The Chevrolet Cruze Automatic works well as a diesel luxury car with its attractive looks, strong performance and high levels of comfort. Ameya Dandekar reports.

Putting an auto box in the Cruze diesel was bound to happen. For one, the 148bhp 2.0-litre diesel engine from the Captiva has abundant grunt and can well afford to give away some of it to a power-sapping torque converter. And, with a diesel engine under the hood, you don't mind losing a bit of efficiency as well. That's the theory at least. GM has done well to provide a six-speed automatic to the Cruze too.

With the automatic's torque converter taking some of the edge off the turbo lag, cruising in city traffic is accomplished in a relaxed, easy manner. With this box the Cruze has lost some of the turbo kick previously experienced with the manual gearbox. In contrast, the Cruze auto accelerates in a far more linear manner and upshifts are relatively quick. This makes progress and acceleration much more effortless. So it's fine if you plan to drive it in a relaxed manner. But if you are in a hurry, it can get a bit soggy. It's sluggish when you want a kickdown, taking way too much time to downshift, and this is really frustrating when you need a quick burst of acceleration that you know the motor can otherwise provide. This is accentuated by the fact that the box upshifts rapidly, keeping fuel economy in mind.

It's also only mildly inspiring when driven in manual mode. Sure, in manual mode it hangs onto the selected ratio until you prod a shift. This is a good thing when you are in a corner, but otherwise the manual mode is a bit too lazy and safe to be effective. We also missed paddle shifts on this car.

However, the auto box hasn't seriously blunted the Cruze's performance. The engine still retains its free-revving nature, and the midrange is very strong. Keep your foot on it, and it will happily rev to the limiter without any fuss. The strong mid- and top-end also mean it's a good sprinter. The Cruze takes 9.95 seconds to reach 100kph, which is not far adrift of the manual's time. The grunt gained from the healthy output allows it to reach a top speed of 205kph. But the slow downshifts show in the in-gear acceleration times.

Chevrolet hasn't toyed with the suspension of the manually driven car and it is on the highway that the Cruze feels at its best. It rides well at high speed and there are very few bumps that can throw it offline. Straightline stability, though not as impressive as the Cruze's European rivals, is good and feels stable even in excess of 150kph. At low speeds though, sharp bumps thud through into the cabin, the ride has a stiff edge to it and the car crashes through large undulations.

The handling leaves a lot to be desired. A steering that is vague in the straight-ahead position, and one that doesn't weight up when you turn into corners means this car is better on expressways than ghat roads. And, this spoils any driving pleasure the reasonable body control and grip provide.

The stylish interiors are mostly unchanged, save for the automatic gear lever. The twin cockpit theme that separates the space for the driver and the passenger, the manner in which the dashboard has been clad, and the first-rate detailing all ensure that this is one of the most stylish interiors in its class. But, there are a few minor quality issues here. The plastics used around the door pockets and the ill-fitting cover on top of the glovebox feel cheap, and even the seat material doesn't feel as rich as its European rivals.

The front seats of the Cruze are very supportive and comfortable. They are well bolstered, there's good thigh support, and the seats feel substantial enough to have come from a car that's a class above. The rear seats are supportive too, despite the slightly upright backrest. The tight-fitting roof means headroom is tight. Even the cushioning on the seats feels a little too hard and can be uncomfortable for some people.

The Cruze auto comes only in the LTZ variant, which means you get a lot of kit, like keyless ignition, airbags and ABS.

The big question is: by how much has the fuel efficiency been blunted due to the auto box? In the city, as expected, it gives less – 9.4kpl, which is about 1kpl off the manual Cruze. On the highway though, it is more fuel efficient thanks to one extra ratio to play with when compared to the manual. It will give you 15.1kpl.

The Cruze auto works well as a diesel luxury car with its attractive looks, strong performance, great-looking interiors and high levels of comfort. In traffic, the relaxed nature of the gearbox and the strong torque from the engine mesh well and you are treated to some amount of effortless performance. Flat-out performance from the six-speed gearbox is also good and it even has manual mode that holds onto gears. What the Cruze auto refuses to do, however, is hurry up, especially when you kickdown and want to drop gears in a jiffy. Priced at Rs 15.93 lakh (on-road Mumbai), which is Rs. 84,000 more than the manual variant, it's not cheap either. Buy this only if you must have an automatic.