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DRIVEN: 2018 Chevrolet Cruze diesel hatchback quiet, refined, easy on fuel

Our 2018 Chevy Cruze diesel hatchback tester was powered by its 1.6-litre, four-cylinder, turbodiesel, 137 horsepower engine.
Our 2018 Chevy Cruze diesel hatchback tester was powered by its 1.6-litre, four-cylinder, turbodiesel, 137 horsepower engine. - Justin Pritchard

A recent addition to the Chevrolet Cruze’s options list helps the popular compact more closely target shoppers who frequently find themselves on long highway drives.

For 2018, a 1.6-litre turbo-diesel engine has become available. Tick that box on the order sheet to access highway fuel efficiency as low as 4.6L/100km — a figure, says Chevrolet, that’s the lowest of any non-hybrid or electric car in Canada.

A quiet grumble and slight vibration are the subtly-muted signs that you’ve got diesel power under the hood, and both sensations are relatively difficult to detect unless you’re hunting for them. Most of the time, little gives this powerplant’s fuel source away.

The little four-cylinder generates 137 horsepower and 240 lb.-ft of torque. Power output is pleasing if not potent, the engine is refined however operated, and throttle response from low revs, thanks to all that torque, is surprisingly good. Most impressive? Just how few revs and how little noise are required to whisk the Cruze along in traffic.

Here’s a prime example of how smooth and quiet modern diesels are, though comparing fuel economy figures also demonstrates how efficient modern four-cylinder gas engines have become, too. Cruze’s diesel engine uses about 1L/100km less fuel in highway driving, though city fuel consumption figures are virtually the same between gas and diesel models, even with my diesel-powered tester running idle-slashing auto-stop, and a nine-speed automatic to enhance performance and efficiency.

All said, Cruze’s diesel engine may make the most sense for those spending most of their time on the highway, or those who enjoy boatloads of torque.

On longer drives, a set of stand-out features and attributes furthers this machine’s position as a worthy long-distance hauler.

The Cruze hatch feels durable, heavy and robust. It’s not easily pushed around by cross-winds, it feels dense and solid on rougher surfaces, and it maintains an appreciably quiet ride at the speed limit and beyond. It’s quieter than a comparable Honda Civic hatchback at higher speeds and feels slightly more solid beneath you.

Feature content for the long-haul driver is top notch. Favourites included the integrated OnStar wireless communications system for push-button access to real-life help and emergency assistance, as well as built-in Wi-Fi which turns the Cruze into a mobile hot-spot using an integrated cellular connection. If you’ve got passengers who want to stay connected but don’t have a cellular data plan, this is easy to appreciate.

Further, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay provide simple, voice-commanded access to key Smartphone functions like navigation, communication and media playback with minimal distraction, no need to learn a new interface or to take your eyes off of the road. Just tap a button and Siri, or Talk to Google, are at your disposal.

So, good performance, very good fuel economy, and a hearty handful of features that are easy to appreciate at all times, especially when travelling extensively away from home and possibly in new and unfamiliar locales.

Functionally, Cruze is easily boarded and exited by front-seat occupants of most sizes, who will find themselves surrounded by generous levels of at-hand storage, proper cup holders, and several recharging points. Rear-seat occupants will enjoy legroom galore, though a downwards slope to the rear roofline tightens up headroom slightly and necessitates caution for taller occupants on entry and exit, to avoid taking some roof to the cranium.

The cargo hold is deep and flexible, though a thick lip at the edge of the cargo load floor area will complicate jumping in and out for some family canines and means gear has to be lifted up and over rather than slid straight in.

At a glance, the cabin looks sophisticated and upscale, though closer inspection reveals the use of too many dated and low-budget elements. Turn signal and wiper stalks feel cheap and look like something from a 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt. Ditto the stereo control knobs and buttons and the instrument cluster dials. Further, the flip-up covers for the charge ports on the centre console look like they were rushed on as an afterthought.

My generously-loaded tester’s pre-PDI asking price of $32,410 makes the above even harder to digest, though it does include a generous 160,000-kilometre powertrain warranty, and $1,395 worth of sporty cosmetics via the RS package that some shoppers may decide to skip. If you’re after a more affordable package, Cruze Hatch with diesel power starts around $27,000.

Though the driving feel of the Cruze is top notch, the interior needs a little upgrading to some of the smaller details and touch-points to match the modern and upscale feel typical in this segment nowadays.

THE SPECS: Model: 2018 Chevrolet Cruze diesel hatchback

Engine: 1.6-litre, four-cylinder, turbodiesel, 137 horsepower

Drivetrain: front-wheel drive

Transmission: nine-speed automatic

Features: sunroof, Bluetooth, navigation, Android Auto, Apple Carplay, backup camera, push-button start with remote start, heated leather

What’s hot: silly-easy on fuel, pleasingly refined powertrain, pleasingly refined drive, quiet at highway speeds, generous rear-seat legroom

What’s not: interior trimmings fall a short of the price, rear seat headroom tightens up for taller occupants, some dated switchgear

Starting price (Cruze hatch diesel): $26,995

Price as tested: $32,410

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