Few details distinguish the latest addition to the Chevrolet Cruze family. In fact aside from specific 17-inch five-spoke alloy wheels and a little “2.0 TD” badge on the deck lid, it looks the same. But twist the key and that all changes.
|1. A turbo-diesel 2.0L 4-cylinder engine delivers 151 hp and 264 lb-ft of torque for a 8.6 second 0-60 time.
2. Official EPA ratings are 27 MPG city and 46 MPG highway, topping the VW Jetta TDI.
3. Maximum range of 717 miles on one tank
4. Active grille shutters help deliver that impressive highway mileage number while sound deadening from the Buick Verano keeps out the diesel noises.
That’s because the newest version wears the same skin as a Cruze but is otherwise a different car.
TORQUEY 2.0L DIESEL A WELCOME NEWCOMER
Cutting right to the chase, a revised version of GM’s European diesel engine hides under the hood to offer 151 hp and 264 lb-ft of torque.
More notably, 250 lb-ft of that torque kicks in at 1750 rpm to give the car plenty of pull from a dead stop. Finally, jamming your foot to the floor activates an overboost feature to offer 280 lb-ft for 10 seconds.
Don’t forget, Chevrolet’s unabashed aim here is targeting Volkswagen Jetta TDI buyers. In other words, this car needs to feel like a German car if it hopes to succeed. Does it? And can it?
Mechanically speaking, the most glaring difference falls to transmission options. VW will offer you either a manual or a dual-clutch automatic with lighting-quick shifts. That, combined with loads of low-end torque, translates to an impressive feeling of acceleration.
Meanwhile, Chevrolet offers neither of those. Instead, you’ll find a traditional torque converter six-speed automatic charged with changing gears. That translates into slower shift times, but does it matter?
FUEL ECONOMY DOESN’T DISAPPOINT
It probably doesn’t to most drivers. Paddle shifters are fun, but few occasions really merit using them and you’ll get better mileage without it. In fact, the EPA rates the car at 27 mpg in the city and a whopping 46 on the highway.
Chevrolet swears up and down that the EPA ratings are easy to achieve, though during a roughly 35-mile trip that took place mostly on the highway, the car’s computer reported 39.1 mpg.
It’s also worth noting that this car gets the same active grille shutters and underbody panels as the Cruze Eco.
And for the few times manual shifting matters, it’s available by leaning the gear selector to the left and pushing the stick up and down.
Smooth and powerful acceleration, on the other hand, is something the car can’t do without. Thankfully, it doesn’t have to.
Flooring the gas diesel pedal takes you to 60 mph in 8.6 seconds. While that isn’t particularly fast, you’re more likely to notice how smooth and quiet the experience is.
DRIVES LIKE DEUTSCH? NEIN! BUT STILL IMPRESSIVE
Chevrolet worked hard to make the car feel and sound more solid than its gas-powered siblings. In fact, the brand boasts that it borrowed sound deadening techniques used in the Buick Verano and improved on them.
Among those, the company added much heavier dash mat and a hood blanket to muffle the boisterous diesel engine.
The result is surprising. You’ll need to hush conversations and kill the radio to detect a diesel idle while stopped. Ditto while cruising at a consistent speed. Of course, the familiar truck-like sound is there under heavy acceleration, but it still it isn’t loud enough to be bothersome.
Side by side, the diesel Cruze is almost 400 lbs heavier than the automatic-equipped entry-level model.
But clever engineering took what could have felt like a beer gut and turned it into a positive. How so?
Chevrolet gave the car uprated dampers, bigger brakes and a slightly heavier steering feel, all of which leave it feeling planted instead of porky.
A variable-nozzle turbocharger provides a broad powerband, which means the automatic transmission doesn’t need to shift gears very often. When it does, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how smooth the transition is.
CABIN STILL FALLS SHORT OF ‘DAS AUTO’ QUALITY
You’ll only find the Cruze Diesel in the 2LT trim level, which is just below the top tier LTZ package. It comes standard with leather upholstery, a six-way adjustable driver’s seat and heating for both front buckets.
A seven-inch touchscreen display with Chevrolet’s MyLink telematics system and Blutetooth connectivity are also standard. An optional “driver convenience package” includes an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, illuminated vanity mirrors, a rear-view camera and heated side mirrors.
There’s also an enhanced safety package that adds blind spot monitoring, rear parking assistance and cross-traffic alerts — none of which are offered on the Jetta..
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also gave the Cruze Diesel a five-star rating, which bests the Jetta’s four.
While safety features are important, so is interior build quality, and that’s an area Volkswagen still has Chevrolet beat.
Both the sunroof and premium sound system are skipped with the Chevy’s advertised $25,695 starting price, which includes delivery. Check those boxes and the price climbs to $27,420, which puts the top trim Jetta TDI and the diesel Cruze almost neck and neck from a pure price perspective.
With both cars loaded, the Jetta comes with leatherette seat upholstery instead of the leather in Chevrolet’s car. Still, there’s no arguing that the Jetta offers a more stylish package – at least on the inside.
UREA TOP-UPS TAKEN CARE OF
There’s also another small downside to the diesel Cruze: it’s urea tank. Urea or Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF) as it’s known is mixed with the exhaust fumes before they leave the car to drastically reduce noxious emissions, but the fluid needs to be refilled. The tank holds just over 4.6 gallons and is sized to last longer than a 10,000-mile oil change interval.
Through its service program, Chevrolet will top off your urea (hold the pee jokes) for the first two years during oil changes. After that, it will likely cost about $30 for enough to refill an empty tank.
The issue here is less about cost and more just another thing you have to pay attention to. It’s also worth noting that the Jetta doesn’t use urea.
Drivers interested in saving money by buying a diesel-powered compact sedan finally have a domestic option to choose from with the Chevrolet Cruze Clean Diesel.
Not only does it offer smooth acceleration and more solid driving feel compared to its gas-powered siblings, but it beats the competition in highway fuel economy, government safety ratings and available safety equipment.
When comparably equipped, the Jetta TDI and Cruze diesel are close price competitors. True, the base Jetta TDI sells for $1,845 less with more basic features and a manual gearbox but most of the buyers Chevrolet wants to woo with this car won’t be interested in a manual anyway. With that in mind, the Cruze Clean Diesel doesn’t need to waste time going blow for blow with VW. Instead, it gets the big points right.