By Christopher A. Sawyer
The diesel-powered Chevy Cruze was one of the worst kept secrets in the automotive world. News of the car began to leak out two years ago, not long after the gas-powered version took to the streets of America. Mileage numbers as high as 55 mpg were whispered, but when the Cruze Diesel made its debut at the Chicago Auto Show, the highway number was a more pedestrian 42 mpg; equal to VW’s Jetta TDI and the gas-powered Cruze Eco. However, like the Jetta and unlike the Eco, the Cruze Diesel will return better than rated mileage in the real world — as long as buyers can keep from using the diesel engine’s 258 lb-ft of torque to put a silly grin on their face. Fifty mpg or slightly above should be possible for those with a steady right foot on a long highway cruise.
Unlike its European counterpart, America’s Cruze Diesel offers only one engine, a 2.0-liter inline four with 148 hp. The smaller 1.7-liter was neither powerful nor frugal enough to satisfy an American public that looks upon diesels with more than a bit of skepticism. Even with 258 lb-ft of torque, the Cruze Diesel’s official 0–60 mph time of 8.6 seconds, marginally faster than the Jetta TDI. However a GM engineer with who I spoke suggests this number certain to be lowered once instrumented testing begins. After all, Motor Trend did this test in 8.1 seconds in a manual-equipped Cruze Eco, and it has 10 fewer horsepower and 110 less lb-ft of torque. The Cruze Diesel, unfortunately, comes only with a six-speed automatic transmission.
Whether this is enough to convince buyers to part with an extra 50 cents per gallon for diesel is unknown. Despite being easier and less expensive to refine, diesel carries enough taxes on each gallon that it is at a disadvantage when compared to gasoline. Thus, GM is predicting first-year sales will be about 10% of Cruze volume. However, the Cruse if the first of what may be many diesel-powered American vehicles coming down the pipe to help automakers meet future fuel economy standards. (Ford recently announced it could "ramp up diesel production for the U.S. very easily" if demand for oil burners increases here.) This includes a rumored Malibu Diesel model that will use the same engine and transmission. It debuts in the facelifted 2015 model.