Road Test: 2014 Chevrolet Cruze Clean Turbo Diesel LT

Road Test: 2014 Chevrolet Cruze Clean Turbo Diesel LT

GM,Chevy,Chevrolet,Cruze, diesel,cleandiesel

GM’s High-MPG King

Chevrolet Cruze Diesel: General Motor’s High Mileage King.

The 2014 Chevrolet Cruze Clean Turbo Diesel is rated at 46 Highway/27 City with an average of 33 MPG. Sounds pretty good, but it can get even better because, if you have a light foot on the accelerator, you might even get closer to 50 MPG on the highway. So, what’s not to like about GM’s Mileage King?

The Cruze Diesel, when at idle or slow, city or parking lot speeds, is loud and you can feel the engine vibration inside the passenger compartment. Once at speed, where the Cruse Diesel really shines, the noise is not noticeable due to ambient road noise and the radio. So what’s the big deal with a little noise? If the Cruze Diesel was the only compact sedan on the market, then there would be no issue, but it isn’t. The recently reviewed Volkswagen Jetta TDI sells directly against the Cruze Diesel and it is smooth and quiet at low speeds. Not as quiet as a gasoline engine, but not leaning towards the noise of the Cruze Diesel. So, should this affect your consideration of buying a Cruze Diesel? Let’s dig a bit deeper and see.



Smooth driving, once you get moving

The five-door hatchback Cruze Diesel is powered by a 2.0-liter, DOHC, direct injection, turbocharged diesel inline 4-cylinder, with 151 hp and 264 lb-ft of torque. There is a unique “boost” feature offering about 10 seconds of 280 lb-ft of torque, which is welcome when passing cars or entering a highway. The excellent fuel economy and a fuel tank of 15.6 gallons gets you down the road for more than 700 miles. The Cruze Diesel comes with a 6-speed automatic transmission with no manual option.

General Motors has designed the Cruze Diesel to run on ultra-low sulfur (petroleum) diesel and it’s B20 compatible. B20 is 20 percent biodiesel (80 percent petroleum diesel), which can come from refined oil seeds (usually soy in the U.S.), cooking grease or animal fats. According to the EPA, biodiesel reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 57-86 percent compared to petroleum diesel. Biodiesel also can reduce tailpipe pollutants and is a renewable fuel.

There is approximately a $2,000 premium for the clean diesel engine over the 1.8L, 110 hp/125 lb-ft I-4 gasoline engine. However, if you are a road warrior into driving long, long miles, then the diesel is the way to go.


The Cruze LT model I was driving came with the navigation, enhanced safety, premium Pioneer audio and the driver convenience option packages. The front leather and heated seats were separated by a center stack with just the right amount of silver paint on the trim and instrument gauges. I liked the knobs with rubber edges that made gripping easy and the two-toned dash, which had good fit and finish. The driver seat was 6-way power adjustable and the front passenger seat was 6-way manually adjustable. I was able to find a comfortable driving position thanks to the height and lumbar adjustments.


The only external indicator

All controls were easily accessible, either on the steering wheel for audio and telephone functions or the center stack. The heating and A/C systems were intuitive and it was not difficult to find a proper setting.

Driver comfort can only be as good as driver confidence in the vehicle’s safety equipment. The Cruze Diesel LT with the enhanced safety package comes with eight airbags, cruise control, remote start, outside power and heated mirrors, rear vision camera, rear parking and cross traffic assist and side blind zone alert along with the power disc brakes, ABS and Stabilitrak system.

The 60/40 folding rear seat can accommodate three adults, but is best for short trips only. Foot access for the rear seat was a bit tight and was indicated by tell-tale scuff marks on the lower door panel. Compact sedans are not intended to haul adults very far and the Cruze was no better or worse than others in this segment.

The 6-speaker Pioneer Premium sound system (with SiriusXM, CD, MP3 and USB ports) sounded good. This was part of the MyLink infotainment system that included OnStar, Bluetooth with hands-free smartphone integration with voice recognition, Pandora, Stitcher and audio streaming. The complete system became easier to use the longer I spent with it, but it has a learning curve to be able to use it without diverting attention from the road.

A note regarding OnStar: a simple push of a button connects you with a friendly General Motors representative to handle emergencies, directions and general assistance to make your driving experience safer and more


Power you can hear on the road

enjoyable. This is one area where GM is the industry leader and is well worth renewing after the initial six month service plan expires.


The Cruze exterior styling has been around for a few years and is holding-up well.  Nothing fancy or head turning, but solid with a long hood and swooping roofline leading to a short trunk lid. The Diesel comes with the aero performance package consisting of lower front grille air shutter, mid-body aero panels, front fascia air dam and a nicely integrated trunk lid spoiler. It’s all tastily done, adding to the look and function of the vehicle. For even a sportier look you can order the RS appearance package.

