IN AN effort to keep pace with the ever-improving engine efficiency in rival compact hatchbacks, Chevrolet has developed a 1.7-litre diesel for its Cruze.
The headline figures that people will be looking for are 72.4mpg and 117g/km of CO2, which makes the 1.7 VCDi the cheapest of the Cruze’s engines for road tax at a piffling £30 after the first year, which is free.
But fortunately it’s not just tuned for economy at the cost of driveability. When brand new it feels noticeably restricted and needs at least 1,000 miles to loosen up enough to show its full talent, but at that point it pulls strongly through all six gears thanks to a healthy 128bhp and 221lb.ft of torque.
The Cruze itself isn’t a heavy car and feels livelier than its 0-62mph time of 9.4 seconds suggests once it’s got some miles under its belt. Well-chosen gearing is partly to thank, and even top gear isn’t too long to overwhelm the engine. The car sits at 2,000rpm at 70mph, which isn’t as low as it could be for outright fuel economy but it’s tractable without needing to change down.
As for the bit around the engine, the Cruze is a known quantity by now. It’s a bit of a surprise for anyone who’s always overlooked Chevrolet as a natty American brand, because it’s all surprisingly chunky and substantial inside. There’s one area of shabby fit at the pointy front ends of the plastic door handle panels, but otherwise a lot of the materials feel more premium than you might expect.
In the Cruze you get a coarse fabric weave covering part of the dashboard and door panels like upholstery. It’s an unusual touch that looks pretty nice, although it might not fare well if knocked by sharp corners or pointy objects that could tear the fabric.
It’s a heavily stylised interior all round, with a great-looking centre console and instrument cluster setting a new driver immediately at ease. The turquoise lettering on the dashboard’s LCD display is a touch of something pleasantly different as well. It’s a very easy car to feel positive about from the first moment you get into it.
The feeling is boosted by the very wide range of adjustment in the seat and in particular the steering column, which doesn’t stick to the assumed ‘long arms, short legs’ measurements that many cars force upon you. Those with long legs can better stretch out in the Cruze than in most of its rivals.
On the subject of space, the new engine is available in the Cruze as the heart of both the hatchback and the forthcoming estate, or Station Wagon. For now, only the hatch is available to order but the SW will be here in a matter of months with a larger, more practical boot.
There are three trim levels, from the basic LS up through the LT to the kit-packed LTZ. The LS has a good spread of safety kit, front electric windows, manual air conditioning and a good quality security system.
You need to go right to the top LTZ model if gadgets are your thing, and with climate control, cruise control, automatic windscreen wipers and headlights, 17-inch alloy wheels and rear parking sensors it’s well kitted out. The Cruze isn’t necessarily the best-equipped in its class, but LT models have most things you really want.
The problem for the diesel is that it’s £2,925 more expensive in the LT than the 1.6-litre petrol is, and some rough maths using the claimed economy figures for both brings up about 50,000 miles as the number you’d need to drive before the diesel becomes the cheaper long-term option, assuming today’s fuel prices.
Looking at the bigger picture though, that figure would drop to more like 40,000 miles after the diesel’s much lower road tax charges over three or four years are taken into account. For drivers who cover more than about 13,000 miles per year the diesel does make financial sense.
The Cruze is going head-to-head with some very stiff competition in the high-value small hatchback sector, with the Hyundai i30 and Kia Cee’d among the players. The American firm’s effort is an excellent one that brings its game light years on from some of its older cars, and it’s a very worthy choice indeed.
This diesel engine compliments the more powerful 2.0-litre one that’s already available and makes the Cruze a more rounded proposition; one more fitting of the times and one that deserves to be on your shortlist.
FACTS AT A GLANCE
Model: Chevrolet Cruze 1.7 VCDi LT, £17,825 on the road.
Engine: 1.7-litre turbocharged four-cylinder diesel producing 128bhp and 221lb.ft.
Transmission: 6-speed manual gearbox driving the front wheels.
Performance: Top speed 124mph, 0-62mph in 9.4 seconds.
Fuel economy: 72.4mpg.
CO2 rating: 117g/km.
- Power3 (average performance)
- 0-60 mph
- Economy4 (better than average fuel economy)
- Insurance groups3 (average costs)
Motors.co.uk value verdict: