Features

The Diesel is the Enthusiast’s Chevy Cruze

New diesel will appeal to a niche, but does it have a future?

DETROIT, Michigan – General Motors powertrain boffins are very enthusiastic about the new 1.6-liter Ecotec turbodiesel that is available in the 2017 Chevrolet Cruze. And why not? It has an aluminum block that weighs 44 pounds less than the iron block in the 2.0-liter diesel it replaces, is 68-percent quieter than that engine, peaks at 240 pound-feet of torque with 219 pound-feet available from 1500 rpm to 3250 rpm, and gets 52 mpg on the highway when equipped with a six-speed manual transmission.

The 1.6-liter Ecotec available now on 2017 Chevy Cruze LT sedan and hatchback with the choice of the aforementioned six-speed manual or a new nine-speed automatic will soon be added to the all-new Chevrolet Equinox, albeit with only the automatic gearbox.

Sound like Chevy is going after Volkswagen’s customers, who won’t ever be able to buy a brand-new diesel VW in the U.S. again? Yes, precisely. But while that’s good news for enthusiasts, it doesn’t mean much for GM’s bottom line.

In 2016, Chevrolet sold a total of 432,071 Cruze compacts and Equinox SUVs, topping the entire VW brand in the U.S. by 109,123 units last year. That’s after Cruze sales shrunk along with most of its segment and Equinox sales dipped after Chevy unveiled the new-for-’18 model.

2017 Chevrolet Cruze Diesel sedan taillight and badge close up

Mazda will join Chevrolet in the diesel passenger vehicle fray when it adds a turbodiesel option to its CX-5 compact sport/utility. With VW out of the game, Chevy, GMC, and Mazda will be the only mainstream, non-premium brands to offer diesels in passenger cars and SUVs.

The 1.6 diesel offers “choice, with better fuel economy and performance for Chevrolet customers, and it’s one of the lowest-cost options for reduction of CO2 emissions Nicholson said at a briefing on the new engine for its Cruze application,” said Dan Nicholson, GM’s vice president for global propulsion systems, at a briefing on the engine’s application in the Cruze.

About 9 percent of the 146,174 Chevy Colorados/GMC Canyons sold last year were equipped with the 2.8-liter Duramax diesel, Nicholson said, adding that he would be happy if diesel volume reached 5 percent of Cruze volume — about 10,000 units based on last year’s sales.

The 1.6-liter Ecotec, developed primarily at GM’s Turin, Italy facility, along with Pontiac, Michigan and in Germany, features an all-new engine control system which premiered in the Chevy Colorado/GMC Canyon 2.8-liter Duramax diesel. It also features:

  • Variable-flow oiling system
  • Crankshaft-driven oil pump
  • Variable-swirl intake manifold
  • Cross-flow cooling system
  • Electronic throttle valve
  • Variable-vane turbocharger rated for a maximum boost pressure of 42 psi
  • Common-rail direct-injection

It is B20 biodiesel capable, and uses emissions- and particulate-control technology, which means a urea-based after-treatment system. The urea tank, with its filler tube located next to the fuel cap opening, must be refilled about once every 4,000 miles, said Mike Siegrist, assistant chief engineer for the 1.6-liter Ecotec.

Engineers added ceramic glow plugs for the North American market, where the climate is generally colder than in Western Europe, Siegrist noted (the change has since been added to all 1.6 Ecotecs). The glow plugs are rated for starting in temperatures as low as -13 degrees Fahrenheit; a dealer-installed accessory plug-in heater extends that to -40F.

2017 Chevrolet Cruze Turbodiesel torque and engine graph

The variable-vane turbocharger uses an actuator to change the profile of the turbo vanes, and the exhaust-gas recirculation system has a bypass to warm up the heater quickly in cold weather. Among the noise and vibration mitigation features is placement of the camshaft drive in the back of the engine, instead of the front.

The new engine is rated 137 horsepower at 3,750 rpm. It hits its 240 pound-feet of torque maximum at 2,000 rpm and, Siegrist says, the automatic can reach peak in all nine gears.

Chevrolet already has publicized the Cruze diesel manual’s 30/52/37-mpg city/highway/combined EPA mileage estimates (which, uncharacteristically for a car already on-sale, are not yet published at the fueleconomy.gov website). Ratings with the nine-speed automatic are 31/47/37. Price for the Ecotec diesel option is about $2,800 for either the sedan or hatchback, Chevrolet says (the diesel is not yet configurable at the chevrolet.com consumer website).

GM says it will have a total of 10 diesel-powered models on the U.S. market by 2018, which include the Chevrolet Cruze, Chevy Colorado/GMC Canyon, Chevy Express/GMC Savanna, Heavy Duty Chevy Silverado/GMC Sierra, and the upcoming 2018 Chevy Equinox and GMC Terrain. That leaves one more model to come unless GM counts the Cruze sedan and Cruze hatchback as two

While Nicholson, Siegrist, and the Chevy crew are ecstatic about the new engine and its North American applications, GM’s recent acknowledgement it is in talks with PSA Peugeot-Citroen to sell the French carmaker its Opel/Vauxhall operation could pose problems.

GM builds the 1.6-liter Ecotec in its St. Goddard, Hungary engine plant, which is owned by Adam Opel, which charges a “transfer cost” to any other GM divisions. Although Nicholson told WardsAuto that GM will maintain diesel technology knowhow if Opel/Vauxhall is sold, GM would have to either buy the engines from Peugeot-Citroen, negotiate to keep the Hungarian plant (unlikely if GM essentially pulls out of the European market), or move 1.6-liter production to another engine plant. GM builds 2.8-liter Duramax engines in Thailand and 6.6-liter Duramax engines in Ohio, both with partner Isuzu. Any of those three options could be costly to buy an engine that already adds more than 10 percent to the sticker price of a Chevy Cruze.

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Buying Guide
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2017 Chevrolet Cruze

2017 Chevrolet Cruze

MSRP $23,795 LT Diesel (Manual) Sedan

EPA MPG:

28 City / 39 Hwy

Safety (NHTSA):

★★★★

Horse Power:

153 @ 5600