Ever since Volkswagen made the word “diesel” a dirty word, the diesel-powered segment has been questionable in the United States. Luckily not every automaker has been deterred by VW’s missteps and Chevy currently offers the perfect alternative to the once popular Golf TDI – the Chevy Cruze TD hatchback. On paper it offers everything that the Golf TDI did – primarily its versatile hatchback body style and fuel sipping four-cylinder diesel engine, but can it really fill the void? Yes.
The Chevy Cruze TD is powered by a 1.6L turbo diesel engine with a modest 137 horsepower and healthy 240 lb-ft. of torque. The 2018 Cruze Diesel is available with either a six-speed manual or nine-speed automatic transmission. Note, if you want the manual, act fast, since the 2019 Cruze TD will only be available with the automatic. The manual is rated at 29/48 mpg, while the automatic is rated at 31/47 mpg. That compares to 29/38 mpg for the automatic gas-powered Cruze. Also since we’re comparing the old Golf TDI, the 2015 Golf TDI was rated at 30/43 mpg with the manual and 31/41 with the automatic, clearly the Cruze Diesel has one upped that battle.
It’s a shame that VW tarnished the diesel engine, since it does really represent the best of both worlds. It’s as fuel efficient as a hybrid, but offers more “get up and go” power compared to a similarly sized gasoline engine. Around town the Chevy Cruze TD offers plenty of power, largely thanks to its 240 lb-ft. of torque – you don’t even get that much torque with some larger V6 engines. Then once you’re cruising along, the engine barely sips any fuel. I managed to average 50 mpg on a drive down to San Diego from Los Angeles and that was without any hypermilling tricks – impressive.
Moving past the benefits of the diesel engine, there engine is largely let down by its six-speed manual transmission, it’s basically the equivalent to a wet noodle. It’s sloppy and all over the place, even the 2019 Corolla hatchback’s shifter feels more precise. If you prefer to not do all the work, there’s an optional nine-speed automatic transmission.
Once on the road, the Cruze TD is a comfortable, compact for your daily commute. The suspension swallows up most of the road’s imperfections with also little body roll. The steering is nicely weighted and the brakes are strong. If you opt for the RS package, you’ll get attractive 18-inch alloy wheels and a better rear compound crank suspension with Z-link that replaces the less fun torsion beam. While the Cruze has the ability to keep you from feeling most of the pot holes and bumps that you’ll encounter on your commute, the Cruze TD hatchback is not nearly as fun as the Mazda3, VW Golf or Honda Civic hatchbacks. It doesn’t have that playful personality that makes its rivals fun and instead takes a more comfortable, reserved route.
Inside the Cruze TD hatchback’s interior is spacious and quiet, but it’s not at the top of the class. The interior features lots of hard plastic and also feels a bit old. The gauges look at least a generation old and the lack of simple comfort features, like dual climate control feels a bit odd. If you pick the manual equipped Cruze you’ll get a seven-inch touchscreen, but if you select the automatic equipped model, you can get an eight-inch touchscreen. Both systems offer Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity and the available Wi-Fi hotspot is a nice extra.
One of the bigger criticisms is the lack of active safety features. The Cruze TD hatchback comes with a rear view camera, but systems, like adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking and lane keep assist and lane departure warning are missing. The blind spot monitor is also only available on automatic equipped models.
The Cruze TD hatchback starts at $24,895, which is only $200 more than the sedan version, but $1,700 more than the comparable gas powered version. Select all the options, including the sportier RS package and the Cruze TD hatchback passes the $30k mark.
While the Cruze TD hatchback isn’t exactly a hot hatch, the diesel engine does give it impressive mpg specs that you’d normally only get with a boring hybrid. If you’re looking for a hatchback that tries to find a balance between fuel efficiency, practicality and fun, then the Cruze TD is hard to beat – especially since the Golf TDI is long gone.