Even though advanced technology has made contemporary diesel engines more powerful and refined, the number of diesel-powered models available in the U.S. make up a miniscule portion of the car market.
Chevrolet wants to do something about that (not to mention break in on Volkswagen's monopoly on the affordable diesel-car market) with the 2014 Chevrolet Cruze Diesel.
Chevy sold nearly a quarter-million Cruzes last year, so it has the potential to make an impact that reaches well beyond the Volkswagen diesel faithful, while at the same time tempting even Volkswagen true believers with a sedan made by a company other than VW.
Are You a Numbers Kind of Person?
Let's say you like the idea of buying the quickest Chevy Cruze available. That'd be the new 2014 Cruze Diesel. Its 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine develops 151 horsepower and 264 pound-feet of torque. Combined with its standard six-speed automatic, the Cruze diesel will go from zero to 60 mph in 8.6 seconds, according to Chevrolet. That's a half-second faster than the Cruze equipped with the turbocharged gasoline 1.4-liter.
Yeah, 8.6 seconds doesn't sound that quick, but when you've got as much as 250 lb-ft of torque available at just 1,750 rpm and an overboost feature that delivers as much as 280 lb-ft for 10 seconds, it feels markedly quicker. There's a bit of turbo lag, but wait out that half-second and you get more than enough power to sprint past the larger-engine gasoline cars still gathering steam to find the meat of their torque curves.
Now let's say you want the car with the segment's single highest fuel-economy number, but you don't want a hybrid. That also would be the 2014 Chevrolet Cruze Diesel with its rating of 46 mpg on the highway. And if a hybrid guy wants to bet pink slips based on what you're really getting out of a gallon of fossil fuel, the diesel's likely to come out ahead there, too, unless you're talking strictly stop-and-go city driving, where the Cruze is rated at 27 mpg.
Not everything is ideal with the 2014 Chevrolet Cruze Diesel. It weighs about 250 pounds more than the next heaviest Cruze, and that kind of extra weight is never easy to accept, particularly in the name of greater efficiency.
Owners probably will never know it, but they'll be carrying around a tank of urea to cleanse the Cruze Diesel's emissions, and the car's spare tire is sacrificed to place the 4.5-gallon tank that holds the stuff. Refills take place during scheduled maintenance (Chevy says at least 10,000 miles before the tank would be drained); you decide what you think about a can of compressed flat-fixing goop in place of a spare.
The most glaring ice patch on the road to diesel acceptance, however, might come from Chevy's own price strategy. The Cruze Diesel sits near the top of the Cruze model range and although it's rather generously equipped, it's a good $5,000 dearer than the well-regarded, gasoline-engine Cruze Eco, which gets a markedly lower 39-mpg highway rating but at 33 mpg combined, is just 2 mpg in arrears of the Cruze Diesel, thanks in part to the Diesel's 27-mpg city rating.
We weren't particularly bothered by those details in our 600-mile round trip behind the wheel of the 2014 Chevrolet Cruze Diesel. Instead, it underscored why modern-day diesel engines are such an attractive proposition. For most trips, fill up before you leave and forget about what the fuel gauge says until you return.
You can breeze along with the engine barely nudging past the 2,000-rpm mark with the cruise control set just south of 80 mph. Trouble with dawdlers? Tickle the accelerator and erupt to 95 mph without even troubling the transmission for a downshift.
Forget about diesel clatter, too. Contemporary diesels have largely quieted the clamor, but Chevy engineers also took the extra precaution of borrowing a special sound-absorption package from the 2013 Buick Verano to keep this Cruze quiet. The Cruze Diesel also borrows goodies from the Cruze Eco, including its active grille shutters, 17-inch wheels and low-rolling-resistance tires.
Otherwise, the 2014 Cruze Diesel is mostly like other Cruzes, only better performing. You get four-wheel disc brakes that are enlarged to account for the diesel's extra weight, and that six-speed automatic transmission is an Aisin unit that feels quicker-witted than the GM-made six-speed auto the gasoline Cruzes employ.
The low-friction tires do occasionally slip more than we'd like, and although engineers claim a suspension retuning, in many situations the front dampers don't quite feel up to the job of holding up the mass of the iron-block 2.0-liter diesel engine. We noticed this particularly on jarring impacts such as a transition from the highway surface to a bridge surface, when the front end's damping and rebound both felt overtaxed.
A Well-Positioned Competitor
It's hard not to take a shine to the 2014 Chevrolet Cruze Diesel. Big-torque performance and hybrid-baiting efficiency is an alluring combination, while the Cruze's intrinsic goodness continues to impress three years after its launch.
For now, Volkswagen has to be curiously looking over its shoulder at its new competitor, and for good reason. The Cruze has more horsepower (151 hp to 140 hp), more torque (264 to 236) and better highway fuel economy (46 mpg to 42 mpg).
And as a final kicker, the Cruze is less expensive, too. At $25,695, the Cruze Diesel undercuts the automatic-transmission Volkswagen Jetta TDI by about 500 bucks. Not a huge difference, but enough to make it worth giving the Chevy a look if all the rest of its advantages weren't enough to convince you already.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.