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Is the Chevrolet Cruze Diesel good enough to upstage the Jetta TDI?

2014 Chevrolet Cruise Diesel


If you thought that the VW Jetta TDI Clean Diesel was the last word in an efficient compact oil burner sedan, you’d be half right. For as they say in old Western movies, there’s a new sheriff in town, and that new lawman is the 2014 Chevrolet Cruze Diesel.

The Cruise, GM’s successful global compact sedan, has been a North American staple since the 2010 model year
The Cruise, GM’s successful global compact sedan, has been a North American staple since the 2010 model year

The Cruze, GM’s successful global compact sedan, has been a North American staple since the 2010 model year. It was the replacement for the Cobalt, which itself was a replacement for the Cavalier. The Cruise was internationally launched in 2008 (everywhere except here), so basically it is now at the end of a 7-year life cycle, with a completely redesign replacement due to debut at next month’s China Auto Show.

With the Cruze Diesel GM finally has its first competent oil burner domestic passenger car. One can only hope that it’s good enough to erase the memory of the disastrous days of the Chevette diesel, to be followed later that decade by the bastardization of GM’s 350 cid V8 gasoline engine to oil burners.

Whereas diesel technology is not foreign to Europeans carmakers, it’s seems to have escaped the Asians and domestics makers as far as offering a competitive oil burner for the U.S. market.

Up until now the Jetta TDI has been the only diesel compact sedan sold here. It’s been so popular that it accounts for about 20 percent of U.S. Jetta sales.

So clearly GM had the Jetta TDI in its crosshairs when developing the Cruze Diesel. But can it justify its loftier price tag over that of other efficient models in the lineup, such as the bargain basement Cruise Eco and more appointed Cruise LTZ?

The Cruze's turbo-diesel I4 has complete European routes, being designed in Torino, Italy and assembled in Kaiserslautern, Germany by GM's subsidiary, Opel. So this engine has a very proven track record, where its been used in Opel Astras and various other GM vehicles around the world at a rate of 400,000 annually. Rated at 151-horsepower, the Cruise Diesel includes an Euro-standard iron-block, aluminum-head four-cylinder with a steel crankshaft and aluminum pistons, resulting in a compression ratio of 16.5:1. Fuel circulation, rated at just over 23,000 psi, is routed through the common fuel rail and piezo injectors. Although torque peaks at 264 lb-ft at 2600 rpm, 250 lb-ft is available from 1,750 to 3,000 rpm, and a boot on the pedal brings an overboost function allows the engine to deliver up to 280 pound-feet of torque for ten seconds a shot. A six-speed automatic is the only available transmission

Still, the Cruze’s diesel engine is unique to its European counterpart largely because of the varied weather conditions found in North America: where it can easily be up to 120° F in desert heat, or do to -40° F northern winters, not to mention high altitude situations like the Rockies. Because of these variations the EPA requires higher levels of exhaust-gas recirculation, and different exhaust after-treatment hardware.

To address these issues GM engineers essentially adapted the same techno philosophy from the Duramax diesel engines used on the GM’s line of HD trucks, using a particulate filter plus urea injection to trim oxides of nitrogen. A 4.5-gallon urea tank is located in the spare tire well, which means that a can of fix-a-flat is included. But that does mean the Cruze Diesel comes with a set of run flats, although these 17-inches are low-rolling-resistance tires. But back to the subject at hand; in normal driving, a tank full of urea should last 10,000 miles - topping off the urea is recommended when the Cruze gets its scheduled oil changes every 7,500 miles.

Comparing EPA numbers, the Cruze Diesel is rated at 27 mpg city/46 hwy compared to the Jetta TDI, which states 30 city/42 highway. My multiplying the EPA highway numbers by fuel-tank capacity, the theoretical range calculates to 717 miles for the Cruise Diesel versus 609 miles for the Jetta TDI.

According to GM the Cruze Diesel is B20 capable (B20 is a mixture composed of 20% biodiesel and 80% of diesel fuel), while the Jetta is rated for B5 only. This gives the Cruise an advantage in areas of the U.S. where B20 is more prevalent.

There's very little visually that sets the Cruze Diesel apart from the other trim levels. Nearly impossible to detect are the parts and pieces borrowed from the Cruze Eco, such as the grille opening and shutters, underbody aero panels, and engine-compartment baffling.

To help keep diesel clatter from reaching inside the cabin the Cruze Diesel includes additional sound isolation, such as a different dash mat and hood blanket. The additional heft of the diesel, which kicks curb weight 3,500 pounds, calls for other refinements, such as bigger better brakes.The result is that the Cruise Diesel comes with standard 4-wheel disk brakes, compared with the other models that just have what now is considered an archaic front disks/rear drum arrangement.

In pursuing the Chevrolet website I found where the Cruze Diesel shows a $25,810 MSRP, indicating there’s been a price hike since my test model was built. At that price point, the Diesel comes within a thousand dollar premium over the LTZ trim. So considering both models come with about the same level of equipment, and the LTZ with its ECOTEC® 1.4-liter turbocharged I4 engine is rated at 26 city/38 highway LTZ, putting pen to paper. The payback is longer range at best, especially considering that diesel comes at a premium over regular unleaded.

Compared to its gasoline-powered 1.4-liter Turbo four-cylinder, the Cruze Diesel has ten more horsepower and 110 more pound-feet of torque, yet its fuel economy is expected to be 46 mpg on the highway.

The Cruze Diesel featured for this review came delivered in an Atlantis Blue Metallic with standard black leather interior. Standard equipment includes the MyLink infotainment system (which supports Pandora and Stitcher as well as Bluetooth audio streaming), model-specific 17” 5-spoke alloy wheels, and the biggest surprise, leather seating. Base MSRP was $24,885 with the only option checked being an oil pan heater for an extra $100. With a designation charge of $810 the window sticker came to a very reasonable $25,795.

Available factory options are limited to the aforementioned $100 oil pan heater, a 2LT/Diesel Convenience Package, a $900 power glass sunroof and a $45 smoker’s package (seriously!). The $380 Convenience Package includes a rear vision camera, dual illuminated vanity mirrors, Auto-dimming inside rearview mirror, heated, power-adjustable outside mirrors. A dealer-installed Chrome Appearance Package ($255) includes lower bodyside chrome trim that extends from behind the front wheel to the rear wheel well. The optional oil pan heater allows the Cruze to handle temperatures as low as -40˚ C; as opposed to -30˚ C without. The heater helps in the reduction of startup wear, and even helps when temperatures hover around freezing, in which the diesel motor warms up much faster. In comparison the Jetta TDI offers a block heater which warms the water jacket around the cylinders.

Comparing warranty coverage, the Cruse comes with a 3-year/36,000 bumper to bumper in addition to a (five-year, 100,000-mile) powertrain warranty, and two years of maintenance (this includes refills of urea, which is required every 10,000 miles). By comparison, Volkswagen offers the same bumper-to-bumper coverage and three years of maintenance, but its powertrain warranty is capped at 60,000 miles.

In summary, my overall impression of the Cruze Diesel was favorable, though the jury is still out whether it warrants consideration over the Eco or LTZ models with their slightly less, but still very efficient ECOTEC® 1.4-liter turbocharged engines. It will be interesting to see it GM expands the use of this engine to other makes and models, such as the Cruze’s platform-mate, the Buick Verano; or better yet the Chevrolet Equinox or GMC Terrain CUVs.

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