Although it?s a favourite fuel in Europe, diesel is a much tougher sell on this side of the pond.
It is surprisingly popular in luxury SUVs, and it?s a mainstay for heavy-duty pickup trucks. But in the mainstream compact car market, Volkswagen has pretty much stood alone ? until now.
Chevrolet has entered the fray with the 2014 Cruze Diesel. I don?t see many of them on the road, so far, but I suspect that?s more about external factors than the car itself.
Some of those factors are long-held beliefs about diesels: that they?re smelly (which they aren?t anymore, since sulphur has been regulated out of the fuel); that they belch black smoke (also gone, thanks to emissions standards and controls); and that they?re noisy (which, admittedly, the Cruze is).
Although it may seem minor, the fact that most diesel nozzles are disgustingly scuzzy may also play a part. For what we?re paying for the stuff, how about some hand wipes at the pump?
But perhaps the biggest hurdle, at least recently, has been the price of diesel itself. For most of the winter, it hovered at or above that of premium gas.
Even though diesel cars get better fuel economy, they are more expensive to buy, so, as with hybrids, payback at the pumps can be a long-term investment. Higher prices don?t help.
Put all those factors together, and I?m not surprised that the Cruze Diesel isn?t on every corner yet.
It comes in a single trim line, at $25,045. Its features are roughly comparable to the gasoline Cruze 2LT, which is $22,845 when optioned with the six-speed automatic transmission that?s the only choice with the diesel engine.
The Diesel comes well-equipped, including a backup camera, Bluetooth, heated leather seats, premium MyLink stereo and satellite radio, but you can add more if you choose. My tester was optioned with a sunroof, navigation, upgraded speakers, and a package of park assist, blind-spot monitor, and cross-traffic alert.
The 2.0-L four-cylinder turbodiesel makes 151 horsepower and a whopping 264 lb.-ft. of torque. Hit the throttle hard for passing power and the turbocharger will ?overboost,? forcing in more fuel and air to make a quick blast of 280 lb.-ft. of torque that gets you past pretty much everything.
Somewhat surprisingly, given how much power is going to the wheels, there?s almost no torque-steer ? that annoying tendency of some front-wheel-drive cars to pull to one side on hard acceleration.
The Cruze is a pleasant car to drive: it isn?t sporty, but it responds well to steering input, it?s confident on the highway, and it takes corners smoothly.
The engine is noisy when compared to the relatively whisper-quiet diesels that Volkswagen makes. The Cruze is well-soundproofed, though, and interior noise is acceptable. However, the transmission can often downshift harshly.
By comparison, the VW Jetta?s 2.0-L diesel makes 140 horsepower and 236 lb.-ft. of torque. That?s considerably less power than the Cruze, with only marginally better fuel economy, at 5.7 L/100 km to the Cruze?s 5.9.
You can get the Jetta starting at $22,490 ($23,890 with an automatic transmission), but to equip it roughly to the level of the Cruze?s features, you?ll spend $29,190.
However, the Cruze requires urea treatment, a liquid that?s automatically injected into the exhaust system to reduce emissions. The 2014 Jetta doesn?t need it, although the 2015 version will have a new, more powerful engine that will.
As with most exhaust treatment systems, the Cruze?s urea tank is sized so it generally needs refilling at the same time the car is in for an oil change.
So do you actually save with a diesel? Well, maybe.
The gasoline Cruze 2LT with automatic is $2,200 cheaper.
Using calculations based on diesel fuel currently costing a penny more per litre than regular gas, Natural Resources estimates the diesel costs $168 less per year to run. That means a potential 13 years before you see a payback at the pump. And while diesels usually have higher resale values, their maintenance will cost more.
If you want a diesel strictly for its driving characteristics ? and I do love them for that ? then the Cruze handles that well, along with a handsome and comfortable interior.
But if it?s all about the money, then you need to look at how many kilometres you drive, and where and how you drive it, to see if a diesel is right for you.
The vehicle tested by freelance writer Jil McIntosh was provided by the manufacturer. Email: [email protected]
2014 Chevrolet Cruze Diesel
Price: $25,045 base, $27,825 as tested
Engine: 2.0-L I4 turbodiesel
Power/torque: 151 hp/264 lb.-ft.
Fuel consumption L/100 km: 7.5 city, 4.2 hwy., 6.7 as tested
Competition: Volkswagen Jetta and Beetle
What?s best: Great acceleration, nice interior, long range between fill-ups.
What?s worst: Noisy engine, abrupt downshifts.
What?s interesting: The engine is built in Germany
- The diesel exhaust fluid filler on a Chevrolet Cruze Diesel - photo by Jil McIntosh - for Wheels