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City drive: Is diesel worth the price premium?

2014 Chevrolet Cruze Diesel

Dan Proudfoot/The Globe and Mail

Rating
7.5
Overall Rating
7.5
Overall
I think of a Cruze, I think of $20,000-plus. Just less than $30,000 is hard to get your head around, despite the many features.
Looks Rating
7.5
Looks
Looks cool, especially when the sun plays on its character lines, but isn’t the Cruze overdue for a mid-model-life facelift?
Interior Rating
8
Interior
Looks and feels good. Rear foot-room betters most compacts. Driver’s position fully adjustable, controls are easy to use.
Ride Rating
7.5
Ride
Smooth over most bumps, quiet with only a trace of wind noise at 120 km/h. Not sporty, but handling is reassuring.
Safety Rating
8.5
Safety
Five-star rating over all in NHTSA crash tests (four out of five in rollover). Full suite of airbags, excellent accident avoidance.
Green Rating
8
Green
In city stop-and-go, the Cruze consumed more diesel fuel than expected, but was super-efficient on the open road.

Driving into Toronto for exploratory periodontal surgery is so much worse than driving into Toronto making a living.

Commuting to work, miserable as the traffic combat may be, at least there's a chance of returning with a smile on your face, having made the big sale, been recognized by the CEO, survived the downsizing.

Whereas, anticipating a little look-see into the gum, the only question is how many stitches you'll come home with, not to mention whether your next visit will be for a root canal or an implant ($$$$).

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The dental hygienist two weeks earlier was bad enough. Avenue Road south was down to a single lane each way for much of the distance from Highway 401 to Eglinton Avenue. The reward for that drive: discovery of a gum infection that called for today's exploratory slicing.

At least the Chevrolet Cruze is a comfortable place in which to ponder the discomfort. And the newest model, diesel-powered, almost immediately impressed me as the most satisfying to drive among the line's various powertrains.

It accelerates effortlessly. And because it's a diesel, your ears are spared the blender roar typical of most gasoline-fuelled four-cylinder engines when merging or passing. With its superior torque, the diesel doesn't need to be wrung out to high rpm, it just delivers. (The diesel downside, to those sensitive to how a vehicle sounds at a standstill, like my wife, is the subdued rattle characteristic of these motors when idling.)

Extremely low fuel consumption in highway travel is perhaps the major positive. The Cruze Diesel is rated at 4.2 litres/100 km by Transport Canada's laboratory methods, compared to the most miserly gasoline Cruze, the Eco, rated at 4.6.

Still, driving into Toronto is a different lab altogether. Anticipating how much fuel the Cruze diesel will suck back on the mean streets keeps my mind off the impending incision; the Transport Canada city rating of 7.5 litres/100 km isn't all that great. The gasoline-powered Honda Civic is better at 7.1/100, the Cruze LS not quite as efficient at 8.0/100.

But nothing is as expected. The 401 is freakishly wide open at Port Union Road at 11 a.m. So, too, is the Don Valley Parkway. It's nothing like your typical commute.

In fact, it's an easy drive. The Cruze Diesel offers a host of pleasing luxury features like heated seats, tilt as well as telescoping steering wheel, a six-way power driver's seat and everything one expects these days like keyless entry, air and automatic.

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It does seem pricey. The Cruze Diesel starts at just less than $25,000, yet this one, with its destination charge, climbs to almost $30,000.

I like the $885 safety package, with the warning lights in the side mirrors when cars are in your blind spot and beeping before you back into something or someone. Not so sure about the sliding glass sunroof's worth at $1,100, or the Pioneer premium speaker's at $385.

Reading the owner's manual isn't all positive. Towing is not recommended. Don't park over flammable materials because the diesel exhaust is too hot. Do watch for a warning light commanding that it's time to renew the exhaust treatment. Do not fill the car with homemade biodiesel.

With barely a slowdown, by 11:16, I've exited the Gardiner Expressway at Spadina and moved on to Bathurst northbound.

By 11:30, I'm seated at Caplansky's Delicatessen on College Street and waiting for my smoked meat – the reward I promised myself prior to the freezing and the stitches – and it was only half an hour earlier I'd pulled on to the 401 at Port Union Road.

The appointment is for 1 p.m., St. Clair and Yonge. The drive there includes the first stop-and-go of the day, and a series of red lights. This is the first Cruze in my experience that's prone to spinning its tires pulling away from a light: Squealing rubber is the consequence of too much pressure on the accelerator. (Cruze's suspension can't handle the diesel's torque as weight shifts off the front wheels.)

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Conversely, when cruising at 40 km/h, there's a noticeable pause between matting the accelerator and feeling the power, as the turbocharger gets up to speed.

It's time. The X-ray taken, Dr. Ronald Golden admires the root canal work performed earlier on this tooth by Dr. Barry Chapnick. No need to pull the tooth, he says – I hadn't even considered that possibility – because by merely opening up the gum and grinding away a portion of the tooth, there will be no more pocketing of food that's causing the infection.

Only thing is, there's insufficient time to perform this procedure today. I'll need another appointment two weeks later. What?

It's with a light and happy step that I retrieve the Cruze Diesel from the basement parking. A sense of great relief erases any thought of the surgery being only postponed.

The drive out of Toronto is as easy as the drive in. Filling up at the same station where I'd started three hours earlier, with 101 km on the trip odometer, the Cruze Diesel takes 7.1 litres – bettering its Transport Canada rating. And topping off the day's happy surprises, diesel is selling for 3.9 cents a litre less than regular gasoline – although sometimes gas is cheaper – and premium diesel a full 14 cents below premium gas.

TECH SPECS

2014 Chevrolet Cruze Diesel

Type: Four-door compact sedan

Base price: $24,945; as tested, $29,760 including options and destination charge, excluding taxes

Engine: 2.0-litre, turbocharged, four-cylinder diesel

Horsepower/torque: 151 hp/264 lb-ft

Transmission: Six-speed automatic with manual function

Drive: Front-drive

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): Natural Resources Canada rating 7.5 city/4.2 highway; in our suburb-city driving, 7.0; regular diesel fuel

Alternatives: Volkswagen Jetta TDI, Mercedes-Benz B250, Ford C-Max, Toyota Prius

If you have questions about driving or car maintenance, please contact our experts at globedrive@globeandmail.com.

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