Cruising down the freeway at 65 mph in light traffic, the electroluminescent lettering of the 2014 Chevrolet Cruze Diesel began making remarkable claims, showing an average of over 50 mpg. Well over. I could see that it was going to take some time to move the fuel gauge needle off full.
This particular screen wasn't the typical trip computer, but Chevy's Eco screen, which recorded the best average over 50 miles. This screen turned driving into a game, trying to record the best average. Chevy should enable an online ladder where drivers can compare and compete.
That high freeway mileage shows the beauty of diesel, and the limits of EPA fuel economy testing. The Cruze Diesel's EPA mileage came in at 27 mpg city and 46 mpg highway. I handily beat the highway estimate, and ended up with a combined average, involving city and freeway driving, of 39.2 mpg. Most drivers should see mileage in the mid- to high 30s.
Last week, I wrote of thethat it could make Americans more likely to consider a diesel when vehicle shopping. Well, the Cruze Diesel can lay greater claim to tipping that balance, as it is more of a mass-market car. In the Cruze lineup, the diesel is the most expensive, but it is also the most powerful.
Basic compact sedan
The Cruze, competitive with the , is a small sedan, a recent and needed addition to Chevy's stable. It seats four with reasonable comfort, and can take a fifth passenger in the rear seat in a squeeze. The trunk looks remarkably big, considering the size of the car.
The styling of the Cruze won't set the world on fire. The bland design seems intended to appeal to the broadest swath of buyers, who generally don't want a car that will be noticed on the road. The conservative exterior look gets somewhat countered by a more stylish interior. Here, leather covers the seats and a nice two-tone band bows across the dashboard and around the front seating area.
As to ride quality, the Cruze is decent for its class. Not particularly soft -- the suspension damps out the bumps reasonably well -- but lacking the solid feel of higher-end vehicles. The suspension engineering is fairly typical for a car with a base price below $20,000, using MacPherson struts up front but a modified torsion bar for the rear, nonpowered wheels.
No sports car, the Cruze Diesel tended to understeer, tires shrieking, when taking turns fast. And typical for the segment and most new cars, it uses electric power steering.
The diesel power plant under the hood is a 2-liter four-cylinder engine using a turbo, as most diesel passengers cars do, to give it decent acceleration. Horsepower comes in at 151, while torque is a nice 264 pound-feet. Diesels typically have high torque figures and lower horsepower.
Unfortunately, stamping the accelerator pedal doesn't unleash all the torque. In fact, nothing much happens at all, initially. It's as if the car, in a quest for fuel economy, enforces a waiting period on heavy acceleration, forcing you to rethink your driving strategy.
As I used my foot to insist I did want to accelerate, the Cruze Diesel eventually set off at a pretty good clip. But there certainly weren't going to be any front-wheel chirps. While under way, stepping into it to make a passing maneuver, the Cruze Diesel was also a little loath to take off. Passing other cars in an oncoming traffic lane didn't seem like a good idea in this car.
Some of the blame likely goes to the one-choice-only six-speed automatic transmission. This gearbox does a good job of finding the best gear for fuel economy, and has a bit of descent programming built in, so that it geared down when I applied the brakes coming down a hill.
Putting it in manual mode and keeping the gears in second and third on a twisty mountain road, watching for that 5,000rpm redline, I was able to keep more immediate power on tap for the accelerator.
Another peculiar feature of diesels is that they make quite a bit of noise, even from a four-cylinder engine. With the Cruze Diesel idling, my photographer thought something was wrong with the car until I explained its engine. Gasoline cars don't make this kind of clatter, which might turn off some potential buyers.
At speed, most of the diesel clatter becomes overwhelmed by other road noises.
To make the Cruze Diesel 50-state-legal for emissions, Chevy used an exhaust cleanup system similar to that of Mercedes-Benz. The car contains a 4.5-gallon tank of fluid that gets sprayed into the exhaust, cleaning up nitrogen oxides. Unfortunately, that means added maintenance, although a handy screen on the instrument cluster display alerts you when the tank needs a refill, which should be every 10,000 or 15,000 miles.
Beyond excellent fuel economy, another perk of the Cruze Diesel is that it comes standard with a touch-screen LCD in the dashboard, although navigation remains optional. The example I reviewed did not come with navigation, but I was nonetheless very impressed with the other cabin tech features, which Chevy puts under the brand MyLink.
