There may be a reason why the customary “full road test”s of the new Cruze Diesel have been lagging the cars intro. There was  flurry of “first drives” a few months back, followed by a curious boost in the cars EPA rating. I’d have loved to sample the Cruze Diesel, but Chevy was doing some strange marketing, initially confining the diesel Cruzers to VW’s historic best markets for diesel cars. Seems like they only looked at big markets, like metro areas of a million or more, ’cause the diesel Cruzer ain’t available yet in dieselcar hotbeds like the Dakotas. Out here, VW diesels are a near cult phenomenon, given the long distances we drive and our familiarity with diesel power.

So taking advantage of the nice weather, I took the long ride to one of those “markets” Chevy has chosen to favor with the diesel Cruzer. Upon inspection, I was favorably impressed… Chevy clearly bought a VW diesel and took notes, stealing a lot of design features directly from VW. Not a bad example to steal from, as VW in many ways has set the “best practices” in the dieselcar biz. Of course, it still had to be a Chevy, up to and including the stupid GM turn signal switch that did so much to make turn signaling a lost art. And probably because Ford has deemed that even “economy” cars have to have an iPad sized video game in the middle of the dash, the diesel Cruzer has one too, though thankfully a pair of vestigal knobs are still there to control the climate control. And of course shunning the elegant simplicity of VW’s manual controls of all aspects of seating position, no GM vehicle above puddle jumper level is allowed to leave the plant without a power seat, which moves one back and down or forward and up, but not simply vertically or horizontally. What can I say… This may be the new GM, but you”d swear the guys who gave us those obese Buick rolling barcaloungers are still running the place.

Now after never once been proffering a test drive in my visits to a half dozen Chevy dealers when I tried to review Chevy’s new full size sedan without a trunk lid, AKA the new Silverado, a few weeks back… The first dealer I visited offered the keys and turned me loose. GM having long having labored to lower the common denominator of skill level required to put a vehicle in motion, that was pretty simple. So head down the generic suburban “circulator”, four lanes, 45 MPH limit, the kind of road American cars were for decades built for. Pulling away from first stoplight, give it a bit of throttle… not much hapnin’. Finally the turbo spools up, and zoom! Meanwhile the overachieving 6 speed automatic is confused, throwing a downshift then an upshift while I try to adjust throttle position to keep these two loops in some state of harmonious steady acceleration. OK, I think I know why there’s no manual tranny option…

So I wander about the ‘burbs, looking for a challenging road but not wanting to be the blogger who gets blamed for abusing some future owner’s diesel Cruzer to the point that it make it only 200,000 miles to the first rebuild. After the initial seconds of turbo lag, the diesel Cruzer accelerates to cruising speed with some degree of smoothness and holds said speed. So I get brave and try the freeway, said freeway being narrowed to a single lane by construction with but a suburban driveway length acceleration lane and  a tight curve before that. Good thing I was in the big diesel truck driving mode and waited for a long opening in the traffic… After a couple seconds of nothing the diesel Cruzer managed some respectable acceleration, but nothing of the sudden variety and no danger of whiplash.

Now I want to like the diesel Cruzer, it’s american and in road manners seems to be the equal of the Jetta. But the throttle lag was so bad I looked for a CEL and found none, but maybe it was buried on another menu in the dashboard video games? And this wasn’t just a minor rare glitch, this was a recall worth throttle lag. So why would Chevy screw up so badly a car whose ads seems to fill the blank bits of just about every website I surf? Hopefully, just a glitch that some software updates can fix. And yes, it ain’t easy meeting the 2010 diesel emission standards with good drive ability. But remember how Chevy revised the diesel Cruzers mileage estimates upward after the “first drives”? Throttle transitions and gearshifts are tough times for a turbodiesel to control it’s fueling, as turbo boosts goes up, down, and then up again while the engine control computer tries to keep up. One of the tricks to meet the emission standards and get optimum fuel economy is to cut fuel flow way back during those transitions, but driveability suffers. Driving the diesel Cruzer brought back repressed memories of an ’04 International that was barely driveable thanks to Navistar’s lame attempt at meeting said standards. So did Chevy tinker with the diesel Criuzer’s software to get impressive MPG numbers, meet emissions standards, or both?

Of course, in a few days the aftermarket will come up with a “chip” to “fix” the diesel Cruzer’s driveability problems, with the requisite MPG penalty and voiding of Chevy’s generous 100K mile powertrain warranty. So there’s no reason to buy a diesel Cruzer until Chevy fixes the problem themselves. And even then, there’s scant reason to buy a car that Chevy designed to match but not exceed the Jetta diesel, especially with the Jetta beating the diesel Cruzer on the details and a thousand bucks cheaper to boot.

Then again, in the GM tradition, after Christmas they’ll be a multi thousand dollar rebate on diesel Cruzers and the dealers will knock them down to under 20k out the door to move ’em… If they throw in a fix for the throttle lag it’d be a heck of a deal!

 

 

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