Chevrolet Cruze Diesel: A Brave Step from North America
GM’s introduction of a diesel engine into the Chevrolet Cruze lineup was a brave decision. Germans are pushing hard to expand the boundaries of the modern self-igniting version of the internal combustion engine at this side of the Atlantic. Except the luxury brands like Audi (also a brand of the Volkswagen Group), Mercedes and BMW want to conquer North America with more and more diesel engines. VW, as a mainstream brand is the number one manufacturer that re-introduced diesel to North America with its Jetta TDI. (Wait to read the end of the story later in this article)
However, remembering Opel’s, GM’s German Subsidiary, strong position and experience in Europe with its diesel engines, this move is not a journey in unchartered territories. More than that, this engine is built in Opel’s Kaiserslautern factory in Germany. So you may ask yourself? How much American is this Chevy?
In Europe the share of diesel in passenger car segment is around 50 per cent. (Please also note that the share of Cruze’s with a diesel engine sold in Europe was 40 per cent when the bow-tie brand withdrew from Europe in favour of Opel). In some countries like Belgium, it goes even higher up to 60 per cent.
In North America we have a different picture: Despite the advancements in efficiency and emission, consumers in the USA and Canada are still not very receptive to this technology. The memories of badly smelling and smoking diesel engine from the Seventies did not disappear entirely. Not supported by the relatively cheap gas prices compared to Europe, Rudolf’s machines still struggling to reach a 5 per cent market share.
Can the Cruze Diesel compete with Volkswagen’s segment-dominating Jetta TDI? (No. 2: The CD offers more power with better highway fuel economy for less money.) But, perhaps most importantly, why would anyone buy the diesel version of the Cruze versus the distinctly lower-cost LS and the supposedly almost-as-frugal — if you believe anything Natural Resources Canada has to say about fuel economy — Cruze Eco? Indeed, considering how niche the diesel segment remains compared with mainstream gasoline-fueled products, why would anyone buy any diesel?
How Much Fun Does the Cruze EcoDiesel Provide?
Comparing its torque and performance to the 1.4 liter Turbo engine I drove earlier, the CD’s 2.0L high-pressure turbodiesel engine labeled as 151 horsepower and the 264 lb.-ft. is more fun to drive. Although not meant to be, it delivers a sporty driving experience with should be regarded as a bonus. Acceleration is more linear than with a gasoline engine as you would expect from a diesel, posted as 8.6 seconds to reach 96 kilometers an hour (60 mph), good enough for passing on the highway or in the city.
There’s nothing surprising, however, about the compression-ignited Cruze’s fuel economy, though. During my one week test drive with 765 kilometers with mixed use leaning towards highway, I reached and average of 6.4 liters of diesel. Well, not very impressive but a very good figure.
And Things Have Changed Thanks to Volkswagen, the Diesel Pioneer in America
Having said all this, I strongly believe that the future of diesel is not very bright in North America, at least for passenger cars, CUV’s and SUV’s:
Volkswagen’s emission scandal due to cheating software will inevitably lead to a great loss of trust for diesel engines. This historical scandal, if not a crime committed by one of the world’s leading auto manufacturers deserves a separate article. But take note of this.
Obviously, this is not GM’s fault and we should put all the blame on the passionate Germans, who want to be number one manufacturer in 2018.
Putting all of this in perspective, it’s worth noting that against its direct competition — again, Volkswagen’s diesel-dominating Jetta — the Cruze offers more performance and similar fuel economy for slightly less money (the CD starts at a smidge under $25,000, though most are priced closer to $30,000).
If the Cruze does fail on the economics front (as, indeed, many diesels do), it is because Chevrolet, like most of the industry, insists on selling diesels only in the “premium” levels of their offerings. That’s why North American diesel sales have so far, with the exception of the aforementioned Jetta TDI, been limited to luxury marques. None of this alters the fact that diesels consume less gas and, were they offered in the same bare bones trims as their conventional counterparts, would save money in the long run. Perhaps more important, considering the low opinion most North Americans have of diesels, their performance can be superior and their comportment thoroughly civilized. Certainly, that’s the case in the Cruze lineup.
It remains to be seen, if the Chevy’s diesel journey will continue with the brand new, 2016 Cruze.
However, in the long run, this is not the direction nearly 200 countries pointed towards at the end of Paris Conference on Climate Change.