2017 Chevrolet Cruze Diesel first drive

When the first Chevrolet Cruze Diesel was launched back in 2014, it made a lot of sense.

Diesel was in vogue. German manufacturers were pushing diesel power in a huge way, with Volkswagen's "Clean Diesel" leading the charge.

Oh, how things have changed.

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Diesel for passenger cars today is, for lack of a better word, despised.

Governments in Europe, long a paradise of diesel power, are actively trying to ban the technology, while millions of Volkswagen owners are facing buybacks—the unlucky ones are facing questionable repairs and software updates.

The 2017 Cruze Diesel enters that world with promise. Capable of an EPA-rated 37 miles per gallon in combined highway and city driving, the new Cruze is one of the most efficient non-electrified vehicles on the market.

2017 Chevrolet Cruze

2017 Chevrolet Cruze

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The question, then, isn't over the second-generation Cruze Diesel's appeal, but more its fuel efficiency can overshadow diesel's increasingly dirty reputation.

And the most immediate way of addressing that question is looking at the real-world fuel economy. A Cruze Diesel with the 6-speed manual transmission will return an EPA-estimated 52 mpg on the highway and 30 mpg in the city.

Regrettably, I didn't drive that car. Instead, I tested the new 9-speed automatic, which loses 5 mpg on the freeway, but nets 31 mpg in the city and ties the manual model's combined rating of 37 mpg.

I drove 190 miles during my week behind the wheel, 80 percent of it was doing what most Cruze Diesel owners do: commuting up and down the freeway.

The rest of that time, I puttered around metro Detroit at urban speeds, encountering frequent red lights and stop signs.

Temperatures were cool, but comfortable enough that it didn't impact fuel economy. And the result?

2017 Chevrolet Cruze Diesel Sedan

2017 Chevrolet Cruze Diesel Sedan

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I calculated 45.1 mpg after refilling the tank on my final day with the car, just 2 mpg below the EPA-estimated highway rating.

Based on those figures and my mixed driving cycle, a Cruze Diesel should have no issues hitting its EPA-estimated fuel economy numbers on a straight freeway run.

In fact, I'm betting that Chevy Assistant Chief Engineer Mike Siegrist was right in February, when he told the media at a backgrounder for the Cruze Diesel that it will likely exceed its EPA figures on the interstate.

But what's likely to register for high-mileage drivers is how easy scoring such impressive fuel economy was.

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