Chevrolet has a long history of making truly horrible compact cars. Somehow, the Chevrolet Cruze isn't, though. In fact, we reckon it's one the best cars in its class. Ranging from basic 1.8-liter gas models to the Cruze Eco that we tested back in 2011 and loved, the Cruze has become a top-seller in the compact class, despite few upgrades since its late-2010 introduction.
That changes with the 2014 Chevrolet Cruze Turbo Diesel, which has been on sale in Europe for years now but is finally here for our consumption. Word on the street is that GM executives are skittish about the prospect of Americans buying diesel cars no matter how fuel-efficient they may be. But Volkswagen's sizeable market here with diesel-powered cars is too lucrative a prospect to pass up, so Chevy's decided to play ball. Question is: Does the Cruze Diesel get a hit on its first time at bat?
Model and Price
Part of Chevrolet's hesitancy shows in how it's equipping its Cruze Diesel models. Whereas you can have a manual transmission and a more basic interior in a Volkswagen Jetta TDI for a few less dollars, the Cruze Diesel comes with standard heated leather seats, four-wheel disc brakes, OnStar turn-by-turn navigation that's not quite as good as the real thing, XM satellite radio, MyLink infotainment, and Bluetooth, among a long list of other features. The only option ours had was a $100 oil pan heater, which we'd recommend for a diesel-powered car to achieve the best fuel economy. That brought our total up to $25,795, including $810 for destination and handling, which sounds a little steep until you realize a comparably equipped Jetta TDI would be more than $28,000.
That said, with all the bells and whistles, it is possible to carry to Cruze Diesel over $30,000, and the car carries an approximately $2,300 premium over a loaded Cruze LT when taking various features into account.
Safety and Key Features
The Chevrolet Cruze is a safe car, complete with 10 airbags, a five-star government safety rating and even an IIHS "Top Safety Pick" award behind it. Yet, the 2014 Cruze Diesel isn't rated. Carrying an iron-block engine that helps pack on an additional 300 pounds over your average Cruze, the oil-burner might have a different outcome in crash testing, and the government just hasn't gotten around to testing it yet.
That said, the turbocharged 2.0-liter engine produces 151 horsepower and a thunderous 264 pound-feet of torque, both numbers far eclipsing the figures of any gas-powered Cruze. It comes paired to a standard six-speed automatic transmission.
Family Friendliness and Utility
Making the Cruze a good companion is its ability to accommodate as many as 15 of our standard-size grocery bags in its 15.0 cubic-foot trunk. That's on the high side for the class and right behind the Civic's 16. Also aiding in practicality are its 60/40 split-folding rear seat and fairly easy access to LATCH points for two child seats. The only problem with them is that rear leg room can be a bit tight, so it'd be best to slide the front seats all the way forward during installation.
Or just to be a courteous friend when you're not toting kids around. Because friends don't let friends go without sufficient leg room while sitting in the back seat.
Comfort and Quality
That said, the front seats provide ample room for passengers, and having a two-stage heated seat makes life so much more calming on a chilly evening. While driving from one end of Los Angeles to another, my passenger fell asleep a few times, illustrating just how comfortable the Cruze Diesel was on the highway.
Adding to that was the ease of use in all of its controls, with buttons well laid-out and everything right where you'd expect it to be. Perhaps the lone two exceptions would be the Cruze's awkward cupholder placement that's too low and away to find while on the go, and the voice-command system for the Bluetooth hands-free calling that's among the worst I've used in any car. When I ask it to call my brother, I don't expect MyLink to say, "Did you say call 5. 3. 4?" Yeah, because that's exactly what my parents named him: "5. 3. 4. Brown."
Also, in lieu of soft-touch plastics in the interior, Chevrolet put a swath of fabric on the dashboard and doors, which looks nice, but it dirties quite easily. Upping some materials quality would help immensely.
How it Drives
The suspension in the Cruze Diesel is soft, bordering on spongy, to compensate for the added heft. That makes it an excellent highway car but not so great of a city vehicle. Also adding to that are its fuel economy ratings: 27 mpg city/46 mpg highway/33 mpg combined. Over the course of a week, ours averaged 27.2 mpg, which isn't great. Separately, News Director Keith Buglewicz achieved 34.4 mpg on his quick commute to work, and I pulled down 52 mpg over a 90-mile haul a few weeks back. By comparison, my best hypermiling has only ever gotten 44 mpg out of a Jetta TDI, 2 mpg better than its EPA rating versus 6 mpg for the Cruze.
The engine is a little loud and clattery at city speeds, and while it sounds less refined than the Jetta, it's hardly a deal-breaker. Likewise, the transmission is slow to shift, but it's better-suited to highway travel than an urban trek across town. Remember, this car's engine is pulling 3,500 pounds, and weight plays far smaller a role when at higher speeds, allowing the Cruze's slippery shape to have a more profound effect.
If your morning commute involves sitting in traffic or short trips, buy a hybrid or electric car. A diesel needs some time to warm up to run most efficiently. And if you want a diesel but prefer a car that is designed to take corners better, look into a Jetta TDI or even perhaps a BMW 328d if you can swing the payments.
But if your travels take you long distances on the highway and you want to achieve Prius-rivaling fuel-efficiency without feeling like your power is lacking, the Cruze Diesel is a compelling choice, if not overwhelmingly so. While the heavy engine sitting over the front wheels and soft suspension take away some of the sporty character the standard Cruze is known for, it makes up for it with supreme comfort when you're in it for the long haul.
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