Torquey Cruze says move over, VW

In many ways, Chevrolet’s new diesel-fed Cruze compact sedan makes sense; yet in other ways, it may not.

For example, the Cruze Diesel costs approximately $2,600 more than an equivalently-equipped gas-fired Cruze 2LT, and diesel fuel is more expensive than regular unleaded juice. A further consideration is the need to top-up the diesel’s urea-injection DEF tank when the vehicle is serviced.

While those may be strikes against purchasing the oil-burning Cruze rather than a gas-ingesting variant, I remain an ardent diesel-ist, and am encouraged to see a domestic player offer a modern clean-burning highly fuel-efficient diesel sedan. Volkswagen has long had this former niche market in their vice-like grip, but the gloves are off in the mid-twenty-thousand-something diesel market, and the runt from America is getting mouthy with claims of greater horsepower and more torque.

The 2.0L turbocharged diesel engine delivers satisfying performance in the mountains thanks to its wealth of 264 lbs.-ft. of torque.

The 2.0L turbocharged diesel engine delivers satisfying performance in the mountains thanks to its wealth of 264 lbs.-ft. of torque.
Rob Rothwell,

Beneath the hood

The 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder diesel power plant in the Cruze is a potent little beast capable of producing 151 horsepower and 264 lb.-ft. of torque while Volkswagen’s Jetta TDI is pegged at 140 and 236 respectively. The tables turn slightly when fuel-economy is measured.

The 2014 Cruze Diesel is rated at 7.5L/100 km and 4.2L/100 km city and highway driving respectively while the Jetta TDI turns in 6.7L/100 km and 4.6L/100 km city and highway, giving it an edge in town but not on the highway. It should be noted that these numbers are all fairly academic. Variables such as terrain and driving style will more greatly influence one’s ability to convert diesel fuel into distance travelled. My mixed usage in this week’s tester levelled out at a most reasonable 6.9L/100km.

That said, numbers count, and in this case I favour the bigger power figures produced by the Cruze over the fuel-economy subtleties between the two diesels. The Cruze utilizes a conventional six-speed automatic transmission to connect its diesel mill to the vehicle’s front wheels. VW opts for an automatic dual-clutch affair in its Jetta TDI.

Now that dual-clutch technology is becoming mainstream, I’ve heard a few complaints from owners that would prefer the more seamless, fluid operation of a conventional automatic transmission. Something to think about when comparing the Cruze Diesel to Jetta TDI.

2014 Chevrolet Cruze Diesel.

2014 Chevrolet Cruze Diesel.
Rob Rothwell,

On the road

Big torque output in a relatively lightweight front-wheel-drive (FWD) car can be hard on tires when twist exceeds grip. The Cruze Diesel is more than capable of breaking traction on a whim but GM engineers have calibrated throttle response to favour gentle departures from curbside without neutering what the vehicle can do when necessary.

Next to exceptional fuel economy, the overriding characteristic of a diesel engine, such as the example powering this week’s tester, is the ability to thrust a car forward at part-throttle without the need to drop into a lower gear and race the engine. There is reassurance in a deep well of torque, especially when the road chosen points upward.

I took my Cruze Diesel to the ski hill, which involved a 3,500-foot ascent. The car performed admirably, never struggling out of a sharp corner to regain highway speed on a steep incline the way a typical four-cylinder econobox would have.

There was seldom a need to downshift the Cruze to stay within its broad yet optimal RPM-range, nor was it necessary to access anything greater than part-throttle during the climb.
Behind the wheel

2014 Chevrolet Cruze Diesel

2014 Chevrolet Cruze Diesel
Rob Rothwell,

Yes, the Cruze Diesel can be a little noisy prior to reaching its operating temperature, and the mighty mill can remit some vibration into the cabin — but that’s all pretty standard stuff for diesel engines, though some manufacturers seem to better minimize these symptoms.

Once underway, this is a quiet car that feels solid and united in its mission to efficiently move its occupants while minimizing road intrusion.
Its suspension is absorbent without feeling sloppy or lazy, and the car tracks true making it effortless to administer on the highway. From a driving perspective, it’s hard not to like the Cruze Diesel, even if it’s a little uninspiring to look at — both inside and out.

So would I recommend the Cruze Diesel?

The short answer is yes, but with qualifiers. This is an ideal vehicle for long-distance commuters. It returns its greatest dividends on the highway, but many miles are needed before the extra cost of the diesel alternative turns from red to black. Yet superior fuel economy is not the only reason to go diesel.

For gearheads and drivers that enjoy a torque-laden motoring experience combined with slightly more mechanical mayhem, the cost of going diesel may well be worth the enhanced driving pleasure. It is for me. I like the visceral nature of a high-compression diesel power plant audibly working beneath the hood and the ease in which these engines propel a car. While that appeal is by no means priceless, it is worth a couple grand more in my ledger.

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The specs

Type of vehicle: Compact diesel-powered 4-door sedan
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder diesel
Power: 151 hp & 264 lb.-ft. of torque
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 7.5 / 4.2 L/100 km city/highway as tested
MSRP: $29,900 (incl. dest. $1,600)

About Rob Rothwell