Detroit does diesel, and it’s wicked

Written by on March 1, 2015 in Cars and Chicks, Perspectives, Trends - 20 Comments

Krystyna Lagowski 2015 Chevy Cruze DieselIt was a sweltering June day, and I was stuck in my grade seven class. The windows were open, and every time I leaned sideways to catch a cool breeze against my cheek, my legs would stick to the plastic chair. There was a whiff of diesel smoke as the Queensway 80 bus growled to a stop just below the window, its engine rumbling while passengers got on and off. Like clockwork, that diesel bus came every 20 minutes.

It was the end of the school year, and an uncertain future lay ahead. My family was moving to a sleepy suburb outside of Toronto, and I didn’t want to go. Just the thought of leaving all my friends tightened my throat, and made my stomach ache. The future was so uncertain, so frightening. But on that day, as the diesel odour rose to the window every 20 minutes, I realized that the world would not end. Like the Queensway 80, it would plod on. It comforted me to realize that even though I would not be there, the bus would always stop. And then calmly continue on its route.


As a grown-up, I developed mixed feelings for the diesel bus, especially when stuck behind one in traffic. Diesel is hugely popular in Europe, yet in North America, not so much. Maybe that’s why usually only European automakers offer diesel. But now, General Motors has the Chevy Cruze, a handsome compact sedan, available in diesel. I had been tempted to try a Volkswagen diesel but really – it’s like Prince walking on stage at the Grammies. He gets a standing ovation for just showing up. It’s the same when Volkswagen does diesel – what’s to prove?

IMG_9468So I couldn’t resist. And my 2015 Chevy Cruze diesel glistened under a cold February sky, in a sombre blue metallic hue that would blend in with a fleet of stealth cop cars. It was a solid, civilized vehicle with slightly squared contours, that glowered just enough to assure me it meant business.  The only outward indication that it was diesel was a small green plaque on the back that simply said “2.0 TD.” Diesel cars need a turbo to punch up that engine!

Inside, the Cruze was turned out in soft, pudgy black leather like no one’s business. I slid the six-way power driver’s seat into perfect position, and with seat warmers on high, I was ready to tackle the cold, dark IMG_9453Canadian winter road. As I popped the start button, the dashboard lit up, with the glow plug lights front and centre. Diesel engines don’t use spark plugs, so the glow plugs heat up the combustion chambers to get the show on the road. Can’t you just imagine it? The name “glow plug” conjures up visions of tiny Disney-esque fairies flitting around the engine block, breathing little spurts of warm air to crank the pistons.

IMG_9460The diesel engine sprang to life with a characteristic thrumming – even though the cabin was well insulated, the distinctly diesel rattling growl came through loud and clear. It made me think of oarsmen on a racing scull, skillfully pulling in precision, cutting through the water. And so we surged forward, onto the Don Valley Parkway. It was Valentine’s Day, and don’t you know every girl’s first love is a good outlet mall, and those only exist in Toronto’s sleepy suburbs. Yes, just like the one I’d moved to all those years ago – and fled back to the city as soon as I could. But here, on a typical commuter roadway, the Cruze made itself at home, competently occupying the left lane, and perfectly content at speeds of – um, well, highway speed!  IMG_9442

Arriving at Vaughan Mills shopping centre, my heart skipped a beat. Outlets for Danier, Calvin Klein, Holt Renfrew, J. Crew and also – Doc Maartens. Signs like “50 percent off” tempted me into store after store – how could I say no to such bargains? But I did. I resisted the siren song of cut-rate fashionista combat boots, and settled for a hearty lunch of brisket sandwich at the Pickle Barrel restaurant.

Finally, it was time to leave, and I hopped into the Cruze. Winding our way home was a pleasure, especially since I was bone-weary from resisting all those bargains. I snuggled into the supple leather seat, and pushed into downtown Toronto. Coming off the highway, I was momentarily trapped behind the 72A Pape bus. At the traffic light, I gunned the engine and leaped ahead of the bus, and smiled to myself. The smile turned into a grin when I parked and saw the mileage – 4.5 litres/100 k was my best score, with an average of 9.9. litres/100 k. In gallons, my best was a mind-bending 52 mpg, with an average of 23.7 mpg. That’s why people love diesel!

