These two cars follow the same formula: They’re both ostensibly compact “C-Segment” cars, but neither is what you’d call small. They’re both equipped with two-liter diesel engines with variable geometry turbochargers and six speed automatic transmissions. They both cost a bit more than their gasoline-propelled counterparts, but there are nuances in the execution of the diesel formula.
The Ford Focus has always been the quintessential European hot hatch. The TDCi mirrors the sporting nature of the gasoline Focus, but kicks things up a notch with some much needed muscle. Its dual-clutch transmission gives near-instantaneous gear-changes and a stellar 0-100 km/h time of around 8.9 seconds. The Cruze’s traditional torque converter automatic, on the other hand, results in a slower 10 second run. Despite the Cruze’s higher horsepower (148 hp versus 135 hp), the Focus’s whopping 360 Nm of torque makes it feel much more lively under acceleration. While the Cruze’s long legs shine through on the highway, it’s speed-limited to a lower max speed than the Focus’s 210 km/h.
While the Focus’ manual transmission mode is largely useless, slotting it into “S” mode gives more decisive gear-holding and faster downshifts. The brakes are more than capable of slowing down this hefty lump of metal, and I still burst into giggling fits whenever I feel that distinctive rat-a-tat-a-tat Focus ABS kick in under heavy braking.
Sportiness, though, has its price. Despite having back-up sensors and rear air-conditioning, there’s very little in the way of toys, and the second row feels somewhat second class. The Focus TDCi is the kind of car that doesn’t like being driven slowly. It feels jumpy in stop-and-go traffic, where the otherwise quick dual-clutch can be indecisive and a bit clunky. Pottering around town is like walking a Doberman on a leash. Give him some slack and he’s going to bolt after the next cat that walks by. The engine clatter in the Focus is also noticeably more diesel-ish than in the Cruze. While there’s sufficient sound insulation to keep noise minimal, the quality of that noise is rather uncivilized.
Diesel Express: Business Class
The Chevrolet Cruze, on the other hand, is the paragon of civility. Even the horn note seems tuned to be as inoffensive as possible. The traditional torque-converter transmission slurs between shifts for a more relaxed drive. While it shifts up quickly enough, requests for downshifts are met with the message: “We’ll consider your request. Come back later.” Manual mode takes longer, as you have to file requests in writing... in triplicate. As with the gasoline Cruze, the VCDi’s automatic is best used for, well, cruising. Which is a real shame, as the car feels so capable.
The Cruze's able chassis, firm suspension, and 17” wheels make it drive nearly as keenly as the Focus, but it understeers more easily and feels clumsy in tight spaces.
It’s fully loaded, too. The Cruze comes with a built-in touchscreen with GPS Navigation. The sound is commendable, despite lacking the Ford system’s clarity and punch. The navigation system is the same found in the Captiva, and offers multiple route calculating options. Plus, the back-up camera features a true night-vision mode. Local units also come standard with leather. And thanks to its long wheelbase, those rear seats are spacious enough for the lord and lady of the manor.
The Diesel Equation
Neither speed nor sophistication negatively affects economy. Both cars do around 8-12 km/l in the city, 13-16 km/l in mixed conditions, and up to 20 km/l on the highway. With today’s unpredictable gasoline prices, the fact that these cars run on subsidized diesel fuel (and less of it) makes them very appealing propositions. Only micro-cars are cheaper to run, though none of them can match the power and refinement of the diesels.
But even discounting the discounted running costs, both offer something above and beyond the common gasoline sedan. At P1.313 million, the locomotive express Cruze VCDi brings the compact class to new levels of convenience and sophistication. The Focus TDCi, on the other hand, may be getting long in the tooth, but it’s a performance bargain at P1.126 million, and is still a blue-collar diesel hero.
Although “hero” cars don’t sell as well as vanilla sedans, they do capture the imagination. The C-Segment may still be dominated by petrol-heads, but the dynamic duo are fitting ambassadors for the Church of Diesel.