On the roads there arose a mild clatter
That perked ears and prompted some chatter.
Aimed at soothing economy blues,
It is a new diesel named Cruze.
Apologies to Clement Clarke Moore, who wrote the famous "Night Before Christmas" poem, but the newest Chevrolet Cruze deserves attention if only because it's the first modern, popularly priced diesel passenger car from any of the Detroit Three: General Motors, Ford and Chrysler.
Until now, Germany's Volkswagen had captured the territory with diesel versions of its Jetta compact, Golf hatchback, Passat midsize sedan and Beetle two-door. Diesel engines burn oil instead of gasoline and, instead of spark plugs, use the heat from high compression to fire the fuel/air mixture.
About half of the passenger cars sold in Europe are diesels, mainly because of their superior fuel economy -- about 30% better overall than gasoline fueled counterparts. It's no surprise given gasoline prices there of up to $8 a gallon.
But diesels have never caught on in the United States, which has relatively inexpensive gasoline and expensive diesel fuel. When they have been tried, as with the V8 diesels in early 1980s Cadillacs, they failed because of dismal reliability.
In recent years, U.S. and Asian manufacturers have focused on gasoline-electric hybrids, like the Toyota Prius, to meet ever-stringent fuel economy requirements. But the Germans have stubbornly stuck with diesels, especially in luxury brands like Audi, Mercedes-Benz and BMW. Audi, for example, offers diesels across the board.
The 2014 Cruze oil burner is powered by a 151-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbocharged diesel engine mated to a six-speed automatic transmission with a manual shift mode. Unlike its German counterparts, there's no manual gearbox; Chevrolet calculated that there would not be much demand.
To meet U.S. emissions requirements, the Cruze diesel uses urea injection. The fluid is contained in a tank in the trunk where the spare wheel usually resides. There is no spare; the substitute is a compressor with sealant that can plug small leaks.
Unlike some of the quiet luxury diesels now available, the Cruze's engine emits a clattering noise. But it's noticeable mainly from outside. With extra insulation, the interior is mostly quiet except under hard acceleration.
As with most diesels, the Cruze develops its torque, or twisting force, at low rpms, which gives it a quick jump off the line. Zero to 60 miles an hour comes up in a respectable eight seconds. However, there's some turbo hesitation until you hit 2500 rpms, so you have to be careful passing on rural two-lane roads.
The automatic transmission shifts smoothly but, untrustingly, denies improper shifts in the manual mode.
City/highway/combined fuel economy, as measured by the EPA, is rated at 27/46/33 mpg. In a 30 mile run of aggressive driving on freeways as well as city and suburban streets, the test car returned 31 mpg. Likely some careful owners, as is often the case with diesels, will even do better than the 46 mpg highway mileage.
Handling is enhanced by a tightly snubbed suspension system. But it results in a choppy ride on bumps and heaves.
With a base price of $25,695, the Cruze Turbo Diesel comes as a well equipped car with full safety equipment, including stability and traction control; air conditioning, remote starting, leather trimmed upholstery with heated front seats; driver's seat power adjustments, XM satellite radio with Chevrolet's MyLink smart phone integration; cruise control; express up and down front power windows, and aluminum wheels.
To enhance fuel economy, the Cruze also sports an automatic air shutter in the lower grille, along with a front air dam and rear spoiler.
However, in a puzzling move to squeeze a few coins out of the cost of construction, the Cruze has a sliding visor on the driver's side to block sun from the side. But the deprived right side passenger doesn't get one.
Passengers in back do not fare well, either. Head and knee room are tight in the outboard positions, and sharp protrusions under the front seats can gouge shoes or bloody flip-flop exposed toes. The center rear seat is an even tighter perch with a large hump where feet might go. Out back, there's a large trunk but the C-hinges are unprotected and could damage luggage.
Optional equipment on the test car included navigation, rear parking assist and cross traffic alert, blind spot warning, heated outside mirrors and a rear vision camera. The options brought the suggested list price up to $28,105.
Model: 2014 Chevrolet Cruze Turbo Diesel four-door sedan.
Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder diesel, turbocharged, 151 horsepower.
Transmission: Six-speed automatic with manual shift mode.
Overall length: 15 feet 1 inch.
EPA passenger/trunk volume: 95/15 cubic feet.
Weight: 3,475 pounds.
EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 27/46/33 mpg.
Base price, including destination charge: $25,695.
Price as tested: $28,105.