A lot of new diesel-powered cars have popped up on the American market over the past year, with Audi and its parent company Volkswagen leading the push.
There are plenty of upsides to diesels: they offer more torque and better fuel economy than gas-powered cars, and new technology has done away with the loud, dirty, smelly quality that was their hallmark a few decades ago.
Diesels are popular in Europe, and so far sales in America have been good, at least for VW. So I was excited to try out the American offering: General Motors' 2014 Chevrolet Cruze Turbo Diesel.
A Solid Car
I spent a week driving through Manhattan and Brooklyn, took a New Year's Eve jaunt out to Long Island and packed the car for a ski trip that never happened. And I really like this car.
In terms of style, it's nothing special. The Cruze looks just like most other cars in the highly competitive compact car segment, which includes the VW Jetta, Honda Civic, and Toyota Corolla. But with a "red hot" exterior and "jet black" interior, there's nothing wrong with the Cruze's looks.
It's well-equipped: Keyless entry, heated leather seats, XM radio, cruise control, power adjustable mirrors, aluminum painted wheels, and a six-speaker audio system all come standard. MSRP is $24,885. The model I tested also had a 7-inch color touchscreen with navigation, blind zone alerts, and a better sound system, which pushed the price up to $28,105. I'd like to see a rear view camera come standard, but have no other cause to gripe.
The back row is best reserved for children. I'm 5'11", and with the driver's seat where I like it, I could barely fit in the seat behind it.
Acceleration from the 2.0-liter engine isn't great right off the line, but the Cruze smoothly picks up speed between 10 and 30 mph, and the steering is perfectly adequate. The diesel engine is noisy at low speeds (especially if you're outside the car), but quiets down on the highway.
The fuel economy is impressive. Even with a lot of city driving, I averaged between 30 and 46 mpg. It's EPA-rated for 33 mpg city and 46 mpg highway, so those numbers line up.
Overall, the 2014 Cruze Diesel is a really solid car — nothing amazing, but it's not designed to break the mold.
Diesel Won't Save You Money
I haven't tested the other diesel in the compact segment, the 2014 VW Jetta TDI, so I don't know how they line up (pricing and gas mileage are pretty close).
But my guess is that more people will be deciding between the regular Cruze and the Cruze Diesel than between the Jetta TDI and the Cruze Diesel.
So it's worth looking at how the Cruzes compare. The diesel cost $7,615 more than the Cruze LS, the cheapest gas-powered version of the car. That's a 44% jump, huge in a segment full of price-conscious buyers.
But the Diesel delivers better fuel economy than its gas-powered brother. That means you save money, right?
Nope. The improved mpg number will never pay off, because diesel fuel is a lot more expensive than regular gasoline (premium is a different story).
We crunched the numbers: To make the Cruze Diesel a better bargain its gasoline-powered brother, you'd have to drive more than 2.6 million miles.
Diesel costs $.50 more per gallon than gas, diesel drivers save only .287 cents per mile. So it takes a lot of driving to cover the $7,000 price difference.
That number is based on the national average fuel prices (provided by AAA on January 8) the MSRP for each vehicle, and the EPA-rated highway gas mileage for each. We chose the highway number to be generous to the diesel — that's where it does best.
A Few Caveats
First of all, gas prices can change. The gap between gasoline and diesel is the result of government policies, which aren't set in stone.
Then there's the added power that comes from the diesel engine, and the improved resale value.
And the Cruze Diesel can drive over 700 highway miles on a full tank. If you never have to use the bathroom and/or sometimes end up being chased by the police, we think we've found just the car for you.
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