And while you’re not going to whup anyone’s ass at the drag races, you are going to get way better mileage.

Which, in the end, is a more toothsome victory.




20 Comments on "Detroit does diesel, and it’s wicked"

  1. Michele Harvey March 3, 2015 at 8:16 am · Reply

    Let’s hear it for diesel cars made in the USA! Sounds like such a smooth, comfortable ride, especially on your wallet. Well written! Interesting the things we take comfort in. When I was growing up, the sound of the train going by our apartment all the time gave me comfort.

    • Krystyna Lagowski March 3, 2015 at 5:48 pm · Reply

      Yes, Michele, this diesel had a great ride. Chevy has done up their Cruze diesel with some very comfy accoutrements, and I was pleasantly surprised by the mileage. As for sounds and smells that give comfort – I can surely believe the train would be soothing, especially if it came regularly, and there’s definitely something pleasant about the clickety-clack of the train …

  2. Jacqueline Gum March 3, 2015 at 11:02 am · Reply

    Yaay for diesel! But I wonder if the folks here in the USA will jump on that bandwagon? Especially with gas prices the way they are today. And not all gas stations carry diesel fuel. But there is certainly something magical about glow plugs for sure! LOL

    • Krystyna Lagowski March 3, 2015 at 5:44 pm · Reply

      Who knows what lies ahead for diesel in North America? It’s still more expensive than gas, for sure, but you save in the long run. Plus those diesel engines are indestructable, can last hundreds of thousands of miles. For highway drivers, it’s a great solution. Who wouldn’t want glow plugs dancing in their engine?!

  3. Lenie March 3, 2015 at 11:41 am · Reply

    Hi Krystyna, your memory of the diesel bus brought back memories of my own. When i was eight we emigrated from Holland to Canada and before leaving we stayed for a few days in Amsterdam where the smell of diesel perfumes the air. Never thought much about that until I moved to London to start working and I smelled the diesel buses. It brought back Amsterdam in a big way and I still like the smell of diesel because of its association with the BIG ADVENTURE.
    Anyway, on to the Chevy Cruze. It was mentioned on the news and I wondered why people would want to buy a diesel car but seeing the mileage you got it becomes easy to see why. I also like the looks of it. Good for GM.

    • Krystyna Lagowski March 3, 2015 at 5:42 pm · Reply

      Hey Lenie, so glad to have sparked some good memories for you! Isn’t it funny how an odd smell like diesel can have such positive associations?! A big adventure – I like that. Have you ever been back to Holland? Nowadays, diesel is much cleaner than it used to be, they’ve removed much of the sulphur and other harmful chemicals. That’s why it’s so popular in Europe – and with the type of mileage it gets, should be more popular in North America.

  4. Ken Dowell March 3, 2015 at 4:32 pm · Reply

    I’m afraid some of those diesel fume memories resonate more with me than the car. I rented a Cruze earlier this year when my car developed a problem on the eve of going on a beach vacation. Took it for a week and it got me where I was going but the rental car company version (with a gas engine) was woefully short of some of the features you mentioned.

    • Krystyna Lagowski March 3, 2015 at 5:32 pm · Reply

      Gosh, Ken, sounds like you were disappointed with the gas version of the Cruze. The diesel version comes very tricked out – 2.0 litre engine, 151 hp and 264 lb ft of torque @ 2600 rpm. Much sportier than the gas version, with heated leather seats, 17″ wheels, etc. And don’t you know, that diesel engine is sourced from Opel, GM’s European subsidiary. Overall, diesel is unlikely to be offered as a rental in North America, since, out of ignorance, drivers may refuel with gas.

  5. Ramona McKean March 3, 2015 at 9:42 pm · Reply

    Love your girl-drivin’ style, Krystyna!

    “I resisted the siren song of cut-rate fashionista combat boots, and settled for a hearty lunch of brisket sandwich at the Pickle Barrel restaurant. … Winding our way home was a pleasure, especially since I was bone-weary from resisting all those bargains. ” 😉

    I don’t drive a diesel vehicle but sure contemplated it in November when I was car shopping. Given how little I drive, it was recommended I not spend the extra on a diesel. (Maybe a lame recommendation?)

    With your unique style, thanks for enlightening and entertaining your readers on car matters.

