Driver's Seat: Longer cruzing range for Chevy Cruze


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2014 Chevrolet Cruze Turbo Diesel: longer cruzing range.

Price: $25,810. No options.

Marketer's pitch: "... Everything you need: Responsive handling. A spacious interior. The latest technology."

Conventional wisdom: "But diesels stink." -- Mrs. Passenger Seat.

Reality: If you're paying for better mileage, it may not be a terrific investment.

"I'm a diesel geek": Those were the words spoken to me by the fleet service driver who delivered the 2014 Chevrolet Cruze Turbo Diesel into my driveway. We were making small talk and I asked him what he thought of the car.

There's something about the clatter and chug of the spark plug-free, high-compression engine that turns me into a little boy. Blame it on growing up near a hillside highway and listening to the sound of the big rigs downshifting and engine-braking through the open windows on warm summer nights, back when the term "clean diesel" simply caused people to wet their pants with laughter.

Bravery from GM: The whole company is going to want to poke me in the eyes for mentioning this, but it's worth noting that the Cruze does not have the strong diesel lineage of Mercedes, Volkswagen and the country's soon-to-be newest returnee, Mazda, which plans a Mazda6 diesel. No, GM has its 1980s soot-belching Oldsmobiles and Cadillacs, a hurried fiasco in response to the energy crisis of that era.

Why bring that up? Because people like Mrs. Passenger Seat still have a knee-jerk response about diesels, often based on years past.

On the road: This reasonably pleasant little sedan doesn't suffer from any performance (or odor) problems when equipped with the 2.0-liter turbodiesel engine.

Forget slow diesel engines of days gone by; the Cruze Turbo Diesel's performance is even better than the tiny 1.4-liter turbocharged engine in the Cruze Eco.

The Turbo Diesel gets up to speed fairly quickly, and lots of torque (264 foot-pounds, which is a whole bunch from 125 cubic inches) means it's peppy from a stop or moving around in traffic. And the engine note, of course, is wonderful.

Fuel economy: Since this is the main selling point of the diesel, I'll say that it's a slight improvement over even the tiniest gasoline engine in the Cruze. I observed 35 mpg in a country road-heavy week in the Cruze Turbo Diesel, vs. 33 in a more highway-oriented week with the Cruze Eco automatic a couple years back. The company advertises up to 46 mpg highway for the Turbo Diesel and 42 for the Eco, so I assume their numbers are equally optimistic.

The Turbo Diesel costs $4,000 more than the Eco and $2,500 more than the 2 LT automatic, which a GM rep said is its closest trim level. So making that money back will take an awfully long time. But the leather seats are standard in the Turbo Diesel and 2 LT, not the Eco.

Shifty: The automatic shift lever placement is a little awkward, but it does respond to shifts well. In automatic mode, however, I find it downshifts a lot, and abruptly. No manual is available for the diesel.

Handling: It rides like a Chevy, meaning not badly designed for handling on fun roads, but highways are its natural habitat.

Tuning in: The center dash has the radio with lots of buttons underneath. One dial on each side for volume and tuning makes it a little easier to follow along while trying to drive. But tuning is actually kind of a pain. The first turn of the knob switches the screen into the tuning menu; the next twist starts the dialing. Then you have to press the knob after you get to the station you want. So if you want to move just one station up or down, it's two twists and a push.

Friends and stuff: The leather seats were nice. The cloth dashboard can be a bit of a dust catcher over time, I bet. The rear seat is snug like in all Cruzes.

The console is nicely sized for a few CDs. A small slot holds a phone. But slots are minimal. The trunk is not a bad size, at just over 13 cubic feet. The rear seat folds down to add storage space.

Where it's built: Lordstown, Ohio.

How it's built: The Cruze Turbo Diesel has not been rated by Consumer Reports, but the gasoline-powered engine version gets a poor rating for predicted reliability.

In the end: A 2013 Jetta TDI got 42 mpg in a more highway-oriented week of Driver's Seat testing about a year ago. The Jetta overall is a more competent car, but if I'd seen better mileage from the Cruze, I'd have a tougher time deciding.

Still, I can't wait for the Mazda6 diesel to arrive on our shores.

Scott Sturgis, a freelance auto writer, can be reached at mrdriversseat@gmail.com


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