2014 Chevrolet Cruze Diesel, test drive in Hell, Michigan
The 2014 Chevrolet Cruze Diesel is a somewhat daring car, and one that diesel fans have been urging a U.S. maker to sell for years, if not decades.
It's the first diesel-engined passenger vehicle sold by General Motors since 1986, and it's a fully modern car with the latest in emissions control systems. They're fitted to a 151-horsepower 2.0-liter turbodiesel four-cylinder engine that's built in Germany.
The typical diesel-engine clatter (highly obvious outside the car, slightly noticeable inside) is what tips off the public that this rather plain-looking Cruze doesn't run on gasoline.
Because the exhaust certainly won't; there's no diesel smell, no smoke, and nothing else obvious--courtesy of urea injection, which requires a refill of the Diesel Exhaust Fluid tank every time the car's oil is changed.
From the outside, the Cruze Diesel borders on severe. Its sober colors (except for the classic Chevy maroon) and plain alloy wheels are paired with some of the aerodynamic add-ons from the Cruze Eco model to maximize its highway fuel efficiency.
And the numbers are good: The EPA rates the 2014 Cruze Diesel at 33 mpg combined (27 mpg city, and a whopping 46 mpg highway).
Except for the highway number, that's lower than the Volkswagen Jetta TDI, at 34 mpg combined (30 mpg city, 42 mpg highway) when fitted with the direct-shift automatic gearbox.
Diesel fans will carp that the Cruze Diesel isn't offered with a manual gearbox (as the Jetta TDI is); the sole transmission is a six-speed automatic. It's a beefier unit than the one used in gasoline Cruzes, and the shifts are sharper and more abrupt under power.
The diesel Cruze has more horsepower--151 vs. 140--and more torque, 264 lb-ft against 236 lb-ft, than the VW Jetta TDI does.
Both cars may well exceed their EPA ratings in real-world use, especially in high-speed highway cruising, where diesels excel.
Chevrolet is one of the biggest and most popular brands in the U.S. market, whereas Volkswagen--despite recent efforts--is still largely viewed as a niche European player.
So the fact that the baseball-hot-dogs-and-apple-pie brand is offering a diesel for sale in the U.S. is huge--and it's far more affordable than the 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee EcoDiesel, which starts at more than $40,000.
The Cruze Diesel isn't quite as affordable as many had hoped it would be, though; it starts at $25,810 (including the mandatory $825 delivery fee).
When the base Cruze with a gasoline engine comes in just over $18,000, that's a steep jump--though VW has a roughly similar pricing structure against the cheapest gasoline Jetta.
Our other concern about the Cruze Diesel--which went on sale in May--is whether people will buy it for the right duty cycle.
The fuel economy of a diesel Cruze is excellent on the highway, and it's a comfortable long-legged cruiser. That makes it the perfect car for the traveling salesman who wants to buy American.
But it's less pleasant in stop-and-go city driving, and even in heavy suburban traffic. There's significant power lag, more than in other diesels we've driven.
Those caveats aside, sales figures will show how well U.S. buyers react to the notion of a diesel-engined compact car.
But even if it's not as adventurous as, say, the 2014 BMW i3 electric car, the 2014 Chevy Cruze Diesel is a major advance in fuel efficiency by a large global player.
For that, it deserves its nomination as a finalist in Green Car Reports' Best Car To Buy 2014 competition.
For details of all of this year's nominees, along with articles from the previous years' awards, see our Best Car To Buy page.