Compact cars make up the most crowded and competitive segment of the Canadian market. Consumers looking for a small family car at an affordable price have as many as 20 vehicles to choose from, with nary a dog among them.
The choice ultimately comes down to personal experience with a manufacturer or dealer and/or the monthly hit on your bank account. Among other issues are quality, reliability, safety, resale value and fuel economy. When it comes to the latter, more Canadians are considering a diesel engine. Known for their durability and fuel-sipping tendency, diesels are popular everywhere but North America, where fuel is comparatively cheap.
Volkswagen had the small car diesel market to itself until General Motors released a diesel version of its compact Cruze for the 2014 model year. Like the VW TDI (Turbocharged Direct Injection) diesel, the one offered in the 2014 Cruze has its roots in Europe, where more than 400,000 are sold annually under the hood of various GM products.These engines are modified to meet the different North American exhaust emission standards.
Chevrolet has made the diesel available only in a high trim level of the Cruze, one that has power-operated heated leather seats, alloy wheels, air conditioning, power windows and locks, and heated mirrors.
The Cruze diesel looks like any other, aside from unique alloy wheels wrapped in low rolling resistance rubber. There are some tweaks to help it slide through the air with less resistance, but these are behind the grill and under the body. The cast iron diesel engine, much tougher than a gasoline engine due to the terrific forces generated internally, is 140-kilograms heavier and the Cruze has been suitably modified with things such as larger brakes.
Other than that, it looks, feels and drives like any other Cruze, albeit one with considerably more punch off the line and the ability to go 1,000 kilometres between fill-ups – if your bladder can keep up.
But the 20-per-cent improvement in fuel economy provided by diesel is quickly reduced, if not eliminated, by its higher price. Using Natural Resources Canada ratings, the 2014 Chevrolet Cruze will use about 1,200 litres of diesel fuel per year on average, compared to 1,520 for the gasoline version of the same car. However, Canada’s most popular car, the Honda Civic in comparable EX trim, will use 1,220 litres of fuel per year, as will the Mazda3. Using recent prices in downtown Toronto, the Cruze diesel would consume $1,618 worth of fuel, and the Civic/Mazda3 $1,511 over a year.
Makes diesels a pretty tough sell, despite their longevity and lower maintenance costs.
2014 Chevrolet Cruze diesel
Type: compact sedan
Base price: $24,945 to $28,310; as tested, $29,860
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel
Horsepower/torque: 151-hp/264 lb-ft
Transmission: six-speed automatic, front-wheel drive
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 7.5 city/4.2 highway
Competition: Volkswagen Golf/Jetta TDI
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