Give Chevrolet full credit on this one, it took a turbo diesel it uses in Europe, a hot bed for turbo diesels, and plunked it into its popular Cruze for the U.S. market.
Why the accolades for Chevy? Well, it’s the first U.S. automaker to give us a clean turbo diesel that gets way above average mileage and is affordable. Oh, and it also outperforms its only competition, Volkswagen, in the vital highway mileage department. Bravo!
Plus, because Milwaukee is a leading market for diesel sales (no one is sure why!), we get first crack at the new Chevy turbo diesel, while other Midwest markets may have to wait months to see one. A GM spokesman tells me the Cruze diesels should be in Milwaukee area dealerships shortly.
But I got my hands on one already and I can tell you it was pretty impressive.
Here are the basics. Chevrolet is using its proven 2.0-liter I4, turbo diesel from its European branch in the mid-size Cruze, already a favorite with young families and stingy Baby Boomers who know a bargain when they see one. The diesel delivers about 148 hp, but a whopping 258 ft.-lbs. of torque smoothly via a 6-speed automatic transmission.
The skinny here is that when you press the accelerator the Cruze jumps to life and acceleration is quiet, just like a gas-powered car, but with a lot more oomph off the line.
Other than the surprising power, you’ll feel like you’re driving a gas-powered Cruze. Ride is pleasant and handling is good with fairly quick steering. This is a fine mid-size car riding on a 105.7-inch wheelbase, with four-wheel independent suspension and in diesel trim weighs 3,475 lbs. That compares to 3,155 lbs. for the comparable LTZ gas-powered Cruze.
What will wow most folks though is the fuel mileage. Running on diesel, which still costs a dime or more additional compared with gasoline, the Cruze is rated 27 mpg city and 46 mpg highway. Compare that to a Volkswagen Golf with a turbo diesel. It’s rated 32 mpg city and 42 highway. That said, I got slightly more than 35 mpg in my test drive, which was heavier on highway miles, including a trip to Madison. I thought it would be closer to 40 average, since the car’s trip computer showed me getting 48-50 mpg while on the highway.
Gary Altman, chief engineer for Cruze, told me in an interview that in staff tests he’s seeing much better mileage than I got. Maybe I have a heavy foot! But he assured me that many testers and owners will be seeing the 46 mpg, or better, on the highway.
He also noted that his crew did extreme cold and heat tests on the turbo diesel in the states before it went into production, so he feels confident it’ll perform well in Wisconsin, or any other extreme climate. Altman also is proud that his team got the Cruze diesel to market in about 2 ¼ years, at least six months faster than most Chevrolet vehicles make it to market. Altman makes it clear that Chevy wanted to be first of the Big 3 to offer a viable turbo diesel.
This is certainly that. Boomers who recall GM’s 1970s diesels, the ones that smoked heavier than a character on Mad Men, can put those models out of your mind. There is no smoke and no smell from this turbo diesel. There is some diesel clatter when you first start the car and a little extra noise from it for the first mile or two until it warms sufficiently. But after, the engine runs like a champ and quiets to the point that you’ll feel like you’re in a gas-powered car. Again, the advantage is stronger power.
Now I know my cynical readers may be thinking about price, and what a premium they’ll have to pay for this power and fuel economy. You certainly have to pay extra for a hybrid system, right?
Not so much here, the Cruze Turbo Diesel starts at $24,885. Compare that with the top-level gas powered Cruze LTZ with an automatic transmission, which starts at $23,550. Remember too that Cruze offers a bunch of trim levels among its gas-powered models, starting at just $17,130 for an LS model with manual transmission. It gets 25 mpg city and 36 highway, while the ECO model that starts at $19,680 with manual is rated 28 mpg city and 42 highway. But you won’t have the oomph you get with the diesel.
Note too that the Turbo Diesel is all decked out like an LTZ, with a good-looking two-tone brown over tan interior and tan leather seats. You get the same attractive Cruze dash and well laid out center stack with easy to use and intuitive controls. I love this interior!
Seats are well contoured and comfortable, a fact driven home by a weekend jaunt to Madison and back – very comfy and a quiet interior too. The driver’s seat bottom is powered, but the passenger’s is manual, as are both seat backs. The rear seat is comfortable too, with good headroom and decent legroom. Both rear seats fold flat to increase cargo space.
You won’t need that for normal trips though, as the trunk is a generous 13.3 cubic feet.
The radio is fine too and includes the MyLink system that allows you to use voice commands for the radio and convert your phone to a hands-free device. Clever!
Other pluses include a tilt/telescope steering wheel with radio and cruise controls on the hub, satellite radio, auto-dimming interior lights, three-level seat heat up front, and a navigation system. The sun visors also get a thumbs up, as they slide to block side sun.
One final note on diesel fuel, be aware that many gas stations now offer diesel, but often just at one pump. I found myself waiting in line to fill up because the lawn service and other heavier duty trucks often are topping off first thing in the morning. I suggest evening fill-ups, oh, and not a bad idea to have an old glove in the trunk, as most diesel pump handles are a tad oily from the fuel.From a performance standpoint though, this new turbo diesel kicks bootie and will give your Cruze some kick. Plus you won’t have to stop for fuel as often, now that’s something different!
FAST Stats: 2014 Chevrolet Cruze Turbo Diesel
Hits: Big-time oomph along with good fuel mileage, handling and ride, the trifecta. Seats four comfortably, good seats and attractive interior, plus 3-level heated seats, well executed dash and stack, and visors slide. Big trunk and modest cost, and diesel doesn’t smoke or stink.
Misses: There’s some diesel clatter when you first start the engine up, and for the first mile or two. Pumping diesel is always a bit sloppy as pump handles feel oily. Currently diesel costs more than regular unleaded.
Made in: Lordstown, Ohio
Engine: 2.0-liter I4, turbo diesel, 148 hp
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Weight: 3,475 lbs.
Wheelbase: 105.7 in.
Cargo: 13.3 cu.ft.
Base Price: $24,885
Dealer’s Price: $23,890
Major Options: None
Test vehicle: $25,695
Sources: Chevrolet, www.autos.yahoo.com
Photos: Courtesy of Chevrolet