The 2014 Chevrolet Cruze has added an additional diesel powertrain option to the two gasoline four-cylinder engines it's offered since 2011. The clear choice is between the diesel and the smaller of the gasoline engines, and a lot of it will depend on what kind of driving you do.
The Cruze LS entry-level car comes with a 1.8-liter four that performs adequately but needs to be pushed hard--and is loud once you do. The rest of the lineup--the LT and LTZ trim levels--comes with a turbocharged 1.4-liter four that is smoother, more refined, and stronger at lower engine speeds. It has a good linear accelerator feel, and pairs well with the six-speed automatic transmission that's offered for both engines. There's a six-speed manual gearbox offered on most models as well, but the vast majority of buyers will go for the automatic.
New this year is a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder diesel engine, known as the 2.0T and closely related to one sold for years in Europe in various Chevy and Opel models. It produces 151 hp and a substantial 264 lb-ft of torque, and is paired to a different, beefier six-speed automatic only (there's no manual gearbox offered). The driving feel of the Cruze Diesel is quite different; it lags and is hesitant off the line but then surges forward swiftly through its gears and accelerates hard once it gets going. This makes it borderline annoying in stop-and-go traffic, but delightful on the highway.
In picking powertrains, choose the one that's best for the driving you do. If you drive long distances at highway speeds, the diesel is the one to get, though it comes in at the high end of the Cruze range with a sticker price around $25,000. If your Cruze will be used around town, choose the 1.4-liter turbo, which is smooth and almost as fuel-efficient--especially if you go for the Cruze Eco model.
The Chevy Cruze handles and holds the road well enough, but it's more of a predictable family sedan behind the wheel than sportier competitors like the Mazda 6. On corners, the independently suspended rear wheels stay in touch with the pavement even on choppy surfaces. The ride is its strong point, never harsh or busy, though it comes at the expense of some body roll that discourages hard driving. Overall, the Cruze inspires confidence even if it's not the nimblest of mid-size sedans.
Base Cruze models come with rear drum brakes, while all others get four-wheel discs. The mid-level LT model gets a Touring chassis and high-end 2LT and LTZ trims move up to the Sport chassis--which has a slightly lower ride height, retuned shocks, and slightly stiffer spring rates. Unless you're doing mostly highway driving, we recommend the Sport if you have the choice.
The Cruze Diesel gets slightly larger front brakes to compensate for its extra weight; they work fine and stop the car confidently, even if they're a little jumpy at times. (It also gets a stronger 12-volt battery, a higher-output alternator, and so forth.) One other diesel peculiarity: We found that its ultra-low-rolling-resistance tires squealed on corners long before those of other Cruze models.