the marketeers would have one believe. For example, at least 400 people have so far lobbied mazda to bring the sportwagon version of the six here. I know it takes around $100,000 to homologate that car, a cost which is covered by four $25,000 mazda6 sold. The rest of 396 buyers * $25,000 comes to USD $9,900,000. How can any marketeer claim importing a sportwagon would not pay? Can you investigate this further?

  12. Look up the only American Sport Wagon in years, the Cadillac CTS Wagon. Or better yet, the late Cadillac CTS Wagon, which sold so badly GM pulled the plug years in advance of schedule. A whopping 7K sales proves there is an extremely small customer base (too bad, I actually prefer sport wagons to crossovers/SUVs) and it's a good thing that OEMs don't count on enthusiasts when deciding what to build.

    Stop the constant "bring the Mazda 6 wagon here" already. You're far underestimating costs to bring it here, the sedan itself sells terribly, etc... It's not going to happen.

    Please, explain why anybody would bring another wagon here after poor sales of the Volvo wagons, the ATS, etc... Subaru has basically made its wagons crossovers.

  13. Typical Annatar... Thumbs down, as always, but no response, as always, to the facts stated... Not even close to real costs and the sport wagons that exist now don't sell in large enough volumes to introduce more for most OEMs. Sorry that reality hurts again.

  14. It was not me who gave you "thumbs down", but you will get one from me now, so you do not feel left out. There. Now you have -2.

    "Stop the constant "bring the Mazda 6 wagon here" already."

    No, because vehicle manufacturers read these web sites. This is important.

    "the sedan itself sells terribly,"

    The sedan sells terribly because:

    1. everyone is waiting for the diesel version
    2. judging by the lobbying effort on Facebook, most people prefer the sportwagon version to the sedan version of the mazda6

    Cadillac Sportwagon sold poorly because at $69,000 it was way overpriced and it did not offer a Duramax V8 clean diesel to go with the CTS-V trim.

    It is really simple; it is not rocket science.

  15. @Annatar: Wow, you really believe that the CTS wagon sold poorly because all of America was waiting for a diesel version?

    With the greatest of respect for your diesel passion ... I'm sorry, but that statement proves you don't have the slightest understanding of the U.S. new-car market or the reasons U.S. consumers buy the cars they do.


  16. Does the BMW 328i count as a compact wagon? There's apparently going to be a diesel version, the 328d, for 2014. I'd really like to see something with some cargo space in the 40-ish mpg range. I'm afraid the Prius V felt underpowered, and the CMAX is too small.

  17. @John: Sizewise, the BMW 328d wagon is indeed a compact wagon--good catch.

    But it's likely to be a good $10K to $15K higher than the Jetta SportWagen, so most consumers will view it first through the luxury-brand lens, meaning it costs too much. The 3-Series is BMW's best-selling line in the U.S., but wagons are a tiny part of the total, diesel sedans are just a fraction of the total sedan sales, so it'll be interesting to see if they move any real volume on the diesel wagon.

    Audi, for instance, tends to issue statements like "42% of A3 sales were TDIs" which sound very impressive until you realize that the denominator is a pathetic 10K cars a year. Ditto the Q7 TDI at more than half.

  18. "@Annatar: Wow, you really believe that the CTS wagon sold poorly because all of America was waiting for a diesel version?"

    Yes. The sportwagon market is an enthusiasts' market right now, and enthusiasts are at the cutting edge of automotive technology.

    Right now, the cutting edge is clean diesel vehicles. That has been the case in Europe for the past 20 years, but is only coming to the United States now.

    The issue is that most of the managers and the press (including you and your colleagues) grossly misunderstands the market and target audience, as evident by your comment above.

  19. Here's an article about the problems facing "clean diesel". Essentially (1) it's not cleaner than gas; and (2) it's not cheaper than gas (for the first ten years) - check edmunds.com True Cost.

    The benefit appears to be only more torque.


  20. "I'm sorry, but that statement proves you don't have the slightest understanding of the U.S. new-car market or the reasons U.S. consumers buy the cars they do."

    I am curious: what do you believe are the reasons U.S. consumers buy the cars they do?

  21. @Annatar: Sure. First are the needs, real or perceived: Do I have kids, do I need to carry a lot of stuff, do I need AWD, etc.? Their answers to those Qs may or may not reflect the reality of what they need--they tend to over-spec--but how they answer those Qs determines their consideration set.

    Second are recommendations from friends & family, especially those who own the cars they're discussing. Third are independent reviews from places like Consumer Reports, the car magazines, sites like TheCarConnection.com, and so forth.

    1 of 2 ... continued

  22. (2 of 2) continuing ...

    Consumers look for advice from "people like them," which means recommendations from your neighbor in a similar job with a similar size of family count more than those from your oddball cousin who doesn't have kids & lives in a different state or works in a different industry.

    Those are the psychological reasons. EPA gas-mileage ratings and NHTSA & IIHS ratings play a big role. And so does inertia.

    That help at all?

  23. Somewhat. I just had a discussion with an SUV owner. I told them matter-of-factly my sportwagon had more space than their SUV. The owner pulled out a measuring stick. His SUV had 1" more head room, but the sportwagon was deeper by a foot and a half. He promptly shut up, completely baffled by his discovery.

    Sportwagons are the next hot new thing. And believe me when I write, they are being evangelized and desired by a lot of people in the United States. There are wagon haters too, but those are usually my generation, which was forced to drive around in the monstrosities of the '80's. Generation Y already hates SUV's and minivans.

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