Covering General Motors Co. has its advantages for a young reporter.
After all, the company is the largest U.S. automaker.
But when I stepped out from behind the notebook and got behind the wheel of the new Chevrolet Cruze Clean Turbo Diesel last week, it took the fun to a whole new level.
When officials at the company’s Lordstown complex, where the new model is being built, brought me into a garage on site, it was right there in the corner, fresh off the line, with its navy blue paint shining and gripping the ground with those 17-inch alloy wheels.
It was just begging for a drive.
Not much has changed about the diesel Cruze’s exterior. It’s still sharp and sleek like its regular-grade gasoline counterpart, with an “aeroperformance” package that includes a lower front-grille air shutter and midbody panels.
Its rear spoiler, leather interior and a functional cabinet make it appealing and welcoming — probably ideal for a long ride.
But the real surprise came when GM put the keys in my hand for a test drive.
The company designed and manufactured the vehicle at a time when German diesels, such as the Volkswagen Jetta TDI, have dominated a segment of the North American market that grew 25 percent last year.
The engine is not new. It’s already used in Opel Astras and other GM vehicles around the world where diesel engines have been more popular, but its integration for use in the Cruze provided engineers with some unique challenges, said Chris DePolo, a lead development engineer at GM.
He joined me on the ride and provided that car-wonk knowledge that helped answer some of my trickier questions as I reacted curiously to the way the diesel Cruze handled the roads.
When I first started the vehicle, it seemed just a hair louder with the doors open than a regular Cruze. Once the doors were shut, and DePolo and Vindicator chief photographer Robert K. Yosay were tucked into those leather seats: silence.
I was expecting that “klink, klink, klink” of a diesel car, but a carefully refined acoustics package and other vibration-reducing measures put my ears at ease, and it was nearly impossible to hear the engine running. The diesel Cruze is about 250 pounds heavier than a regular Cruze. It was launched with a six-speed automatic transmission, and what’s most noticeable about its ride is the torque.
That intersection, between torque and weight, created a challenge for engineers in the way the car handles, but the result is a balance you can notice.
As I dipped into traffic and took the car into turns at about 25 mph, I noticed that it gripped the road like a magnet and provided me with a feeling of fine-tuned control. The best way I can describe the drive is “tight.”
“My favorite part is the torque,” DePolo told me from the back seat. “I don’t think you can call it a performance car, but it’s fun to drive because of that giant, flat torque band,” which gives the car more power.
“It doesn’t lend itself to traditional economy car-type thinking,” he added.
I wholeheartedly agree.
The 2.0-liter turbo-diesel engine can produce 148 horsepower and an estimated 258 pounds per foot of torque. Most of us need what those in the industry call “low end-torque,” not power at top speeds.
We need to fly off turns and get out of traffic to secure that parking spot, or we need an extra boost to propel us onto the highway as we make our way to work or play each day.
The diesel Cruze delivers on those necessities.
Its performance capability of 0-60 mph in 8.6 seconds is no lie, and there’s no way you can miss its pickup when you hit the pedal for that boost of acceleration. What’s more surprising is how quiet the vehicle is when it hits a highway cruising speed.
Most of all, though, what’s peculiar about the diesel Cruze is really nothing at all — you can’t tell that you’re driving a diesel car. It’s really no different than a regular Cruze, which is exactly the kind of appeal GM was going for in a market that isn’t quite used to the concept of diesel engines.
What you will notice, however, are those moments when you hit the gas pedal. And when you get 46 miles per gallon on the highway, you can be sure that your trips to the gas station will be rare.