General Motors is painfully aware that if you have any knowledge of its passenger-car diesel history, it involves the name "Oldsmobile." Today's diesel reality is quite different, however, as GM competes with the highly regarded Duramax turbo-diesels in its heavy-duty pickup trucks, and its Opel, Vauxhall, and Chevrolet diesels manage to keep up with the competition in Western Europe.
Chevrolet says that 40 percent of the Cruzes it sells in Europe are turbo-diesels, in 1.7- and 2.0-liter variants, so they've decided to give diesels a try in the United States. The Chevy Cruze Clean Turbo Diesel unveiled at the Chicago International Auto Show Thursday is a new 2.0-liter engine based on an iron block/aluminum head turbo-diesel family used in the Opel/Vauxhall Astra, Insignia, and Zafira. GM rates it at a "segment-leading" 148 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. An overboost feature hikes torque to 280 lb-ft for up to 10 seconds for passing, merging, and the like.
Chevy expects the Cruze diesel to get an EPA highway fuel mileage rating of 42 mpg, the same as a Cruze Eco with a six-speed manual transmission. The Cruze diesel will reach that rating with a six-speed automatic, which is the only available transmission. (In comparison, the Eco automatic's highway number slips to 38 mpg.) With a fuel tank of 15.6 gallons, the Cruze diesel's theoretical highway range figures out to 655.2 miles.
The car goes on sale early this summer with a base price of $25,695. That's cheaper than a similarly equipped Volkswagen Jetta turbo-diesel, Chevy says, naming the only direct competitor to the Cruze diesel in the States.
Back in the 1980s, these same two automakers faced off in the diesel realm, and while neither of their products was well regarded, reliability problems with the Oldsmobile diesel overshadowed the poor reputation of the VW Rabbit diesel. Much has changed since then, however.
All mainstream cars and light trucks with diesel engines now have turbochargers, and today, VW sells about 25 percent of its midsize Passats with a 2.0-liter clean diesel engine. These new diesel engines are quieter and smoother than earlier diesels, but they don't come cheap, as the cost to the manufacturer of cleaning up diesel emissions typically is as high as building a hybrid powerplant. In addition, beginning with the 2007 model year, passenger cars sold in the U.S. must use ultra-low-sulfur fuel, with no more than 15 parts per million sulfur content, versus 500 ppm prior to that model year.
GM hopes the Chevy Cruze Clean Turbo Diesel will change the way it thinks about its diesel engines, because it's based on the company's proven, European-market diesels. GM engineers in the U.S. redesigned the 2.0-liter for U.S. emissions, diagnostics, environmental conditions, and operation at high altitude. The Cruze engine also accepts B20 biodiesel. There's a 4.5-gallon urea tank in the car's trunk, slightly affecting cargo space, which needs to be checked every 10,000 miles as part of regular maintenance. Two years of free maintenance is included in the sticker price. Like the VW diesels, the Chevy diesel engine will be built in Europe. It will go into the Cruze during final assembly at Chevy's Lordstown, Ohio, plant.
The 2.0-liter clean diesel weighs 408 pounds but adds between 275 and 300 pounds to the weight of the Cruze 2LT, the fairly high-content trim level with which the engine will be offered. It also includes the z-link rear suspension used in the Buick Verano. The 2.0-liter dual-overhead-cam engine features piezo fuel injectors, a variable-nozzle turbo with intercooler, and a variable-displacement oil pump. The Cruze gets additional sound absorption, including a unique dash mat and a hood blanket.
The 1986 Chevrolet Chevette diesel actually was the last passenger car GM sold with a diesel engine in the U.S., but it's the reputation of Olds diesel it would like us to forget. Unlike the new diesel family, the Olds V-8 diesel was based on a 5.7-liter gasoline engine.
GM admits that it will sell the '14 Chevy Cruze diesel in small numbers initially. At the under-$26,000 sticker price, the car probably won't be a moneymaker for the company. The plan is to pave the way for more diesels in the United States, including a 4.5-liter V-8 program that appears to be on again for Chevrolet and GMC light-duty pickup trucks. The company has hinted we could see Silverado/Sierra diesels here in a couple of years. Considering that the 2.0-liter diesel family is used in a European midsize sedan and small minivan, it would make sense to install the Cruze engine in the Chevy Malibu and Equinox, GMC Terrain, Buick Verano and Regal, and perhaps the Chevy Impala, Buick LaCrosse, and Cadillacs ATS and SRX, as well.