The 2014 Chevrolet Cruze offers seven different combinations of engines and transmissions, three of which are the ones to pick for fuel efficiency. It also carries the distinction of offering the very first diesel engine in a General Motors passenger car since the mid-1980s. Rest assured, it's not your father's diesel.
Of the two gasoline engines on offer, choose the smaller (and smoother) 1.4-liter turbo four engine. Not only does it get better EPA fuel-economy ratings across the board than the base 1.8-liter four, but it's more fun to drive and less noisy. Ratings vary depending on your transmission choice, but models with the 1.4-liter engine get 30 mpg combined with either a six-speed automatic transmission or a six-speed manual gearbox, and the less-efficient 1.8-liter engine is rated at 27 to 29 mpg combined for the automatic and manual respectively. To help boost mileage in stop-and-go driving, all Cruze models with the automatic transmission also get a neutral idle feature that automatically disengages the torque converter when sitting at stoplights in Drive.
The Cruze Eco model is a fuel-efficiency special without the complication and weight of a hybrid powertrain. Instead, the Cruze Eco has marginally thinner steel panels, smaller welds, and reduced flanges at its welded joints, cutting body weight by about 25 pounds altogether. Its lower ride height (about the same as the Sport models), a rear spoiler, a larger front air dam, active grille panels to block airflow when it's not needed for engine cooling, and an underbody air diverter are among its features to cut aerodynamic drag and improve fuel economy.
It works, too. The 1.4-liter engine in the Eco delivers up to 33 mpg combined in the Cruze Eco with a six-speed manual gearbox (28 mpg city, 42 mpg highway). That drops to 31 mpg combined with the six-speed automatic (26 mpg city, 39 mpg highway).
Then there's the new-for-2014 Cruze Diesel. Like many diesels, it overdelivers on its EPA ratings when used at highway speeds. We've seen real-world 40-mpg fuel efficiency in highway use, and at its EPA highway rating of 46 mpg, it can provide more than 700 miles of range.
The combined EPA rating for the Cruze Diesel is 33 mpg (27 mpg city), the same as the Cruze Eco with six-speed manual. In the end, it's a matter of how and where you drive. We pick the diesel Cruze for high-speed highway efficiency, but find the gasoline Cruze more pleasant to drive and equally fuel-efficient in around-town stop-and-go driving.