The Driving Experience: On The Road


Not much to look at, but it moves you

The first thing you will notice is the 264 lb-ft of torque. It is strong off the line and stays that way through the powerband. And don’t forget the boost feature mentioned earlier, which delivers 280 lb-ft of torque for 10 seconds to get you past that slow poke 18-wheeler or get you up to highway speeds.

The Cruze Diesel is smooth on the road and handles confidently, but suffers from a momentary and annoying slight delay, or lag, in off-the-line acceleration. At 3,475 lbs, the Cruze Diesel is carrying an additional 400 lbs over its 1.8L gasoline sibling (probably from the heavier diesel engine), therefore making it more of a highway cruiser than a zippy handler. But with the excellent highway mileage, you most likely will be spending most of your time on the open road rather than hunting down twisties.

The Cruze Diesel LT model I was driving came with 17-inch alloy wheels, all-season tires, four-wheel power-assisted disc brakes with ABS and GM’s Stabilitrak system with stability and traction control, all delivering straight and true stops.

Back to the noise levels. Once on the highway, the diesel engine rattling is not noticeable or an issue, but it is when idling or at slow speeds. Maybe this is the norm in Europe where this diesel engine has been in service for many years powering Opel vehicles. But not in the USA. I have to figure GM is working on a more refined, smoother and quieter engine right now.


The 2014 Cruze is offered in four trim levels and three engine and transmission options. The Diesel LT I drove was priced at $28,105, including the $810 destination charge. Starting price for the Cruze diesel is $25,695.

The 2014 Cruze comes with these warranties:

Basic:                             3 year/36,000 miles

Powertrain:                     5 year/100,000 miles

Scheduled Maintenance: 2 year/24,000 miles

Drivetrain:                      5 year/100,000 miles

Roadside Assistance:      5 year/100,000 miles

Rust:                              6 year/100,000 miles

Observations: 2014 Chevrolet Cruze Diesel LT

Clean diesel powered cars and trucks will are becoming a more common sight on the roads and driveways in the U.S. Currently the diesel car market is dominated by German manufacturers Volkswagen, Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche. It won’t be long before the other domestic (and Asian) manufacturers get into this space and General Motors is off to a good start with the Cruze Diesel.

However, if you are looking to buy an American-built diesel compact sedan, then right now the Cruze is your only option. But before making your purchase decision on country of origin (the Cruze is built in Lordstown,


Compact but full of features


Ohio) you need to know the Cruze gets its engine from Germany, transmission from Japan and many of its parts from Mexico and Canada (not unlike many of the other models out there). This makes the Cruze Diesel a truly world car, with its engine and transmission tested and proven on hundreds-of-thousands of cars driving the roads in Europe and Australia.

The Cruze Diesel is economical to drive, getting close to 50 mpg on the highway in the real world, has good acceleration and build quality. Go take a test drive at your Chevy dealer, but also take a look at the Volkswagen Jetta TDI for a comparison between the two clean diesel cars available in this segment.

Whatever you end up buying, enjoy your new car and as always, Happy Driving!

Cruze Diesel Competitors

VW Jetta TDI – fuel economy (city/highway/combined) 30/42/34

VW Passat TDI – 31/43/35

BMW 328d – 32/45/37

Story & Photos by John Faulkner

Posted January 6, 2014

Other related stories you might like:

Road Test: Jetta TDI vs. Jetta Hybrid

My Top 10 High-MPG Cars of 2013

Top 10 Best Fuel Economy Cars for 2014


Road Test: 2014 Volkswagen Touareg TDI R-Line

Road Test: 2014 Volkswagen Touareg TDI R-Line

VW Puts the Punch in a Premium SUV

SUVs are ubiquitous, on the road, at the mall and maybe even in your neighborhood and driveway. Size, seating capacity, options, powerplants and fuel economy can make it seem like a dizzying array of vehicles to choose. Clean Fleet Report would like to suggest narrowing your scope by first considering the engine and fuel type – gasoline vs. gasoline-electric hybrid vs. clean diesel – as this will have the most impact on your cost of ownership over the life of the vehicle.

The Touareg is one of the rare SUVs that comes with three engine options: gasoline, clean diesel and hybrid, along with six trim levels. we’ll take an in-depth look at one of them. The 2014 Touareg TDI I was driving had


VW takes the SUV market heard on with the Touareg

the R-Line package, which is surpassed in options only by the Executive and Hybrid models, but has more standard equipment than the Sport, Sport with Navigation and Lux versions. Confusing, yes. However, what you are looking at are primarily comfort and convenience options and packages, so figure out what options are critical for you and the picture clears up nicely.

