Part 2 – 2014 Preview Drives – Chev Cruze Diesel, Impala, Trax and Cadillac XTS

2014 Chevrolet Impala - rear fender character line is reminiscent of the 1967 Impala, and pure 'Chevy'

2014 Chevrolet Impala – rear fender character line is reminiscent of the 1967 Impala, and pure ‘Chevy’

This is Part 2 of the fleet demo event General Motors Canada hosted recently.  This is an annual test drive event for buyers from companies that operate fleets, such as the car rental, government, utilities, and oil and gas sectors.  I was one three local auto writers given unlimited access to test drive a range of new 2014 GM models.

Chevrolet Cruze diesel, MSRP $24,945.

2014 Chevrolet Cruze diesel is impressive and very comparable to VW's TDi in fuel economy

2014 Chevrolet Cruze diesel is impressive and very comparable to VW’s TDi in fuel economy

The Cruze diesel is one of the big stories for 2014.  For diesel fans, Volkswagen TDi (Golf, Jetta, Passat, Tiguan and Tuareg) have been the only choices, unless you want a pickup truck.  Kudos to GM bringing diesel power back to their passenger car linup.

On paper, Chevy’s 2.0-litre DOHC turbo diesel 4-cylinder engine is impressive.   The Chevy diesel is rated at 151 horsepower and 264 lb-ft of torque (vs. VW’s 140 horsepower and 236 lb-ft).  As for fuel economy rating, it’s close.  The Cruze has a better rating for highway, the VW has a better rating for city.

I like the Cruze a lot.  In fact, it’s one of my favourite cars in GM’s range.  It’s styling is clean, handling is more European than American, and it’s a good alternative to the Volkswagen Jetta.

On the road, despite the diesel Cruze having more horsepower and torque than the VW TDi, it lacks the liveliness of the Volkswagen.  The last automatic transmission Jetta diesel we tested had enough torque to spin the tires on dry pavement.  As hard as I tried, the diesel Cruze couldn’t do that.  Still, I really liked the new Cruze diesel and I’m itching to do a more extensive test.  If I were shopping for a new compact sedan, the Cruze diesel would definitely be on my short list.  I dig diesels and the high fuel economy they’re capable of achieving.

Chevrolet Impala. 

The 2014 Impala not only blows the previous generation out of the water, it pretty much blows the Ford Taurus and Chrysler 300 out of the water, too.  I’m going to go out on a limb and say the new Impala will likely be the best looking new car of 2014.  Look at the sheet metal carefully and it preserves that Chevy ‘look.’  The rear fender character line is pure Chevy Impala, circa 1967.

The demo Impala we drove had the 305 horsepower 3.6-litre V6, that will undoubtedly provide yeoman service for rental fleet buyers.  Acceleration is good and our high line test unit was nicely finished with very attractive double-stitched leather trim.  It looks refined and elegant.  The top-of-the-line car (MSRP $39,645) is spacious, quiet, and possesses handling dynamics that are impressively balanced and composed.  Plus, the new Impala is available with an arm-long list of safety technologies such as forward collision alert, blind spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert and lane departure warning.

The new Chevy 2014 Impala is the new benchmark for full-size sedans.  This is another new car we can’t wait to do an extensive road test on.

Cadillac XTS.  (MSRP NA)

2014 Cadillac XTS, big and luxurious, but many will want to waif for the 420 horsepower twin-turbo V6 recently announced

2014 Cadillac XTS, big and luxurious, but many will want to waif for the 420 horsepower twin-turbo V6 recently announced

This is Caddy’s full-size luxo-liner that goes up against the world’s best luxury cars, like the Mercedes-Benz S-class and Lexus LS.

I’ve been a critic of GM interiors for a long time, but the XTS has one of GM’s best cabins.  Fit and finish is superb and finally, it has style that looks nice to my eye.

2014 Cadillac XTS digital instrument cluster

2014 Cadillac XTS digital instrument cluster

2014 Cadillac XTS HUD heads-up display shows speed and audio setting

2014 Cadillac XTS HUD heads-up display shows speed and audio setting

The XTS has an attractive all-digital instrument cluster supplemented by a very large display screen for audio/HVAC, trimmed with tasteful accents of wood.  Our test XTS had a bright heads-up display (optional) that shows speed and current radio station on the windshield.  The XTS Caddy is big and roomy – just what fullsize luxury sedan owners demand, but the standard 304 horsepower 3.6-litre V6 is only adequate.

The naturally aspirated V6 will be the power plant of choice for rental companies, but luxury buyers who want a hot rod Caddy will have to wait for the recently announced 420 horsepower twin-turbocharged 3.6-litre engine.

Chevrolet Trax

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2014 Buick Encore is much more stylish than the Chevy Trax

2014 Buick Encore is much more stylish than the Chevy Trax

TheTrax is the least expensive of our test vehicles.  With an MSRP of an affordable $18,495 for the front-wheel-drive version, this will be a popular car for rental fleets.

According to GM spokesperson George Saratlic, the Trax has the same ‘footprint’ as the (now defunct) Pontiac Vibe.  That is about the same dimensions as a Toyota Matrix, which was the platform GM used for the Vibe.

The Trax is a sub-compact and measures some 13-in. shorter than the Cruze.  Styling aims to appeal to the now hot crossover-utility segment.  To my eye, it looks frumpy and I don’t expect it to be nominated to anybody’s Museum of Modern Art any time soon.  I much prefer the looks of Buick’s version the Encore, which is mechanically identical to the Trax.

Powering the Trax is the same 138 horsepower 1.4-litre turbocharged Ecotec 4-cylinder engine and 6-speed automatic transmission from the Cruze.  When I tested this engine with 6-speed manual transmission in the Cruze, I really liked it.  However, fitted with a 6-speed automatic transmission, the Trax is underpowered and feels sluggish.  It needs a lot of throttle to make the Trax accelerate smartly from a stop and the transmission shifts slowly.

City use is the Trax’s forte.  It will sell well to rental companies and for frugal Canadians, one of the car’s appeal is they’re available in AWD configuration.

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