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I never thought I would hear the sound of a diesel engine emanating from beneath the hood of a GM car ever again.
In the late 1970s and early '80s, Oldsmobile produced an oil-burner that was such a disaster it tainted the entire breed.
But here I was listening to the dulcet tones of the new diesel-engine option beneath the bonnet of the Chevrolet Cruze. It was, much to my surprise, music to my ears and, as the test proved beyond doubt, a delight to my wallet.
The newest Cruze is powered by a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder clean diesel. It's typical of the units from Europe in that it displaces a modest 2.0 litres. But, thanks to a variable-vane turbocharger, it produces better power than either of the Cruze's two gasoline-powered alternatives and it does so without the anticipated low-end turbo lag.
In this case, it develops 151 horsepower and 264 pound-feet of torque at a low 2,000 r.p.m. -- that's 13 hp and 116 lb.-ft. more than the 1.4L turbocharged gasoline engine, and pretty stout numbers for compact sedan.
This engine also has a neat over-boost mode that, for a span of 10 seconds, bumps the peak torque from 264 lb.-ft. to 280 lb.-ft. On the surface, that seems like a relatively short time advantage. However, it was actually beneficial any time I needed the additional twisting power.
You see, it takes the Cruze Diesel nine seconds to get from rest to 100 kilometres an hour and 7.5 seconds to complete the 80-to-120 km/h passing move. As I say, the over-boost is ready to do its thing just about any time it's called upon. It even managed to spin the wheels during an enthusiastic takeoff.
So why celebrate the addition of a diesel engine to the Cruze? Well, aside from the overwhelming torque advantage it commands over its gasoline siblings, this diesel boasts outstanding fuel economy.
On the highway, it sips 4.2 litres per 100 kilometres, which is better than Volkswagen's highly respected TDI turbocharged diesel. Now, that's a feat worth celebrating.
What was more remarkable, however, was the fact it's one of the very few cars I have ever tested that managed to match its official combined average fuel-economy rating. Officially, it's rated at 6.0 L/100 km. During the test, the Cruze Clean Turbo Diesel averaged 5.9 L/100 km over a distance of 750 km.
My best economy during that time was a city/highway average of 5.1 L/100 km, which is phenomenal by any standard. Of course, the fact that diesel fuel was 10 cents a litre cheaper than gasoline underscored the diesel's advantage.
The power is relayed to the front wheels through a six-speed manumatic that, for once, has a real manual mode. That this feature will see little, if any, use does not detract from the fact it works properly -- unlike all other GM manumatics. It also has a range of ratios that maximizes the diesel engine's sweetness.
When it comes to the ride and handling, the diesel does not feel any different than the regular model. Part of it boils down to the fact that the engine, at least for a diesel, is relatively light (185 kilograms), which means it doesn't introduce any additional understeer when the Cruze is pushed toward the traction limit.
Likewise, the suspension is tuned to deliver a comfortable ride even as it limits body roll when attacking a series of sweeping corners. Factor in the P215/55R17 tires and a steering setup that's commendably poised and polished to the feel, and the diesel is a fun drive.
One tends not to think of a diesel-powered ride as being remotely sporty -- but the Cruze more than qualifies.
Inside, the diesel model comes pretty well-loaded, with air conditioning, the usual power items and heated leather seating. The test car also included Chevrolet's MyLink infotainment system with navigation. How the buttons are arranged and the fact the seven-inch screen is touch-sensitive makes it one of the easiest systems to use.
It's not often the words "Chevrolet" and "best" can be put in the same sentence, but in this case, it's true and well-deserved.
As for the rest of it, the diesel model is all Cruze. The back seat accommodated three teens without the usual whine factor and the trunk, at 13.3 cubic feet, swallowed a family of five's luggage easily. The nit is the crush-anything-placed-beneath-them deck lid hinge design -- I managed to mangle a misplaced rollie suitcase, much to my annoyance.
I hate admitting I'm wrong, but in the case of the Chevrolet Cruze Clean Turbo Diesel, I am, and simply because it does everything demanded of it so well. The engine is quiet, composed and a very willing workhorse that delivers exceptional fuel economy.
When all is said, and the diesel fuel pumped, you can't ask for much more.
-- Postmedia News