Chevrolet has boosted its Cruze appeal with a new, smaller-engined turbo diesel, says Matt Kimberley, PA motoring writer.

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Chevrolet Cruze 1.7 VCDi LT

Price: £17,825 on the road

Engine: 1.7-litre, 128bhp, four-cylinder turbo diesel

Transmission: Six-speed manual gearbox driving the front wheels

Performance: 0-62mph 9.4 seconds top speed 124mph

Fuel economy: 72.4mpg

CO2 emissions: 117g/km

In an effort to keep pace with the ever-improving engine efficiency in rival compact hatchbacks, Chevrolet has developed a 1.7-litre diesel for its Cruze.

The headline figures that people will be looking for are 72.4mpg and 117g/km of CO2, which makes the 1.7 VCDi the cheapest of the Cruze’s engines for road tax at a piffling £30 after the first year, which is free.

But it’s not just tuned for economy at the cost of driveability. When brand new it feels restricted and needs at least 1,000 miles to loosen up to show its full talent, but at that point it pulls strongly through all six gears thanks to a healthy 128bhp and 221ft.lb of torque.

The Cruze isn’t a heavy car and feels livelier than its 0-62mph time of 9.4 seconds suggests once it’s got some miles under its belt. Well-chosen gearing is partly to thank, and even top gear isn’t too long to overwhelm the engine. The car sits at 2,000rpm at 70mph, which isn’t as low as it could be for outright fuel economy but it’s tractable without needing to change down.

As for the bit around the engine, the Cruze is a known quantity by now. It’s a bit of a surprise for anyone who’s always overlooked Chevrolet as a natty American brand, because it’s all surprisingly chunky and substantial inside with a lot of the materials feeling more premium than you might expect.

In the Cruze you get a coarse fabric weave covering part of the dashboard and door panels like upholstery. It’s an unusual touch that looks pretty nice, although it might not fare well if knocked by sharp corners or pointy objects.

It’s a heavily stylised interior all round, with a great-looking centre console and instrument cluster setting a new driver immediately at ease. The turquoise lettering on the dashboard’s LCD display is a touch of something pleasantly different as well. It’s a very easy car to feel positive about.

The feeling is boosted by the very wide range of adjustment in the seat and steering column, which doesn’t stick to the assumed ‘long arms, short legs’ measurements that many cars force upon you. Those with long legs can better stretch out in the Cruze than in most of its rivals.

On the subject of space, the new engine is available in the Cruze as the heart of both the hatchback and the forthcoming estate, or Station Wagon.

There are three trim levels, from LS up through the LT to the kit-packed LTZ. The LS has a good spread of safety kit, front electric windows, manual air-conditioning and a good-quality security system.

You need to go right to the top LTZ model if gadgets are your thing, and with climate control, cruise control, automatic windscreen wipers and headlights, 17in alloy wheels and rear parking sensors it’s well kitted. The Cruze isn’t necessarily the best-equipped in its class, but LT models have most things you really want.

The problem for the diesel is that it’s £2,925 more expensive in LT than the 1.6-litre petrol, and some rough maths using the claimed economy figures for both brings up about 55,000 miles as the number you’d need to drive before the diesel becomes the cheaper long-term option.

Looking at the bigger picture though, that figure would drop to more like 50,000 miles after the diesel’s much lower road tax charges over three or four years are taken into account. For drivers who cover more than about 17,000 miles per year the diesel does make financial sense.

The Cruze is going head-to-head with some very stiff competition in the high-value small hatchback sector, with the Hyundai i30 and Kia Cee’d among the players. The American company’s effort is an excellent one that brings its game light years on from some of its older cars, and it’s a very worthy choice indeed.

This diesel engine compliments the more powerful 2.0-litre one that’s already available and makes the Cruze a more rounded proposition – one more fitting of the times and one that deserves to be on your shortlist.

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