Volkswagen considers the 2014 Touareg to be a “premium” SUV, not luxury such as those offered by sister-brands Audi, Porsche or Mercedes-Benz. This could be viewed as a marketing ploy if VW could not make a case for exactly what Premium means and why you should consider having a Touareg in your garage.


The Touareg TDI is powered by a 3.0-liter, 24-valve direct injection, turbocharged clean diesel V6, and is rated at 20 City/29 Highway, with an average of 23 mpg and a range of 700+ miles. The 29 mpg highway rating is the best in class (standard SUV) with the turbo-diesel producing 240 hp and delivering a whopping 406 lb-ft of torque. All Touaregs come with VW’s 4Motion permanent all-wheel drive and an eight-speed automatic transmission with Tiptronic.

There is approximately a $3,500 premium for the clean diesel engine over the 3.6L, 280 hp/265 lb-ft VR6 gasoline engine. However, for the pure driving fun (and good fuel economy) the TDI is the way to go.

The Driving Experience: On The Road


VW,volkswagen,Touareg,SUV,TDI,diesel,clean diesel

The view of VW’s flagship SUV many will see

The first thing that becomes apparent is that massive 406 lb-ft of torque. It is strong and stout off the line but really shines when kicking-in at 2,000 rpm (at around 40 mph). Keep your foot in it to 70 mph and Yowzers – oh yeah, that was fun! Even weighing in at 4,974 lb, this power made easy work of SoCal freeway onramps and changing lanes.

Touareg TDI up to the task

The Touareg TDI R-Line feels solid and confident on the road with responsive handling due to all-wheel drive, 20-inch alloy wheels, all-season tires, four-wheel vented power-assisted disc brakes and ABS. While not a sports car by any means, the Touareg lives up to VW’s claim that it is a performance SUV.

The low noise levels, even with the diesel engine, demonstrate the time VW engineers have put into making the driving experience as enjoyable as possible. The high seating position, aided by a power driver’s seat, provides excellent viewing from all angles.

I did not test the Touareg’s off road capability or ability to tow 7,700 lbs, so I will leave those for you to explore. However, when locking the 4Motion transmission into all-wheel drive, you will get a 30 percent front and 70 percent rear wheel distribution of power, so driving on roads in snow should be a reassuring experience.

One of the convenient and very helpful features on the Touareg are the Bi-Xenon adaptive headlights, which rotate in the direction of a turn being made. It was a treat having the headlights illuminating where I was actually going and is an excellent safety element that makes the Touareg a stand-out.

Driving Experience: Interior

Since VW calls the 2014 Touareg TDI R-Line a “premium” SUV, it had better be equipped with a long list of features that go on-and-on, and, that is the case. The interior has a luxury feel and look with a fit and finish that

are German-tight and have R-Line-only high-gloss black and brushed aluminum trim on the dashboard, center console and doors, along with brushed aluminum pedals and steering wheel.

There is a good mix of soft and hard plastics with no unnecessary fake woods or plastic chrome pieces. The heated leather front seats (bottoms and backs) were very comfortable (with a 12-way power driver’s seat with


Premium shows up inside the Touareg TDI

memory) so along with the height adjustable and telescoping steering column, finding a comfortable driving position was easy. I did find the center console to be rather tall and wide, taking up a bit of cockpit space. The 40/20/40 flat folding rear seat is comfortable for three adults with ample storage space and the power, panoramic moonroof/sunroof is a nice feature bringing the sky into the car.

The 8-speaker sound system with CD and SiriusXM sounded very good and is upgraded to the Dynaudio system in the Executive and Hybrid models. The 8-inch color touch screen controls the navigation, climate and entertainment settings.

Driver comfort can only be as good as driver confidence in the vehicle’s safety equipment. The Touareg comes with nine airbags, adaptive cruise control, Area View monitor with four cameras, lane assist and side assist blind spot monitors and the previously mentioned all-wheel drive, power disc brakes, ABS and adaptive headlights.

More information on equipment can be found here. 

Driving Experience: Exterior

The exterior styling is conservative but equals the designs of luxury SUVs with appealing clean lines and no unnecessary cladding or body panels. To set it apart, the Touareg TDI R-Line has some styling features that differentiate it from the other Touareg models such as special scuff plates, front bumper fascia, side skirts, LED taillights and oval shaped exhaust tips. All tastily done and add to the look of the vehicle.


