By Peter Bleakney, Driving.ca - Just when you thought the diesel-powered compact car was dead in the water, GM comes rattling to the rescue. The Chevrolet Cruze Diesel, available in both sedan and hatchback, could very well be a salve for those who mourn the tragic demise of Volkswagen's cruelly deceptive yet otherwise excellent TDIs.
Up until that VW's emissions scandal blew up real good, the diesel-powered Golf and Jetta enjoyed cult status here in Canada, accounting for a sizable percentage of those compact car's sales. Canucks have a penchant for diesels, and really, what's not to like? Amazing fuel mileage along with gobs of relaxed torque is hard to dispute.
So, can this diesel Cruze pick up where the compact VWs left off? Will it ever garner the kind of love and emotion the TDI faithful still harbor in their hearts? Will it spawn a new crowd, proudly willing to wield their stinky yellow pump handle?
I will say this: after a week in the saddle of the 2018 Cruze Diesel sedan, the on-board computer showed a heart-warming fuel consumption rating of 5.4 L/100 kilometres, and with diesel currently cheaper than regular gasoline, that's a sweet thing. So yes, this diesel sedan delivers hybrid-baiting economy without the attendant weight and complexity of battery packs, electric motors and mega computing power.
However, pricing is an issue that weighs down the Cruze Diesel. It's only available in the second-from-top tier LT trim, with the six-speed manual sedan starting at $24,395. Add another 41,500 for the six-speed automatic in this tester, and that represents a $3,250 hike over the comparable gas models that run with a 1.4-L turbo-four making 153 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque.
The heart of the matter here is an all-new 1.,6-L turbodiesel four-cylinder engine, with a variable-vane turbocharger, and aluminum block and heads. This Hungarian-built oil-burner is 20 kilograms lighter and a claimed 68 per cent quieter than the 2.0-L turbodiesel it replaces. The engine is also available in the Chevrolet Equinox and GMC Terrain crossovers, so yes, GM seems serious about this diesel business.
While this new diesel's 137 hp might sound a bit paltry, it's the robust 240 lb-ft of torque available from 2,000 rpm that does the talking. hooked to an excellent nine-speed automatic transmission that expertly slurs the gears while keeping the little oil-burner in the meat of its torque band, the Cruze Diesel never feels flat-footed. There's always a big slug of torque at the ready to urge you forward from just about any speed. It certainly feels more fleet than the gasoline car.
In Europe, this engine gets the nickname "fluster-diesel" - fluster is German for whisper. indeed, once warmed up, it is a civilized unit. Sure, there's an earnest - some might find it endearing - grumble emanating from under the hood when accelerating, but when cruising, it's as quiet as a church. And with the necessary down-stream urea-injection exhaust scrubbing, it meets all North American emission regulations. You'll need to top up the DEF (diesel exhaust fluid) every 8,000 to 10,000 km.
There are a few reasons diesel engines are so much more efficient than gas engines. Diesel fuel is more energy-dense, containing about ten per cent more bang-power per litre. Additionally, parasitic pumping losses are reduced in a diesel engine because engine speed is dictated by fuel supply; it doesn't have to work to suck air through a restrictive opening (the "throttle", get it?) And finally, the super high-compression ratio, needed to ignite the fuel because there are no spark plugs, contributes to more efficient combustion.
As for the higher price compared to gas-powered vehicles, chalk that up to robust construction and the extremely precise, high-pressure fuel-delivery systems.
In all other aspects, the Cruze Diesel lines up with the gas model. It's an agreeable compact sedan with fine road manners that lean more toward comfort than sport. however, its numb on-centre steering feel won't win over any Volkswagen fans. Likewise, the interior quality trails the VW's, but you can say that about most competitors in this segment.
In the plus ledger, the Cruze's ergonomics are good in LT trim with an intuitive, seven-inch touch screen-based MyLink infotainment system featuring Bluetooth, USB, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, plus SiriusXM satellite radio. you also get six months of free, full-service OnStar that spoils with turn-by-turn GPS navigation, 4G LTE Wi-Fi hot-spot connectivity, and more.
This tester had the $3,200 True North Edition Package that adds leather seating, a heated steering wheel, blind-spot and lane-change alerts, rear park assist and rear cross-traffic alert, a sunroof, ambient lighting, a colour screen in the gauge cluster, a pretty decent nine-speaker Bose audio system, and the touch screen is bumped up in size to eight inches. spicing up the exterior is the RS body package ($795) and Cajun red paint ($595).
All in, we're looking at a pretty pricey Cruze; just north of $30,000 before freight and taxes. I would also posit it is the best-driving Cruze, because the 1.6-L turbodiesel and the slick nine-speed transmission give this little sedan a relaxed, V6-like urge from step-off to highway cruise.
There's no arguing its parsimonious fuel sippage. One could, however, argue-with the financial hit this 'fluster-diesel" inflicts on the Cruze's bottom line. Justifying the cost would require driving it around the globe a few times. We will accept fanatical, flag-waving, diesel enthusiasm as well.