Imagine driving 700 miles, Boston to Durham, NC, on a single tank of fuel costing $ 35. Or San Diego to Seattle on two tanks. These trips and more are possible with the 2017 Chevrolet Cruze diesel edition. In a compact car market dominated by Asian and European brands, the Cruze more than holds its own. The Cruze diesel with manual transmission gets 52 mpg highway, the most of any non-hybrid, non-EV compact car.
Chevrolet sets the Cruze diesel premium high, though — nearly $ 4,000 over the gasoline model. To get your money back, you’d need to drive 40,000 (mostly highway) miles a year for 10-plus years, by our calculations, with the manual transmission Cruze.
Chevy takes its compact car into the modern era
Over the past four years, Chevrolet has made its sedans world-class. The 2014 Chevrolet Impala was the first full-size American car in 20 years to earn Consumer Reports‘ top rating in its class. The Chevrolet Malibu, two years later, proved competitive against the likes of the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, and Kia Optima. Now comes the compact Cruze, out since 2016 in the US. It features a roomy cockpit for its 184-inch length, a simple-to-use infotainment system (MyLink), Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, and built-in OnStar telematics.
The Cruze is available with gasoline or diesel engines:
- 1.4-liter turbocharged gasoline engine with 153 hp, 177 lb-ft of torque, six-speed manual, EPA rating 28 mpg city, 39 mpg highway, 32 mpg combined;
- 1.4-liter gasoline turbo, six-speed automatic, EPA rating 30/40/34;
- 1.6 liter turbo diesel with 137 hp, 240-lb ft of torque (a lot), six speed manual, EPA rating 30/52/37;
- 1.6 liter turbo diesel, nine-speed automatic, EPA rating 31/47/37.
The diesel is sold with the equivalent of the LT trim line, the second highest, behind Premier. The diesel with the manual transmission lists for $ 24,670 with shipping, a $ 3,645 premium over the Cruze LT gasoline manual car. The diesel with the nine-speed automatic lists for $ 26,270, a $ 3,945 premium over the gasoline Cruze with a six-speed automatic.
Cruze is one of about dozen 2017 or 2018 passenger cars and SUVs with diesel power, and also the most affordable.
How long ’til the diesel pays off?
If you expect the Cruze diesel to earn its keep financially — that is, pay back the extra cost — you’ll need to drive a lot of highway miles and opt for the manual transmission.
We calculated costs using the current fuel prices, $ 2.32 a gallon for gasoline, $ 2.49 a gallon for diesel (as of late June 2017). Meanwhile, the EPA calculations are based on a car that drives 15,000 miles a year, 55 percent city, 45 percent highway. Using that formula, the payback period would be about 50 years for the manual, and never for the automatic (425 years).
People who buy diesels typically drive more highway miles and more total miles. A traveling sales rep or long-distance commuter might drive 40,000 miles, 30,000 of which are on the highway. The manual diesel would use $ 350 less in fuel per year, making the payback period 11 years. For the automatic, it would be 33 years.
You can play “what if” here: For instance, what if the price of fuel climbed to $ 4 a gallon for gas and diesel, Chevrolet cut the diesel premium to $ 2,000, and diesel automatics really got the 48 mpg I experienced, while the real-world efficiency of the gas-engine car remained at 34 mpg? A 15,000-miles-a-year Cruze would take 47 months to make back the premium, while the 40,000-miler would need just 17 months.
500-700 miles between fill-ups matters
So today, the odds are against getting back the $ 3,600-$ 3,900 extra the diesel Cruze costs, unless you’re a high-miles driver and opt for the manual transmission. Even then, it won’t be as much fun to drive as the diesel Golfs and Jettas, which haven’t been available since dieselgate news broke.
But the diesel Cruze is actually available, and you’ll be able to drive 500 to 700 miles between fill-ups, an under-appreciated convenience a) because it is, assuming your bladder holds out, and b) because diesel pumps are often grimy (photo inset). In a week of mostly highway driving with the automatic diesel Cruze, I averaged 48 mpg. On highway-only legs, it was 52 mpg at 65-70 mph. So real-world savings could well be more than the EPA numbers suggest.
Should you buy a diesel Cruze? Any Cruze?
Either Cruze is a solid compact car that’s competitive with the likes of the Honda Civic, Mazda 3, Subaru Impreza, Hyundai Elantra, and VW Jetta. (The Ford Focus is a bit late in life for the current model, although you can often find it with large discounts.) A diesel-engine Cruise hatchback, 9 inches shorter, comes available this fall.
The 34-mpg average of the gas-engine Cruze automatic is topped only by the Civic’s 35 mpg, and matched by Ford Focus (3-cylinder turbo, manual transmission) and Nissan Versa.
Cruze has a solid, but incomplete, package of safety features. The $ 495 Driver Confidence Package adds blind-spot detection and cross-traffic alert. Forward collision warning and lane keep assist are available only on the high-end Premier trim line, one step above the diesel’s LT trim. There is no automatic emergency braking or adaptive cruise control on any Cruze; both would be helpful to high-mileage highway drivers who’d be attracted to the diesel Cruze. These are marketing and not technical shortcomings that Chevy could fix at any time.
Chevrolet sedans are all worth a look. The Cruze is a solid car with very good mileage on both the gasoline and diesel models. It is far better than the predecessor Chevrolet Cavalier and Cobalt of yore. You may wish for more safety technology, especially with solid safety suites from competitors Honda (Honda Sensing) and Toyota (Toyota Safety System) baked into the price on all models, or all but the entry trim line. For the Cruze diesel, the biggest challenge to buyers is getting back the extra money the diesel costs.