Chevrolet has announced it will offer a diesel Cruze for the 2013 model year. This is a significant turn of events for GM, who hasn’t sold a diesel automobile in the US since the mid-1980’s. The reason for GM’s revisiting diesels is the hike in the EPA’s CAFE requirement to 35mpg by 2015. Diesels are a quick route to higher mileage, and don’t have the greater expense or complexity of hybrids. The truth is, GM (like Ford) has been selling diesels in Europe for many years, and this would be the first instance of a European market diesel being certified for sale in the US.
Chevy’s Cruze was the best-selling car in June, and is leading a turnaround in sales for GM. The gas-powered Cruze Eco has a CAFE rating of 28 city/42 highway while the diesel version could reportedly return as high as 50mpg on the highway. More likely, the car will have an EPA rating in the low 30’s with a highway rating in the low 40’s similar to VW’s TDI. The two cars are similar in size, weight and power, and once GM earns EPA certification for the diesel engine, the required exhaust catalysts and particle filter will undoubtedly result in a loss of efficiency. Real world mileage will probably be similar, with city mileage in the mid to upper 30’s and mid 40’s highway. It probably will not be a huge increase, but the driving experience will be quite different, with the diesel’s low-rpm torque providing a satisfying push versus the gas engine’s high rpm frenzy. For comparison, the European diesel Cruze with automatic transmission is rated at 30mpg city and 54 highway for a combined 42mpg (UK figures).
Chevrolet has not announced which engine will be offered in the new version, but chances are it will be the 2.0 liter four-cylinder designed by VM Motori of Italy and produced by GM-Daewoo. This engine is rated at 160hp @ 4,000rpm and 236lb-ft torque @ 2,000rpm – substantially higher than the 138hp 1.8 liter engine in the base Cruze. The big question is how much more will the diesel cost? Certifying an engine in the US is not cheap, and diesels have the added burden of onerous EPA regulations concerning NOx (nitrogen oxide) and particulate emissions. It’s tough to hide a significant extra cost in the price of an inexpensive car, and the Cruze’s starting price of $16,720 underscores this. GM’s target is undoubtedly Volkswagen’s Jetta TDI, which starts at $22,995 with a long standard equipment list. The Cruze diesel is two years away, and plans could change before then. No matter what percentage of total Cruze sales the diesel accounts for, it’s never a bad thing to have more choices.