    • Krystyna Lagowski March 5, 2015 at 3:41 am · Reply

      Oh, aren’t you sweet, Ramona! I just have a lot of fun when I write my blog, and I’m glad it shows : )) Actually, if you drive less than 25,000 kilometres a year (15,000 miles), it’s really not worth getting a diesel. There’s a higher upfront cost to buy a diesel car – diesel fuel costs more – and repairs are more expensive. In the long-term, if you do a lot of highway driving, yes, it’s worth it – diesel is good on gas, and a more robust engine. So your car salesman was just being honest with you!

  6. Tim March 4, 2015 at 5:25 pm · Reply

    And we could all use some more toothsome victories 🙂
    52 mpg is certainly nothing to sneeze at so I would take that in a second; especially since my drag racing days are in the rear view mirror. Hope you scored some half price Doc Martens.

    • Krystyna Lagowski March 5, 2015 at 3:42 am · Reply

      Toothsome victories are the best kind, Tim! Yes, so even though you can’t out-accelerate anyone (except for a diesel bus), you can be smug in the knowledge that you’re getting much better gas mileage. Espesh if they’re driving some huge muscle-car!

  7. William Rusho March 5, 2015 at 8:51 pm · Reply

    I was impressed with your article, I too remember the old diesels, and having driving them in the military. I always pictured them as slow moving and hard to first start in the morning. Thanks for shedding some of the old concepts for me .

    • Krystyna Lagowski March 6, 2015 at 3:06 am · Reply

      You drove military diesels? Wow! Those are some kind of huge, sluggish and, I would imagine, smelly machines. Today’s diesel vehicles are much different – don’t know how long ago you were in the military, but I’m sure they’ve had to keep up. In the past 10 or so years, environmental controls have tightened a lot, and it’s to the advantage, I believe, of everyone!

  8. Arleen March 6, 2015 at 4:41 pm · Reply

    Krystyna- I have a diesel Mercedes SUV and I love, love, love my car. It has plenty of power for me. The newer cars do not have the smell or the rattling sound of a diesel motor. Never have to worrying about spark plugs. I travel a lot to dog trials and never have had a problem finding diesel gas.Mercedes uses BlueTec technology which is both fuel efficient and powerful with its turbo diesel V-6 engine. So I am a happy camper. I recommend people looking unto the advantages of diesel car. They do last longer

  9. Patricia Weber March 6, 2015 at 8:15 pm · Reply

    Sounds like a terrific diesel car experience Krystyna. Double savings it sounds like: the gas mileage and avoiding the temptation of outlet shopping.

    When we had our 1933 Packard we would trailer it to close by Concours d’Elegances often borrowing a friend’s truck to do so. The only negative we experienced was the ease of finding a gas station with diesel gas. I will say you make it sound better than an electric car!

  10. Jeri March 6, 2015 at 11:10 pm · Reply

    Ellen gives away Chevy Cruzes all the time on her show, so I’m really familiar with this car 😉 My dad has always bought diesel pick-up trucks, though I can’t recall anyone I’ve known who has driven a diesel car. It’s good that the newer diesel engines are quieter. I could always hear my dad’s truck from way down the road it seemed when he got home from the mine everyday. Though one of my favorite parts of the fair every years is to go and listen to the diesel motors running.

    • Krystyna Lagowski March 7, 2015 at 6:08 pm · Reply

      Goodness, I should be watching Ellen more often! She is the best, love her humour and generosity. Diesel trucks have been around forever, and in Europe, they love their diesel cars. Nowhere near as smelly and noisy as they used to be! Ain’t it peculiar what prompts a childhood memory – and how easily that sometimes happens …

  11. Meredith @ The Palette Muse March 7, 2015 at 5:55 pm · Reply

    I almost bought a VW diesel a few years ago, but was unsure how it would handle. Now we’re thinking of replacing our truck with a diesel because we pull a travel trailer and get a measly 9 MPG on our truck. Ouch! (Thanks for translating to MPG in your post!) This was a very informative read, and I just love the way you write!

    • Krystyna Lagowski March 7, 2015 at 6:03 pm · Reply

      Good idea to get a diesel truck if you’re hauling, diesel has higher torque, which means it’s practically happiest when it’s towing. And if you’re travelling long distances – which it sounds like you are – then you’ll be laughing at the pumps! Glad you enjoyed it : ))

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