The Touareg is offered in six models and three powertrain options ranging in price from $44,905 to $65,080. All prices are MSRP and include the $910 Destination Charge.

The 2014 Touareg TDI R-Line I drove was priced at $58,525, including the $910 Destination Charge.


Half of all Touareg sales are equipped with the turbo charged, clean diesel engine, according to VW, and 24 percent of Volkswagen’s USA overall 2013 sales are clean diesel models. When combining the Volkswagen Group of America’s 2013 sales of VW, Porsche and Audi, these three brands command 75 percent of the diesel market and exceeded the 100,000-TDI engine sales mark during 2013.

Observations: 2014 Touareg TDI R-Line

So did VW make a case for exactly what makes the 2014 Touareg TDI R-Line a “premium” SUV? Let’s see…upscale interior with contemporary exterior styling, excellent fuel economy, performance and handling, plus a long

VW,volkswagen,Touareg,TDI,clean diesel,diesel,mpg

Ready to set sail

list of safety and entertainment features all for thousands less than competing luxury SUVs? Yes, I believe they did

The SUV market, from small to full size, is very competitive with a wide array of brands and models to choose from. As with all vehicle purchases it is important to ask yourself what you need from a car or truck for your lifestyle and driving patterns.

You can find other premium SUVs that you personally may find more appealing, and that, of course, is your decision. However, for the features, equipment, comfort, safety, ambiance and above-all fuel economy, the 2014 Touareg TDI R-Line should be on your shopping list.



Other contenders in the standard-size 4WD SUV category that are close on the heels of the Touareg TDI’s 29 MPG Hwy. are:

  •  Jeep Grand Cherokee w/3L diesel – 28 MPG
  • Audi Q7 TDI w/3L diesel – 28 MPG
  • Infiniti QX60 Hybrid – 28 MPG
  • Mercedes ML 350 BlueTEC w/3L diesel – 28 MPG

Story & Photos by John Faulkner

Posted: Dec. 23, 2013

Related stories you might want to check out:

Top 10 2014/2013 AWD/4WD SUVs/Crossovers w/Best MPG

Comparison Road Test: VW Jetta TDI vs Hybrid

Test Drive: 2013 Lexus RX 450h


Comparison Road Test: 2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid vs. 2013 Jetta TDI

Comparison Road Test: 2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid vs. 2013 Jetta TDI



VW’s 2013 Jetta Hybrid


VW-Jetta-TDI-fuel economy

2013 Jetta TDI

Tale of Two Turbos:  

Hybrid vs. Diesel –

Blurred Lines

Okay, let’s get this said early – diesel and hybrid owners are not looking for the same thing in a car. VW believes that and we think they’re on the right track. Oh sure, both buyers want a quality vehicle that delivers high fuel economy, but there is something very different in their reason for choosing one of the two vehicles, according to VW’s market research. However, having the opportunity to drive the 2013 Jetta Hybrid and Jetta TDI back-to-back for a couple of weeks, I think the line between the two is pretty blurred.

Each car was fun to drive with good comfort and plenty of power, especially the TDI, which, when tromped-on was a blast. More on this later. Let’s start with what VW has accomplished with these two cars – excellent fuel economy.

Jetta Hybrid: Quiet and Smooth

The 2013 Jetta Hybrid is rated at 42 City/48 Highway with an average of 45 mpg. In my week of driving, which included about a third in-town and had me going from sea level to 4,700 feet on a 107º day (thanks VW for great A/C!) and plenty of jammed SoCal freeways, I averaged 41 mpg. The front wheel drive hybrid, powered by a 1.4-liter turbocharged and intercooled gasoline (91 octane) engine and a 20 kw electric motor, are mated to VW’s seven-speed, dual-clutch Tiptronic automatic transmission. This combination generates a maximum 150 hp (at a high 5,000 rpm) with 184 lb-ft torque at 1,600 rpm. These two power sources make for smooth, fast acceleration with no turbo lag at any speed.

The VW hybrid system is constantly evaluating your driving style and based on the demand being asked of the car, it seamlessly switches between gasoline and electric including a nice option being able to drive up to 44 mph on electricity only when selecting “E-Mode.” They even have a “Sailing” mode where at freeway speeds the car runs on the electric motor if it senses a constant speed, the road is flat and the engine isn’t needed. VW so wants you to be in gasoline-saving mode that the Stop-Start feature kicks in and the Jetta is now cruising (Sailing) at freeway speeds on pure electricity. Turn-off the stereo and this is one very quiet ride. A light tap on the accelerator pedal turns on the engine again without any noticeable segue between the two.

