As you read these words, Chevrolet dealers are busy stocking up on something that hasn't been seen in any General Motors showroom for over 35 years, to wit, diesel-powered passenger cars. GM's last diesel cars -- the eminently forgettable diesel Chevette and the infamous Oldsmobile V8s -- disappeared at the end of the 1986 model year after compiling reliability records that were, to be kind, abysmal.
The new diesel, expanding engine choices to three in Chevy's Cruze compact line, seems likely to avoid the sins of the old Olds V8. That's because it's part of a diesel engine family developed for Opel, with extensive development over the last 15 years, and some half-million examples on the road.
And while there have been a number of tweaks to meet U.S emissions regulations -- urea injection, for example -- and market conditions, such as climate extremes, this is essentially the same engine that propels the current Opel Astra, Zafira, and Insignia.
Chevy publicity materials say the new Cruze engine is "designed to compete head-to-head with German diesels," as well it should since it, too, is a German diesel, assembled at the same plant in Kaiserslautern, Germany, that supplies Opel and Vauxhall.
Like the compression-ignition engines in all contemporary passenger car diesels, the Cruze powerplant is a turbodiesel, using the common rail fuel supply technology that's given sparkless engines a new lease on life -- quieter operation, greater efficiency.
Chevy's key target with the Cruze diesel is Volkswagen's VW Jetta TDI, and on paper at least the Cruze makes a solid case versus the VW -- more horsepower, more torque, and better EPA highway fuel economy ratings.
Specifically, the 2.0-liter Cruze turbodiesel is rated for 151 horsepower and 264 lb-ft of torque, versus 140 hp and 236 lb-ft for the 2.0-liter Jetta TDI. The Cruze claims EPA fuel economy ratings of 27 mpg city, 46 highway, versus 30/42 for the VW. The highway rating is the highest of any non-hybrid car sold in the U.S., according to Chevrolet, and gives the Cruze a potential range of 717 miles between refills -- well beyond the endurance of most human bladders.
The Cruze diesel is noisier than its Jetta rival at startup and idle, although this isn't much of an issue inside the car, thanks to extensive sound-deadening measures adopted from the Buick Verano. Like all current diesels, the Cruze's 2.0 has a lovely torque band, delivering at least 250 pound feet between 1,750 and 3,000 rpm. It also has a turbo overboost feature that can raise maximum torque to 280 lb-ft for short bursts.
Chevrolet claims the turbodiesel Cruze will reach 60 mph in 8.6 seconds, a tick better than a Honda Fit, and not exactly nosebleed territory. But the six-speed automatic responds smoothly to throttle inputs, and that generous torque takes much of the drama out of passing on two-lane highways.
The Cruze diesel feels a little nose-heavy and a little more prone to progressive understeer -- resistance to cornering that builds as a function of speed -- than the gasoline version, which isn't too surprising since the diesel, fashioned from heavy-duty cast iron, weighs about 250 pounds more than the standard engine.
Beyond that the diesel suspension tuning may be just a little too stiff for some tastes. On the other hand the sparkless Cruze is commendably agile, within the limits of its forward weight bias, and its electric power steering is more tactile and accurate than most.
With a base price of $25,695, the Cruze diesel represents a $7,755 premium versus a basic Cruze, and a $5,205 hike over the Cruze Eco, which is almost as fuel efficient. On the other hand, it's about $1000 less than the Jetta TDI, includes more standard features, and its German is flawless.
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