TRAVERSE CITY, MI – The theme of the classic 1960s book “The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner” is in mind as the average fuel economy of our Chevrolet Cruze Diesel creeps past 50 mpg (4.7L/100 km) on the car’s trip computer.
It’s a complex story about how a troubled young man finds redemption through athletic prowess without ceding control of his life to others.
Diesel engines from almost every automaker now are being accused of all kinds of sins both real and imagined, but you still can’t take away the fact they are the best when it comes to long-distance runs. Just ask any diesel fan. There are a lot of them.
Believe it or not, despite all the bad headlines, some automakers still are betting on diesels and hybrid-electric versions to help meet fuel-economy and emissions regulations through at least the next couple of product cycles. They see upside potential, and they may not be wrong.
Some major producers of diesel-powered light-duty vehicles in the U.S., starting with Volkswagen, are phasing out sales here, creating a hole that General Motors in particular is hoping to fill.
It has a shot with the Cruze Diesel, which is aimed directly at the erstwhile VW Jetta diesel. The base price is $25,395. Our test car is $27,395, including an $875 destination charge. Options include leather seating surfaces and a heated and leather-wrapped steering wheel.
Other features include Apple CarPlay and onboard 4G Wi-Fi, which enables us to use our iPhone for navigation and streaming music for four hours without burning through our data plan.
The nicely appointed interior and user-experience goodies, along with the quietness of the engine on the highway, make us feel like we are being whisked from suburban Detroit to the Grand Traverse Resort as if sucked through a vacuum tube.
Diesels do have noise issues during startup and idle, but they can be quieter than gasoline engines while cruising at highway speeds.
GM considers the 1.6L turbodiesel, which also will power the ’18 Chevy Equinox and GMC Terrain, to be its crowning achievement among small-displacement compression-ignition engines.
All we hear is some wind and road noise while piloting the Cruze Diesel to northern Michigan Sunday morning for the Center for Automotive Research Management Briefing Seminars here.
Traveling at speeds of 75-80 mph (121-129 km/h), our mileage is stellar: 50.9 mpg (4.6 L/100 km) over 252.4 miles (406 km) of mostly highway driving (and some long hills), exceeding EPA estimates of 31/47 mpg (7.6-5.0 L/100 km) city/highway.
It’s also significantly better than the 46.7 mpg (5.03 L/100 km) we averaged with the previous 2.0L Cruze Diesel we drove up here in 2013.
We’re sure we could have squeezed out an even higher number, but in our mileage testing we try to drive like an average person, so we keep up with the traffic flow (which sometimes exceeds 80 mph driving north on I-75) and avoid hypermiling tricks.
And while the engine offers a modest 137 hp, it makes 240 lb.-ft. (325 Nm) of torque, creating a fun-to-drive quality that is not usually found in a green car.
Step into the throttle a little too hard leaving a stoplight, and you’ll screech the tires. We can only assume some of the credit for the car’s ability to deliver both efficiency and lots of torque when you want it goes to the new 9-speed automatic transmission, which performs perfectly and never is caught hunting for the right gear.
Unfortunately, like the protagonist in the classic novel, despite all its good qualities, this Cruze wears some flaws on its sleeve.
Diesels are ingrained in European culture and consumers are accustomed to the way the engine sounds and are not bothered by it. But some Americans are turned off by the grumble and increased vibration that plagues all diesels at startup and low speeds.
Another hurdle all diesels face is the increasing efficiency of conventional gasoline engines and hybrid-electric and plug-in vehicles that are not only improving technically but also currently benefit from federal and state incentives that diesels do not enjoy.
That leaves the small army of mostly VW diesel fans who are running out of options. GM execs think they can win them over. We wouldn’t bet against them.
Through the first half of 2017, U.S. light-duty diesel sales are up 16.5% from the previous year. Despite all the doomsayers, Rudolf Diesel’s great invention is not dead yet.