And if you want to have some real fun, let me introduce you to the “Boost” mode. This is when cruising along in the gasoline engine and the need – or urge – to floor it invites the electric motor to join in and – Hello torque – off you go! I have to admit that just playing with the Boost was an enjoyable part of driving the hybrid and probably contributed to my getting less mpg than the EPA estimate. No hypermiling here.


I was driving the fully optioned Jetta Hybrid SEL Premium. The interior fit and finish were German tight, with a good mix of soft and hard plastics and no unnecessary fake woods or plastic chrome pieces. The heated leather


2013 Jetta Hybrid Interior

front seats were comfortable (with a 6-way partial power driver’s seat) and, combined with the adjustable steering wheel/column, Fender sound system developed with Panasonic, power moonroof/sunroof and rearview camera, made for a pleasant experience behind the wheel. The Sirius/XM option is always a guilty pleasure and other than the touch screen system taking some time to get used to, it all worked well.

The 60/40 rear folding seat with a ski pass-through opening provides a large storage capacity that is only slightly compromised by the 1.1 kwh battery positioned over the rear wheels. A few interior observations that are worth noting: If you like to sit low in the driver’s seat then your arm/elbow cannot rest on the top of the door panel, forcing you raise the seat higher than you might prefer. I also thought the center console was too wide as my right leg was pushed against it in the normal driving position, the sun visors could benefit from a wider and longer finger slot, and wondered why VW did not use rocker switches for the outside electric mirror adjustment and to operate the sunroof. Instead they use hockey puck shaped knobs that, while they work fine, detract from the sleek look of the rest of the interior. Plus I thought the pushbutton Stop/Start button and electric accessory dock were in odd places – both on the center console facing up.

Minor points, but as I said, worth noting.


The exterior of the hybrid has some styling features that differentiate it from the other Jetta models to increase aerodynamics and reduce wind resistance:

  • a closed front upper fascia,
  • underbody trays and side skirts and rear spoiler (the latter two also available on the GLI).

Overall, I liked the Jetta exterior styling with its clean lines and no useless cladding. VW calls this “class-up appeal” in which they offer more for less. I agree.

The Driving Experience

The 2013 Jetta Hybrid is quiet and smooth making for a very enjoyable driving experience. The SEL Premium model I was driving had 17” wheels and all-season tires, which provided good handling via the strut-type front suspension with coil springs and the multi-link, coil springs and anti-roll bar on the rear. Body roll was almost non-existent even when pushed above the recommended corner speed limits on some twisties I found in the SoCal mountains.

The Tiptronic transmission provides the option to manually shift when getting sporty and it worked like it should. One curious thing – why have this option and not provide a tachometer?

A good handling car of course is nothing without good brakes. The Jetta comes standard with discs all around, with vented fronts, and I experienced no fade with straight stops. The car comes with ABS, but here in Southern California where it has not rained in years, I will assume they work as advertised.

As mentioned earlier, the SEL Premium came with a 6-way adjustable, heated driver’s seat, which I was able to position in a comfortable driving position. At 5’ 9” I fit in all cars, including open wheel racers, so a true test was having a 6’ 1” associate sit in the driver’s seat and, when positioned, climb into the back to check leg, knee and head room. The Jetta accommodated my friend in comfort with room to spare for me in back.

And I can’t leave without mentioning the Bi-Xeron headlights that lit the road as bright as anything I have seen. This alone is worth considering the SEL Premium upgrade package.

2013 Jetta Hybrid MSRP

Base (Special Order)       $25,815

SE                                  $28,080

SEL                                 $30,665

SEL Premium                   $32,265

Note: Prices are based on most recent Internet-posted information and include destination charge (your local prices will vary, just like your fuel economy).

Jetta TDI: Powerful and Economical

The main difference in the Jetta TDI from the Hybrid is obvious when starting the car: you can hear it. The very distinctive diesel rumble is low in volume but, make no mistake, it is there. This just may be enough to keep some people from considering it over the gasoline or hybrid versions. But before doing so, give the TDI a lengthy test drive at your local dealer and you probably will find you can easily live with it.

The TDI model I drove was nicely equipped with Bluetooth, Sirius/XM and leatherette seats, which were comfortable, looked good and stood-in nicely for a more expensive leather version. But what my car had that was unexpected was a 6-speed manual transmission.

The manual has short throws with an easy-to-get-used-to clutch. There was no grinding and only one stall, when I forgot I was not driving an automatic – as I had been doing the previous week in the Jetta Hybrid. There is an Upshift light in the speedometer cluster that, if you follow it, reduces the fun of driving this car is reduced significantly. Of course doing so will maximize the fuel economy, especially when the light wants you to be in 6th gear at 45 mph. However, the TDI’s true economy comes at freeway speeds. In 6th, for example, at 80 mph the tach reads 2,000 rpm. Volkswagen rates the car at 30 City/42 Highway with 34 mpg average. In my 510 miles of 1/3 city and 2/3 highway I averaged 36.6 mpg and that included having some fun.

