While these two might look very different on the outside – what with one being a two-box and one being a three-box shape and all – their shared mission puts them far closer together than you might think.

Both are compacts, one hatch, one sedan, and both have a diesel drivetrain engineered for maximum fuel efficiency. One is fresh from a redesign, the other at the end of its current generation, and we were curious how they’d stack up. Yes, it’s true that the Jetta is a closer competitor to the Cruze, but in the absence of a Chevrolet Sonic Diesel we wanted something to pit against our long-term tester Golf. Besides, we already compared the Jetta vs Cruze.

Chevrolet’s Cruze made a big splash when it was first given the diesel engine just a couple of years ago – the Volkswagen Golf has been a diesel stalwart for far longer.

Engines and Transmissions

Both the Cruze and Golf employ a turbocharged, 2.0L direct-injection four-cylinder diesel. Chevrolet extracts 151 hp at 4,000 rpm and 264 lb-ft at 2,600 plus an extra 16 lb-ft on overboost from time to time. That compares well on paper to the 150 hp at 4,300 rpm and 236 lb-ft at 1,750 produced by the Golf TDI.

In practice, however, the story is slightly different. The earlier torque of the Golf helps it feel more punchy off the line. The Golf is aided in part by a 181 kg weight advantage over the Cruze Diesel – 1,393 kg plays 1,574 – but is aided a lot by the DSG transmission. The Cruze’s six-speed automatic is sluggish and feels like it’s constantly working with the car’s onboard computers to dull the 2.0L engine in the name of efficiency.

The DSG in the TDI on the other hand seems to bring the Golf’s slightly less potent mill to life. The shifts are faster and crisper, and happen later in the range. Miraculously that comes with no fuel economy hit. The VW still outperforms the Cruze with an EPA rated 7.8/5.2/6.5 L/100 km city/highway combined. The Cruze manages 8.7/5.1/7.1.

If the tiny men living in the computer boxes were just a little more permissive with the Cruze’s engine and tranny it would be a much livelier car. But they didn’t. The Cruze is a little louder and rougher running than the Golf too and so as it stands, I have to give this one to Volkswagen.

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