DETROIT -- The upcoming Chevrolet Cruze diesel sedan and hatchback could be the first nonhybrid cars sold in the U.S. since the late 1980s to get an EPA highway rating of 50 mpg or more.
Speaking Monday on the sidelines of the Detroit auto show, Mark Reuss, GM’s product development chief, said: “I think it will start with a 5,” when asked what the highway fuel economy of the new Cruze diesel might be.
The Cruze diesel is awaiting EPA certification; it is expected to be available this spring. The previous Cruze, which had a 2.0-liter diesel engine and a six-speed automatic transmission, carried an EPA highway rating of 44 mpg.
The new version features an all-new 1.6-liter turbodiesel with an aluminum cylinder block that is lighter and more powerful than the old Cruze diesel engine, which had a cast-iron block. Chevrolet will offer the new Cruze with a nine-speed automatic or a six-speed manual transmission. GM hopes the six-speed manual will appeal to former Volkswagen customers who are leaving that brand.
Mike Siegrist, chief engineer for the Cruze diesel, would not confirm a 50 mpg highway rating, but he said the outgoing version’s 44 mpg would be topped. “We don’t usually go backwards,” Siegrist said. “We know how to do this stuff.”
The Cruze with the six-speed manual, Siegrist said, will get higher fuel economy than the model with the nine-speed automatic.
The new turbodiesel engine is rated at 137 hp and 240 pounds-feet of torque. Most of that power comes on low in the rpm range, Siegrist said. In addition to delivering high fuel economy, Siegrist said another key push for the Cruze is refinement.
“We’ve taken a totally different approach to address noise at the source,” he said. The cam timing details, for instance, are at the back of the engine, instead of the front. And to keep diesel chatter low, the fuel injectors shoot as many as 10 squirts of fuel per stroke.
GM plans to use the same 1.6-liter diesel engine in the Chevrolet Equinox and GMC Terrain crossovers.
The last nonhybrid car to achieve 50 mpg or more was the 1987 Honda CRX HF, rated at 51 mpg highway.