So what kind of fun can you have in the TDI with a manual? Well, this car, when asked, has instant, fast, push-you-back-in-your-seat torque that brings a big smile to your face. The driving experience might have been better had I had the Premium model with the 17” wheels.


Volkswagen has 75% of the passenger vehicle diesel sales in the USA and is #1 in sales versus diesel competitors. And there is little on the competitive horizon to knock VW off that perch especially since they will have a new TDI engine and additional diesel models coming in 2014.

2013 Jetta TDI MSRP

Base w/ Manual                                  $24,015

Base w/ Auto                                      $25,115

Premium w/ Manual                            $25,675

Premium w/ Auto                                $26,775

Premium w/ Manual & Navigation       $27,135

Premium w/ Auto & Navigation           $28,235

Note: Prices include destination charge and are based on current Internet postings at Your prices will vary.

VW-Jetta-TDI-fuel economy

2013 Jetta TDI-Highway Performer

Observations: 2013 Jetta Hybrid vs. 2013 Jetta TDI

Way back at the beginning of this review I noted that diesel and hybrid owners have very different reasons for owning each vehicle. After my back-to-back drives, I will suggest that anyone considering a Jetta hybrid for its environmental statement also add the diesel to your shopping list.

The hybrid gets better fuel economy, rides smoother, is quieter and fun to drive, especially when the Boost mode kicks-in. But the diesel engines of 2013 burn clean, are smoke-free, get very good fuel economy and offer a torque/acceleration experience found on more expensive cars.

So which to buy? You will have to run the numbers of an approximate $2,000 base price premium for the hybrid against the number of miles you drive and of course, your personal needs. If you drive mostly in the city or with significant freeway stop-and-go traffic, then making the hybrid investment may well be worth your while. If you do mostly open freeway driving, then the diesel will deliver mpg in the high 40 range, which is oh so great.

You will not go wrong with either decision and of course – Happy Driving!

Story and photos by John Faulkner

10 Best Selling 40+ MPG Cars

10 Best Selling 40+ MPG Cars

You can mark 2012 down on the automotive history calendar. For the first time in almost hundred years, consumers have a real choice in cars. We’re not talking about the usual body style, color and equipment choices, but the substantial choice of what kind of powertrain you want under the hood if your focus is on getting the best fuel economy. The choices are proliferating and consumers in increasing numbers took advantage of the better than 40-mile-per-gallon vehicles available (which is our cut-off point for this list). The diversity of those choices shows on Clean Fleet Report’s list of 2012’s Top 10 best-selling high-mileage cars among hybrid/clean diesel/plug-in hybrid models. Consumers are voting for these new technologies with their pocketbooks. And we’re just getting started. Here are the winners in 2012:


Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid

  1. Toyota Prius                     147,503 Hybrid
  2. VW Jetta TDI                    48,099                   Diesel
  3. Toyota Camry Hybrid    45,656                   Hybrid
  4. Toyota Prius V                 40,669                   Hybrid
  5. Toyota Prius c                  35,733                   Hybrid
  6. VW Passat TDI                 26,469                   Diesel
  7. Chevy Volt                        23,461                   Plug-in Hybrid
  8. Lexus CT200h                   17,671                   Hybrid
  9. Ford Fusion Hybrid        14,100                   Hybrid
  10. Toyota Prius Plug-in      12,750                   Plug-in Hybrid

And there could be a whole separate list for the cars that don’t get broken out for separate recognition, the high-mileage models whose sales numbers get wrapped in with their less-efficient stable mates, like the 40+ mpg Chevy Cruze Eco and a growing number of non-hybrid, non-diesel models. As well, there should be a category for the most efficient all-wheel-drive vehicles, which because of their added weight, typically put up still good, but sub-40 mpg numbers. Eager to join that list would be the Lexus RX400h hybrid and BMW X5 xDrive x35d diesel, among others.

VW,Passat,TDI,clean diesel

VW Passat TDI

Then there are the honorable mentions bubbling just below the Top 10, but hoping a better year in 2013 will put some dedicated battery electric vehicles on the list – with the Nissan Leaf, Ford Focus EV and Tesla Model S topping that group. Other models launched during the year could also make a charge this year and rack up some solid numbers. The Ford C-Max hybrid and its Energi plug-in version both look poised for a better year.

Of course many thought these sales numbers would be even higher as the Volt and Leaf both missed very ambitious sales targets.

