Chevrolet is adding a diesel engine and an optional manual transmission to the just launched Cruze hatchback in a further effort to woo Volkswagen diesel owners affected by VW's emissions scandal.
Early next year, the Cruze sedan will be available with a 1.6-liter diesel engine combined with a nine-speed automatic or a six-speed manual. Then, in the 2018 model year, that same diesel powertrain will be offered in the 5-door Cruze hatchback.
Highway fuel economy for both cars is likely to be in the high 40s, and could even hit 50 mpg. The gasoline-powered Cruze sedan with a six-speed automatic transmission has a 40 mpg highway rating. Diesels typically boost fuel economy about 20 percent. The nine-speed automatic is the wild card. It could push highway fuel economy to 50 mpg.
Chevy has added a diesel engine to the Colorado midsize pickup and the next-generation Equinox compact crossover.
"We expect it to do better than that (40 mpg highway with the gasoline version) but we can't talk numbers yet," said David Poniatowski, program manager for the Cruze.
AutoPacific analyst Dave Sullivan thinks GM would be happy with 47 or 48 mpg.
"If the Cruze diesel can hit 47 or 48 mpg, it should be a success in closing the gap with hybrids for highway driving efficiency," Sullivan said. "Keep in mind that the Malibu Hybrid gets 46 mpg on the highway."
There was no word yet on prices. GM last offered a diesel-powered Cruze in the 2015 model year that had a base price of $26,485, including shipping, and was rated at 27 mpg city/44 highway/32 combined with a six-speed automatic.
Nick Bunkley contributed to this report.