The 2014 Chevrolet Cruze diesel hits the highway with a winning combination of
power and fuel economy, but the compact sedan's interior is falling behind the
leaders, despite a roomy passenger compartment and trunk.
I wrung 616 miles from a single tank of fuel in a highway run from Detroit through the Smoky Mountains into North Carolina. I hit 42.5 miles per gallon at an average speed of 70 mph.
My fuel economy rose to 45.5 mpg in a shorter and slower drive on highways and curving country roads in North and South Carolina.
The Cruze's 2.0-liter turbo diesel is already a favorite with General Motors' customers in Europe, where diesels power about half of new cars. American buyers have been slower to adopt diesels, which got a reputation for noisy, smoky and unreliable operation in the 1980s.
Modern diesel engines are vastly cleaner, more reliable and _ best of all _ fuel-efficient and fun.
The diesel Cruze features a slick Aisin six-speed automatic transmission. It has extra sound insulation _ essentially the same acoustic package as the very quiet Buick Verano _ to keep the passenger compartment quiet, despite the mild ticking sound characteristic of diesels.
The result is a quiet and comfortable sedan that excels on the highway.
Prices for the Chevrolet Cruze diesel start at $24,885 for a well-equipped model that's comparable to the high-end LTZ version of the gasoline Cruze.
I tested a $25,590 Cruze with leather upholstery, voice recognition, Bluetooth phone and music compatibility, a touch screen, 10 air bags, air conditioning, cruise control, backup camera and more.
The Cruze diesel simultaneously competes with the high-performance versions of the Dodge Dart, Ford Focus, Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra, Kia Forte, Nissan Sentra, Toyota Corolla and Volkswagen Jetta.
The turbo diesel produces 151 horsepower and 264 pound-feet of torque. The beefy torque output rises to 280 pound-feet with brief periods of extra-power overboost from the turbo.
The combination of power and fuel economy has won diesels a small, but devoted following in the U.S. The Cruze diesel is the technology's best shot at mainstream success here. The only other mass-market diesel compact available is the Volkswagen Jetta TDI, which has less power and slightly better fuel economy than the Cruze.
The EPA rated the Cruze diesel 27 mpg in city driving, 46 on the highway and 33 combined. No compact matches the Cruze diesel's combination of torque and fuel economy. The Jetta TDI diesel comes closest, with 236 pound-feet and an outstanding 34 mpg EPA combined rating. The other compacts with higher combined ratings _ the Nissan Sentra and new 2014 Mazda3 _ don't approach the Cruze diesel's power output.
Despite its admirable EPA score, I'm puzzled by the Cruze diesel's 27 mpg rating for city driving. That's a full 3 mpg lower than the Jetta diesel. Outright fuel economy leadership should have been within the Cruze diesel's reach, but Chevy came up short.
The Cruze's interior leaves something to be desired. It's very roomy _ 95 cubic feet of passenger room, 15 in the trunk _ and comfortable, but the gaps and alignments of interior trim pieces are not as even and precise as good competitors offer. The Cruze's interior storage also trails newer compacts like the Dart.
The interior materials look fine, with an attractive two-tone design. The armrests, doors and dash could all use more padding. The gauges are clear and simple.
The Cruze's voice recognition system is excellent. It understands commands and works quickly. The touch screen that helps control audio, phone and navigation functions is smaller and less sensitive than those available in some competitors.
Despite that, power, fuel efficiency and room provide plenty of reasons to consider the Cruze diesel.
2014 CHEVROLET CRUZE DIESEL:
_Rating: 3 (out of four stars)
_Type of vehicle: Front-wheel-drive five-passenger compact sedan
_Engine: 2.0-liter direct-injected turbocharged DOHC variable timing 16-valve four-cylinder diesel.
_Power: 151 hp at 4,000 rpm; 264 pound-feet of torque at 2,600; 280 pound-feet overboost
_Transmission: Six-speed automatic
_EPA fuel economy rating: 27 mpg city/46 highway/33 combined. Diesel.
_Reasons to buy: Fuel economy, power, passenger and luggage room, voice recognition.
_Shortcomings: Interior fits, touch screen size and sensitivity.
_Base price: $24,885
_Price as tested: $25,590
All prices exclude destination charge
ABOUT THE WRITER
Mark Phelan is the Detroit Free Press auto critic. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(c)2013 Detroit Free Press
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