No Silver Bullets

The bigger point, even though these numbers (other than the Prius) are relatively small in a 14.5 million vehicle sale year like 2012, is that not only are consumers being offered a variety of high-MPG vehicle choices, but they are choosing to take advantage of that variety! There is not silver bullet in sight. Setting aside for the moment the stranglehold the Prius has on the hybrid market–which is being extended with the expanding family of Prius vehicles–and note that car buyers are also opting for diesels and plug-ins as well in competitive numbers. The overall categories of hybrids, plug-in vehicles and diesels had year-over-year growth rates of 61%, 198% and 24% respectively.

The even better news is that 2013 promises to bring more of the same as in more choice (in models and variety of powertrains). The message coming from the automakers and being well-received by consumers is that it’s possible to get great fuel economy in a variety of vehicle configurations and from a variety of different technologies. Other than the clear leadership of the Prius based on 12 years of growing popularity that established it as the deserving poster child of the modern, fuel-efficient automobile.

A Transition Year

This year, 2012, will be one the world will look back upon as one of transition. It will join 2001, the first year a hybrid’s sales went into five digits (more than 10,000) and 2009, the first year of the clean diesel in the U.S. This year is the first full year sales of a plug-in vehicle hit the 10,000 mark. I suspect plug-in sales may hit the 100,000-unit the Prius passed in 2005 within a similar five-year period or even sooner if gas prices spike and/or promotion hits new levels. Last year we saw Nissan Leaf leases as low as $129/month (with a high down payment and tough qualifications), which put it at a monthly cost comparable with other small (internal combustion engine) cars and Chevy also rolled out discounted leases for the Volt. Nissan is just rolling out a lower cost model, built in Tennessee, that promises to get the purchase price of the EV closer to that of its non-EV competitors. Federal and state incentives continue to be offered to drop retail prices further for plug-ins. Whether these hefty enticements to try a new technology will have a substantial impact on consumers remains to be seen. Early adopters have been reaping the benefits so far, but it may take some time for the general consumer to warm up to vehicles that require a shift in behavior, even with clear environmental and financial benefits.

Posted Jan. 14, 2013

Turbo Diesels Take on Hybrids: Volkswagen Jetta TDI Awarded Green Car of the Year

By John Addison (11/24/08). The Volkswagen Jetta TDI was just selected “Green Car of the Year” by Green Car. Last June, I test drove the new Volkswagen Jetta TDI Diesel. It accelerated on to the freeway faster than my Toyota Prius. Driving freeways and stop-go city, I wondered which would be the bigger seller, the new European turbodiesels or the Japanese Hybrids.

Considering that diesel dominates Europe’s car market, we can expect turbodiesel manufacturers to give their hybrid counterparts a run for their money in the United States.

The VW Jetta TDI Diesel has an EPA rated mileage on 41 mpg highway and 30 city with a 6-speed stick; 40/29 with an automatic. With 140 horsepower, the Jetta has plenty of performance. The diesel Jetta has a combined EPA rating of 33, compared with 25 for its gasoline cousin. In other words, diesel delivers over 30 percent better mileage, making a real difference to the pocket book even with diesel fuel’s higher prices, and to reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

Over 1.5 million Toyota Priuses are now on the road. The 2008 Priuses has an EPA rated mileage of 48 city and 45 highway. Notice that this hybrid with regenerative braking actually gets better mileage in stop and go than on freeways where there is added wind resistance. The Prius computer automatically disengages the engine most of the time when stopped and going slowly, making it more quiet than diesels. The Prius has a bit more passenger room than the Jetta. Both have the same trunk space.

Using both an electric motor and an engine, the Prius has always delivered more performance than I’ve needed, whether accelerating on a freeway or climbing a steep and icy mountain road. With its powerful electric motor, the Prius has plenty of torque and good acceleration.

Honda is not happy with Toyota’s success in selling four hybrids for everyone that Honda has sold. In John Murphy’s interview with Honda about their green image, Honda CEO Mr. Fukui stated that “Honda’s image was better but has evened out with [Toyota] because of the strong image of one single model, the Prius, which Honda feels is a problem. Next year, we will come up with a dedicated hybrid vehicle. We feel this model will have to overwhelm and overtake Prius.” It is rumored that the new Honda hybrid will be priced well under $20,000 and reach a broader market. Wall Street Journal Interview.

In the next two years, Honda is also likely to bring diesels to the U.S. including the Acura, the Odyssey minivan, and the CR-V SUV.

