Thursday, October 7, 2010

A Tale of Two Turbos: Cruze vs. Jetta

Reuters has a good piece on turbochargers that ran yesterday that nicely sums up a good deal of the good on turbos, especially for the U.S. market.  Ten years ago, U.S. motorists enjoyed VW products that could get an honest 50 mpg highway (EPA said 49 mpg I seem to remember) from their stellar little 1.9l turbodiesel that went into the Golf and Jetta.  Decent U.S. compacts were seeing mid- to high-30 mpg highway.  Fast forward to today, and that gap between turbo gas and turbodiesel is quickly closing.  The ever-scrappy Scott Burgess of The Detroit News wrote a piece today on the new uber-fail Volkswagen Jetta (google the reviews, no one really likes it), which points out that the turbodiesel only manages 42 mpg, even though the engine has only gained 100 cc of displacement. 

 In Detroit's corner, the new Chevrolet Cruze will go up against the Jetta (and forthcoming, sure to be pretty competitive Ford Focus), and the Cruze Eco will get 40 mpg highway using regular grade pump gasoline and a very underspecified 1.4l gas turbo.  Pricing for the Jetta diesel was unvailable for the new model, but we know the Eco model of the Cruze will start at $18,175.   There's no way you'll be able to touch a new Jetta diesel for under $20K; even though they've made the car cheaper, the diesel adds a variable geometry turbo (as opposed to a simpler, waste-gate, non- variable geometry turbo), pricey high-pressure fuel injection (Cruze to use cheaper, less efficient port-fuel injection) and not-cheap exhaust aftertreatment that is far more costly than the conventional 3-way catalytic converter in the gas powered Cruze (oxides of nitrogen, and to a lesser degree, particulates--otherwise known to we wood-burners as "soot"--are still the bane of diesel exhaust).  Let's guess that the cost difference is $4,000.  Is $4,000 worth it for a 5% improvement on something that already gets 40 mpg?

Don't get me wrong, I love turbodiesels.  Diesel proponents would rightly point out that the Jetta would likely have 100 additional lb.-ft. of torque that would make the Jetta likely feel much more stout in daily driving.  But most consumers are not cross shopping torque ratings like this author.

My point: gas turbos, as pointed out in the Reuters piece, are likely to skyrocket in coming years.  Ford already said they'll offer gas turbos on 90 percent of their vehicles in coming years.  Full disclosure, GM and Honeywell are clients of my firm; I own neither GM nor HON stock.  That said, would I really like to own a Cruze turbodiesel, especially if they made a hatchback or wagon?  Hell yeah.

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