It’s been a long time since General Motors offered us a diesel engine in a passenger car. It was the Chevrolet Chevette, by the way, that last had diesel power anywhere in GM’s lineup in the mid-1980s.
But diesels are hot right now, long a favorite in Europe and now seen as a bona-fide alternative fuel in North America. Volkswagen can’t build diesel versions of its Jetta, Passat and Beetle fast enough, and brands as diverse as Audi, Mazda and Jeep are all in the diesel game here now.
So, to compete with the hot-selling Jetta TDI, Chevrolet has rolled out the Cruise Diesel. The already efficient compact sedan gets an optional 2.0 liter turbo-diesel sourced out of Europe, with a standard 6-speed automatic transmission.
Back when General Motors was in the diesel game here before – mostly quite unsuccessfully – diesel engines were sluggish, smoky and noisy. Now, the Cruze shows that GM, like other car makers, has solved all those issues that helped make “diesel” a dirty word here.
Well, almost all those issues. By today’s standards, this little diesel car is pretty loud. Not necessarily from the interior compartment thanks to good sound deadening, but from outside the car. Your neighbors will know right off the bat that you bought a diesel the first time you pull into your driveway. (Assuming they recognize what a diesel engine sounds like in a car this size. The uninitiated might think your conventional gasoline engine has run its crankcase dry of oil.)
That issue aside, the Cruze Diesel is actually a wonderful little ride. The engine makes massive amounts of torque, and loafs along turning under 2000 rpm at a brisk freeway clip. It’s received an EPA highway mpg rating of 46, and Chevrolet says you could conceivably drive over 700 miles on a single tank. (Whose bladder could hold out that long is beyond me.)
While there are many trim levels for the regular Cruze, in the diesel model you get one slightly up-level one, equivalent to the penultimate 2LT trim, which includes leather seats and all kinds of other goodies. Since there was substantial cost to add the diesel engine and its ensuing emissions hardware to the car, GM’s strategy is to “hide” those costs in a rather premium vehicle.
Base price is $25,695 which puts the car in the ballpark with the Volkswagen Jetta TDI. The Cruze Diesel is a baby step for General Motors, choosing to almost quietly step back into selling diesel passenger cars in the U.S. with barely any markings on the car itself. There’s just a very small green emblem on the deck lid, with “2.0 TD” in small letters.
Probably best not to trumpet the diesel’s reemergence in showrooms, but let an organic word of mouth help sell them. The strategy is to let those who already know diesel’s benefits — and might otherwise be automatically steered to the VW models — give it a try.
If you know the history of GM’s foray into diesel cars here, you know that the late 1970s and early ‘80s were pretty much a diesel disaster for the company, with failed engines and class action lawsuits putting an end to being able to buy one. That lowly Chevette used a small diesel sourced from Isuzu, and went away with a whimper.
Things are very different now. The company is able to source the Cruze Diesel’s engine from Europe, where a good chunk of Cruzes are already sold with it. Furthermore, GM is stepping up with an impressive warranty on the engine: five years or 100,000 miles. They’ll also take care of the maintenance for two years, including topping up the special emission control fluid that’s become part of keeping modern diesel engines compliant.
Now, if they could just do something about the noise.
I’ll see you down the road.
Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7 and can be heard on “The Car Show” Saturdays at 9 a.m. on KPFK, 90.7 FM. E-mail Dave at TVCarz @ pacbell.net Twitter: @dave_kunz, Facebook: ABC7Dave