How Does the 2014 Chevrolet Cruze Diesel Stack Up Against the Chevette Diesel?
Nearly thirty years ago, you could have walked into the local Chevrolet dealership and ordered a Chevette CS two-door hatchback with an Isuzu-sourced 1.8-liter diesel inline-four for $6152. That’d be roughly $13,000 in 2013 currency — today, you could get a brand-new, base Nissan Versa with more safety equipment and trunk space. A four-door hatch started at $6487 (nearly $14,000). If you’re kicking yourself for not being able to pick one up, salvation is soon arriving in the form of the new 2014 Chevrolet Cruze Diesel.
After debuting at the 2013 Chicago Auto Show, the Cruze Diesel is set to link up with a compression-ignition heredity dead end. The final production number for General Motors’ last diesel passenger car sold in the U.S., the 1986 Chevette CS, is 324. The Chevette was gone after 1987, and nothing has filled the diesel-car void since then. In comparison, the 1.6-liter gasser Chevette contributed over 100,000 units to the bottom line in ‘86. If American consumers wanted diesel cars in the mid-1980s, you wouldn’t have been able to tell by the purchase records.
It didn’t start this sourly. The Chevette was already five years old when Chevy first introduced the 1.8-liter diesel as a belated option for the 1981 model year. It initially wasn’t offered in California due to its emissions. Yet despite its late launch, over 13,000 of the smoky-exhaust subcompacts left the line. In 1982, it was a couple hundred cars short of 17,000 units. That was as good as it got for the Chevette Diesel.
We were in on the diesel action from the beginning. In a comparison story titled “The MT Mini-Diesel Smokeoff” from our August 1981 issue, we pitted the Chevette Diesel against an Isuzu I-Mark Diesel (same 1.8-liter engine) and a Volkswagen Rabbit Diesel. The story’s subtitle was “Proving once again that econodiesels are slow and noisy but offer 50-mpg performance.” If the group photo is any indicator, there was probably plenty of coughing to go around.
Former executive editor Jim McCraw wrote of the small Chevy: “The Chevette was pushing 14 seconds for 0-50 (13.90) and ran its best quarter-mile run of 21.48 seconds at 63.40 mph.” And also, “We would have preferred air conditioning on the Chevette, since the other two test cars had it, but it is not available at any price on the little Chevy diesel. For the truly masochistic, it and an automatic transmission will be added later.” At least it was relatively refined — it was said to have “the least diesel-like mien out there on the open road” — and managed 50.3 mpg on a 73-mile test loop, besting the Rabbit (47.6) and I-Mark (44.3).
As our representative for the 1981-1986 Chevette Diesel assemblage, let’s see how the test car stacks up against its spiritual heir, the Cruze Diesel.
|2014 Chevrolet Cruze 2.0TD||1981 Chevrolet Chevette Diesel|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, FWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan||Front-engine, RWD, 4-pass, 4-door hatchback|
|ENGINE||2.0L/148-hp (est)/258-lb-ft* (est) turbodiesel DOHC 16-valve I-4||1.8L/51-hp/72-lb-ft diesel SOHC 8-valve I-4|
|TRANSMISSION||6-speed automatic||5-speed manual|
|CURB WEIGHT||3500 lb (mfr)||2238 lb|
|WHEELBASE||105.7 in||97.3 in|
|LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT||181.0 x 70.7 x 58.1 in||164.9 x 61.8 x 52.9 in|
|0-60 MPH||8.6 sec (mfr est)||21.13 sec|
|EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON||42 mpg (highway est)||40/55** mpg (est)|
|ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY||91 kW-hrs/100 miles (highway est)||96/70 kW-hrs/100 miles (est)|
|CO2 EMISSIONS||0.53 lb/mile (highway est)||0.49 lb/mile (est)|
|ON SALE IN U.S.||May 2013||1981|
|*280-lb-ft with temporary overboost; **Pre-2008 EPA estimate, EPA rating varies by model year and transmission|
Readers goaded by the Chevette’s 0-60 mph time should also know the car needed 184 feet to stop from 60 mph with its optional F41 sport suspension package and Goodyear tires sized 175/70-13. We predict the Cruze Diesel’s binders should reel the car in at the same speed in 120-130 feet.
So we can expect more of everything from the upcoming Cruze Diesel: more power, more torque, more acceleration, more oxides of nitrogen and particulate-matter control, more curb weight, and more diesel consumption. If you can live with the slowness, lack of safety equipment, and the general noise and clatter that defined a past generation’s diesel perception, and are targeting maximum mpgs only, get the Chevette Diesel.
We’ll close with the 1981 story’s final comment: “This was our first mini-diesel smokeoff, but as clattermotor availability increases, and the Japanese, European and American manufacturers bring on new, more modern diesel packages, we’ll be back with more class-by-class diesel comparisons.”
We’re coming back, Jim. The Chevette Diesel won the comparison, by the way.
1981 photos shot by Bob D’Olivo
By Benson Kong