In the USA, many prefer SUVs to sedans. SUVs have more cargo space. Some can seat more than five people, but not the more fuel efficient SUVs. They ride higher. Some drivers feel safer, although sedans like the Prius and Jetta score better than some SUVs in front and rear collisions and are loaded with air bags and advanced vehicle controls.

The Ford Escape Hybrid is the most fuel efficient SUV on the market with an EPA rating of 34 mpg highway and 30 city. The VW Tiguan is a somewhat comparable compact SUV, but less fuel efficient with 26 mpg highway and 19 city using a six-speed shift; and only 24/18 with an automatic. The Tiguan is a light-duty vehicle that is roomy with 95 cubic feet for passengers and 24 for cargo. Drop the back seat and you have 56 for cargo.

The new VW Jetta Sportswagen offers many SUV lovers with an appealing alternative. It achieves the same mileage as the Jetta sedan of 41 mpg highway and 30 city with a 6-speed stick; 40/29 with an automatic. With 33 cargo cubic feet, it beats SUVs like the Escape and Tiguan. Drop the back seat and you have 67 cubic feet. Watch VW take market share from SUVs that get half the miles per gallon of this new turbo diesel.

The Prius, Jetta, Jetta Sportswagen, Tiguan and Escape all seat five people. All have ways to accommodate a fair amount of cargo when the back seat is dropped. The four-door sedans offer much better fuel economy. In the new era of $4 per gallon gas prices, sedans are gaining market share at the expense of SUVs and light trucks, like the once best selling Ford F150.

For those who enjoy both performance and luxury, Mercedes and BMW have new turbo diesel cars with about 30% better fuel economy than their gasoline counterparts. Last summer when I was treated to test drives of the Mercedes E320 Bluetec and the BMW 535D. I was impressed with the quiet, smooth, performance of these larger sedans and with the roomy luxurious experience. Mercedes and BMW are also bringing concept hybrid diesels to auto shows.

The new turbo diesels are not your diesels of the past. They are quiet. I could smell no emissions. Emissions are far lower than those of the previous decade, meeting the tough new 50 state requirements including using ultra-low sulfur diesel.

The automakers do not want you to put B100 biodiesel in these new engines with common rail and very high pressure injection. When I met with Volkswagen on June 12, they explained that they warranty to B20 in Europe and only B5 in the U.S. Biodiesel’s Future

For the moment gasoline hybrids give most people better fuel economy than the new turbo diesels in the U.S. The diesel hybrids being developed by VW, Audi, Mercedes, and BMW could change the game. Most significant are diesel plug-in hybrids. The VW Golf TDI Hybrid concept is demonstrating 69 mpg. The full-hybrid supports an all-electric mode.

Volkswagen is serious about hybrids and electric drive systems. In announcing a new lithium-ion venture with Sanyo, Prof. Martin Winterkorn, CEO of the Volkswagen Group stated that VW’s future “will be directed more strongly at making electrically powered automobiles alongside ones driven by more efficient combustion engines.” Volkswagen’s Audi is also demonstrating a plug-in hybrid concept Quattro.

Toyota is well aware of the success of diesel in Europe. Toyota is developing an advanced diesel engine in both the Tundra and Sequoia. Toyota plans to expand its use of hybrids in a wide-range of vehicles. Currently Toyota is constrained by trying to increase battery manufacturing enough to meet its current exploding demand for hybrids. Toyota also plans a plug-in hybrid by the end of 2010.

General Motors does not intend to watch Asia and European rivals take all its market share. In late 2010, it plans to offer both gasoline and diesel plug-in hybrids that will give the average driver over 100 miles per gallon. In the USA it will introduce the Chevy Volt gasoline plug-in hybrid. In Europe, GM will sell a diesel plug-in hybrid under the Opel brand.

Are there other offerings of hybrids, diesels, and other fuel efficient alternatives? Yes. A good starting point to compare vehicles is at the EPA’s Fuel Economy site.

Different people need different types of vehicles. Hybrids benefit everyone who spends part of their driving in cities and/or stop-go traffic. The new turbo diesels tend to get thirty percent better performance than their gasoline counterparts. Two long-term trends are converging – the expanded use of more fuel-efficient diesel engines and the expanded use of electric drive systems for hybrids, plug-in hybrids and for electric vehicles.

Cleaner vehicles, however, are not the whole solution. When gasoline hit $4 per gallon, Marcia and Christian convinced a car dealer to take their two vehicles as trade-in, including a large SUV, for one more fuel efficient SUV. Living and working in a city, only one vehicle was needed because both could use public transportation and car pool with friends. They save over $5,000 per year by sharing one vehicle. Now that is a real solution to save at the pump and help all of us by saving emissions.

By John Addison, Publisher of the Clean Fleet Report.