MyLink uses an icon-based main menu, like most smartphones, making it very intuitive to navigate. The only drawback with this type of system is that the menu screens can become crowded as Chevy adds more features. The Cruze Diesel had three screens' worth of icons, mostly audio sources. We saw a later version of Chevy's MyLink in thethat lets you rearrange the icons, again similar to a smartphone interface. That capability makes it easier to organize icons into categories, or by putting your most used on the first screen.
The MyLink touch screen proved very responsive, with features immediately launching as I chose them. If I didn't want to use the touch screen, the radio tuner dial let me select icons on the screen, with a push-button action to launch.
Voice command was also a very reasonable means of controlling some of the cabin electronics. For example, the phone screen showed the contact list from my Bluetooth-paired phone, but I rarely looked at it because I could merely hit voice command and tell it the name of the person I wanted to call.
Likewise, for USB audio sources and iOS devices, I could use voice command to request a particular artist or album.
For the audio screens, MyLink showed the same type of music library interface for my iPhone 5 and a USB drive I plugged into the car, with categories for song, album, artist, and genre. One feature I found really nice was a smart playlist built into the stereo. While listening to a song from a USB drive, I selected the "Play more like this" option, and the car built a playlist from similar songs. It worked very well, and freed me from having to select a new album every 40 minutes.
For online audio, this MyLink implementation offered Pandora and Stitcher. My iPhone was a little finicky with Pandora, as I had to have the phone cabled to the car with the screen unlocked. Android users should be able to run Pandora over Bluetooth. The Pandora interface not only let me see my preprogrammed station list, but also allowed me to give songs a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down.
Other audio sources included Bluetooth streaming audio and satellite radio.
Chevy makes a nine-speaker Pioneer audio system available in the Cruze Diesel as an upgrade, but this model only had the stock six-speaker system. This stereo was weak on power but had good definition. It was one of the better six-speaker systems I have heard, but it didn't give that extra oomph, which would have really made music enjoyable.
Weather and fuel price apps sit among the audio icons on the MyLink screen, both powered by the satellite radio connection into the car. Weather shows current conditions and five-day forecast for specific regions. The fuel prices app lists the per-gallon price for stations near the car's location, and can be set to show regular, premium, or, most useful in the Cruze Diesel, diesel.
However, without the navigation option in the car, I was left having to manually enter a fuel station's address into my phone's nav app.
Like other GM cars, the Cruze Diesel comes equipped with OnStar, which includes a turn-by-turn navigation service. Using the blue button on the rearview mirror frame, you could get an OnStar operator to send directions to the car for any of the fuel stations that come up.
Of course, OnStar offers many other functions, such as roadside emergency services and stolen-vehicle recovery. It is one of the oldest telematics services in the business, with many subscribers.
With the Cruze Diesel, owners can use the OnStar Remote Link smartphone app to see the maintenance information, remotely unlock the doors, and even look up destinations and send turn-by-turn directions to the car.
The green pump
The 2014 Chevrolet Cruze Diesel obviously stands out for its excellent fuel economy, but is mitigated somewhat by the fact that diesel tends to cost about the same as premium gasoline, and that it is the most expensive model in the Cruze lineup. The clatter of the diesel engine might also throw off some potential buyers who prefer the quiet idling of the gasoline engine alternatives.
For comfort, the Cruze Diesel is about equivalent to other small sedans, such as the Honda Civic. Although bland in styling, it has a certain discreet practicality.
The MyLink system stands out as one of the better-performing cabin tech interfaces available right now. The various functions available on its touch screen come up without delay, and the icon format is easy to use. Ford can lay claim to having similar voice command functionality years before with Sync, but MyLink works equally well, showing that Chevy has caught up. OnStar, with its Remote Link app, will be the tech icing on the cake for Cruze Diesel drivers.
|Model||2014 Chevrolet Cruze|
|Power train||Turbocharged 2-liter four-cylinder diesel engine, six-speed automatic transmission|
|EPA fuel economy||27 mpg city/46 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||39.2 mpg|
|Navigation||Optional flash-memory-based system|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard|
|Digital audio sources||Pandora, Bluetooth streaming, iOS integration, USB drive, satellite radio|
|Audio system||Optional Pioneer 250-watt nine-speaker system|
|Driver aids||Optional blind-spot monitor, backup camera|
|Price as tested||$27,505|