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Quiet, efficient Chevrolet Cruze diesel sedan gives Volkswagen TDIs new competition

Consumer Reports News: June 05, 2013 10:08 AM

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For a long time, if you wanted an affordable diesel sedan, your only choice was a trip to the Volkswagen dealer to shop the Jetta TDI or Passat TDI. Now, the Chevrolet Cruze diesel gives buyers a new choice. And we just added one to our test fleet to see how it measures up.

General Motors offers this 2.0-liter turbodiesel four-cylinder engine overseas, making its appearance stateside in the Ohio-built Chevrolet Cruze seem like a natural strategy. To enhance fuel efficiency, the automaker has used aerodynamic tricks from the gasoline-powered Cruze Eco model, such as active grille shutters, front air dam, and rear spoiler from. Based on our initial drives, we'd also bet that some sound-stifling lessons were applied from the library-quiet platform-mate Buick Verano.

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The Cruze turbo diesel comes in one well-equipped trim level, including leather (nicer than the Jetta's leatherette) and the MyLink touch-screen stereo with excellent voice-commands. Adding a sunroof to match the TDI Premium brings the roughly equivalent price to $26,605. Overall, the Jetta has more room but the Cruze has more features.

The Cruze we bought has a few more options, including a handy $380 Convenience Package with a rear camera and heated mirrors and $325 worth of Crystal Red metallic "tintcoat" paint, for a total price of $27,300.

You do pay more for the Cruze's extra "niceness," but it's not a big difference. A Jetta TDI Premium, including a sunroof, touch-screen stereo, and the optional DSG transmission, stickers for $26,390.

Of course, if you're buying a diesel, you care about mileage. With less than 150 miles on the car, we're far from making any conclusive statement on fuel economy. Getting 40 mpg in routine driving, including some highway cruising, seems to be pretty easy. (Visit our guide to fuel economy.)

Comparisons between the Cruze and the Jetta are inevitable. Here are our first observations:

  • Dedicated manual-transmission drivers will pick a VW TDI, since the Cruze diesel is automatic-only. That said, our initial impressions are that GM's automatic is a good fit with the torque, low-revving diesel.
  • There's a lot more room in the Jetta's backseat than the Cruze's tight rear accommodations.
  • The Jetta TDI gets away without needing diesel emissions fluid (DEF). Required in the Cruze, refills are covered during the complementary maintenance period.
  • The Jetta feels penny-pinched compared to the Cruze. The VW's interior looks cheaper, showing just how much the automotive universe has changed. Our first impression is that the Cruze is quieter, as well.

It's easier to find a Jetta TDI at your local dealer. For now, Chevrolet is only peddling this Cruze in select major markets where diesels traditionally sell well. We thought that was going to require a trip to Boston to buy our car, but we were able to purchase from a nearby Chevrolet mega-dealer. We grabbed the first one they had in stock, saving us a trip to Beantown.

Maybe that drive from Boston wouldn't have been much of a hardship, as the Cruze feels like a premium-yet-efficient compact sedan. (I'd buy one over a Buick Verano any day of the week.)

We're putting miles on our Cruze before it enters our formal test program, and we look forward to seeing how it does in our fuel economy tests.

Tom Mutchler

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