Test Drive: A pocket rocket to fit your pocketbook

Test Drive: A pocket rocket to fit your pocketbook

February 22nd, 2014 by Mark Kennedy in Business Diary

The 2014 Chevrolet Cruze diesel is a pocket rocket, with as much torque as a V-6 Camaro.

Photo by Mark Kennedy/Times Free Press.

FAST FACTS

* Model: 2014 Chevrolet Cruze Turbo Diesel

* Exterior color: Silver Ice Metallic

* Interior color: Jet Black

* Engine: 2.0-liter, turbo diesel

* Horsepower: 151

* Transmission: six-speed automatic

* Fuel economy: 46 mpg highway/27 mpg city

* Dealer: Walter Jackson Chevrolet, Ringgold

* Price (MSRP as tested): $26,300

Assume for a second that you could buy a car with a highway mpg rivaling a Toyota Prius, but that's also capable of bursts of low-end power that surpass a six-cylinder Chevrolet Camaro.

Got your attention, right?

Now imagine that such a vehicle is available in a stealthy little compact car that lists for about $26,300 (with leather) -- before you cut your best deal.

Ladies and gentlemen, introducing the brand new Chevrolet Cruze turbo-diesel, one of the most intriguing new cars to land in dealerships this year. If your memories of diesel automobiles involves black smoke and engines that sounded like a clothes dryer full of Keds, please know that today's clean diesels no longer have bad breath and they purr like a kitten.

Frankly, I didn't know what to expect when I visited Walter Jackson Chevrolet in Ringgold earlier this week, but within five minutes behind the wheel of the new Cruze turbo-diesel it became apparent that this is a game-changing little automobile.

If nothing else, the popular Volkswagen Jetta TDI -- the official turbo-diesel vehicle of the young and hip -- now has a worthy competitor in its rear-view mirror. The Cruze's engine has a overboost feature that lifts torque output to 280 pound-feet for up to 10 seconds, just enough time to rocket pass that Jetta -- and maybe even an unsuspecting Camaro caught flat-footed on the freeway.

Bob Lollar, sales manager at Walter Jackson Chevrolet, notes the diesel engine in the Cruze is a proven powerplant made in Germany that skips all the complexities of a gas-electric hybrid system while still delivering a staggering 700-miles-plus on a tank full of diesel fuel. Add the bullet-proof durability of a diesel engine, and the Cruze begins to look like a real bargain for those that like to keep their cars for a decade or longer.

STYLING AND COMFORT

Before we get all misty about the powerplant, it's important to know that the Cruze turb0-diesel is, at base, a comfortable compact car with up-to-date electronics, a well-furnished cabin and a clean -- if not flashy -- exterior design.

The Cruze bears a striking resemblance to the bigger Chevy Malibu, which is to say its lines are handsome but conservative. A sculpted hood and pronounced character lines that sweep rearward through the doors give the Cruze the appearance of broad shoulders. Our Silver Ice Metallic test car was paired with a modern, all-black interior trimmed in soft, high-quality leather. The car feels substantial, with expensive-looking touch surfaces and a well-conceived dash architecture that wraps around the driver. The Cruze is shod with all-season Goodyear Assurance rubber on nice-looking 17-inch, alloy wheels.

Equipped with Chevrolet's MyLink interface, the Cruze with sync-up nicely with your smartphone and/or iPod. A 7-inch touch screen on the dash becomes your control panel for infotainment functions such as Pandora and optional SiriusXM radio.

Standard features on the Cruze turbo-diesel include daytime running lights, remote keyless entry, a remote-start feature, heated leather seats, XM radio (subscription extra), and acoustic insulation which does a good job of dampening engine noise. A $328 2LT package adds a back-up camera and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror.

The only exterior sign that this is a special Cruze is a little green badge on the trunk lid that reads "2.0 TD". Drivers who like to fly under radar, will love this this little pocket rocket.

DRIVING IMPRESSIONS

The soul of the Cruze is the aforementioned 2.0-liter turbo-diesel engine, which makes a modest 151 horsepower. Those familiar with turbo-diesel motors will know that torque is their real forte of diesel performance.

The Cruze turbo-diesel boasts 264 pound-feet of torque, which gets boosted to 280 pound-feet under foot-to-the-floor acceleration for up to 10 seconds. This accounts for the kick in the pants we felt when our test car rocketed down an I-75 on-ramp. Feeling that power on demand immediately puts a mischievous smile on your face, as if your inner race driver is musing: "Well, what have we here?"

On our test drive, the Cruze was a blast to drive -- it's the kind of car that urges you to make excuses to climb behind the wheel. With its 15.6 gallon fuel capacity, the Cruze turbo-diesel is capable of traveling from Chattanooga to Milwaukee on a single tank. The government estimates the the Cruze turbo-diesel will return 46 mpg highway and 27 mpg city. Don't forget to factor in the price of diesel fuel, which costs about 20 percent more today than regular-octane gasoline.

BOTTOM LINE

Think what you will about the government bailout, but GM is in a golden era of new product launches -- from the Chevy Impala, to the Cadillac CTS to the Buick LaCrosse.

Interestingly, though, it's cars like the Cruze turbo-diesel that have the potential to attract a new, younger generation of buyers to the bow-tie company, much like the Camaro did in the 1960s and 1970s. And that, ultimately, is infinitely more important to GM than producing great Boomer-mobiles.

The Cruze turbo-diesel strikes me as a perfect car for any driver with a substantial daily commute. GM's five-year, 100,000-mile limited powertrain warranty is tailor-made for drivers commuting from, say, Cleveland or Dalton, Ga., to Chattanooga, as is the Cruze's 46 mpg highway number.

Internationally, GM and Volkswagen are in a fierce competition for market share. With the arrival of the Cruze turbo-diesel in North America, score one for the General.

Contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6645. Follow him on Twitter @TFPCOLUMNIST. Subscribe to his Facebook updates at www.facebook.com/mkennedycolumnist.