Until a couple of years ago, if you wanted a diesel passenger car, you probably wanted a Volkswagen. The company’s TDI line promised outstanding fuel economy without compromising acceleration.
Now, diesel aficionados have even fewer choices. Volkswagen’s magical-seeming “clean diesels” were debunked as illegal polluters, and several other automakers are also under scrutiny.
Undaunted, General Motors pushed forward with a new diesel engine for its Chevrolet Cruze compact economy sedan – and it quietly racks up impressive fuel economy numbers. The EPA rates the diesel Cruze for 31 miles per gallon in the city and a whopping 47 mpg on the highway, compared to 30 city / 40 highway for a standard gas model. Thanks to the low-revving nature of diesel engines and a nine-speed automatic transmission, the Cruze also cruises quietly at 80 mph. (A six-speed manual transmission is standard.)
The rest of the Cruze package is an unassuming compact sedan. Inside and out, it has clean but forgettable styling and sensible ergonomics. There’s decent interior space and comfortable seats. The ride is smooth. Dull steering responses keep it from being considered sporty, though, which will turn off some former VW Jetta TDI owners. It’s appealing to drivers who want relaxing transportation rather than something exciting – essentially a more refined take on a Hyundai Elantra or Toyota Corolla, rather than a livelier vehicle like a Honda Civic or Mazda3.
The main issue with the Cruze is the price tag. You can only get the diesel model starting at $24,670, compared to $17,850 for the base Cruze; even factoring in the diesel’s extra standard equipment, it’s still an extra $3,000 or so. You also can’t get the diesel on the useful Cruze hatchback, just on the sedan. The tested car hit a lofty $29,655, not even decadently equipped. Note too that diesel tends to cost more in Maryland than regular gasoline, and that the Cruze also needs periodic refills of emissions-controlling exhaust fluid.
Moreover, the Cruze is on the spendy side even if you skip the costly diesel option. Most competitors have more standard features, leaving it costing a couple thousand dollars more than most comparably equipped competitors.
For maximum fuel savings at this price point, the Toyota Prius is the leading option – especially if you have more stop-and-go conditions than the high-speed cruising where the diesel Cruze is at its best. However, the Toyota’s oddball styling, slower acceleration and noisier cabin will drive some shoppers to the Chevrolet. Hyundai’s new Ioniq hybrid promises even better fuel efficiency and greater refinement, though with less interior room. The Civic and the Eco version of the Hyundai Elantra are also appealing options among conventional gas-powered small sedans.
Nonetheless, the Cruze quietly goes about its business while returning exceptional fuel economy. For many buyers, that’s a package well worth a price premium.
In Lincoln’s heyday, the brand provided the luxury cruisers of choice for wealthy drivers – and chauffeured passengers – all over the world. But in recent years, Lincoln has been better known for its slightly fancier Fords with an alphabet soup of confusing names.
Lincoln is working to change that with the new 2017 Continental, a grand old name resurrected from its storied past to replace the MKS – a vehicle that was as mediocre and characterless as its name. It’s still a Ford at heart, built from the bones of a Fusion midsize sedan, but the Continental (recently tested at Koons Lincoln of Silver Spring) makes significant strides in both style and substance to serve as a more respectable flagship sedan for the brand.
Particularly around its base price of $45,645, the Continental delivers an impressive level of interior quality, seat comfort and noise suppression. The price can surpass $70,000, at which point it’s a tougher sell – but not a joke like the unfortunate MKS. At the higher price points, it’s competing against the Genesis G90, which has less flair to the interior but a more solid feel to its driving dynamics; the Cadillac CT6, a lively sport-oriented model without the Continental’s or G90’s emphasis on cushy quietness; and the Lexus LS, an aging model that still pulls off quiet luxury with aplomb. You can also shop the Continental against various midsize sedans – notably the Audi A6, BMW 5 Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class – trading some interior space for superior driving dynamics and a more prestigious badge.
Luxury purists will deride the Continental’s front-wheel-drive architecture (all-wheel-drive is optional), its lack of an available V8 engine (it instead has a choice of three powerful V6s) and its humble mechanical origins. But Lincoln delivers a level of elegance that the brand had been missing for a while, and the new Continental is a worthy heir to its name.
Of course, in today’s SUV-dominated world, the Continental is no longer the brand’s true flagship. That distinction goes to the Navigator SUV, whose much-anticipated 2018-model redesign will be in showrooms soon.