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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