Big car virtues in a small package. The Cruze takes the best attributes of Chevrolet's accomplished Malibu and Impala, as well as the brand's familiar styling, and tucks them into a more maneuverable and fuel-efficient package. Boasting a comfortable ride, relatively roomy interior, and effortless power, it's a fully competitive entry that stands out in a class dominated by imported cars.
For years, GM struggled to build a competitive small car. Introduced in 2011, the original Cruze was a hopeful sign that Chevrolet could put its history of mediocre small cars, embodied by the inferior Cavalier and Cobalt, in the rearview mirror. While that Cruze was able to finally compete with the popular Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla, it never ranked among the best compact sedans in our road test scores. This time, it beats them.
With its most recent iteration, the Ohio-assembled Cruze is more mature and technologically advanced. It's also more accomplished, with a road test score near the top of this highly competitive class.
The Cruze has pulled off the trick of getting both longer and leaner. Shedding a full 225 pounds compared to the previous generation, it gained 3 inches in length, with most of it put to good use for a markedly roomier backseat. Plus, it got quicker and more frugal with fuel.
You can get into a typically equipped Cruze LT for around $24,000, with keyless and remote start, a power driver's seat, and heated front seats. That price makes it one of the more expensive entries in the class, ringing in at a few thousand more than a comparably packaged Hyundai Elantra. Then again, discounts are readily available.
With its 153-hp, 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, combined with the lighter weight, the Cruze feels eager and effortless when taking off or merging. The six-speed automatic transmission makes a great running mate for the polished engine. The start/stop feature, designed to save fuel during stops, is one of the smoothest ones we've experienced.
The 0 to 60 mph sprint, at 8.5 seconds, is among the quicker in the class; the diesel version takes 9.1 seconds.
But as with other small displacement turbos, the theoretical fuel economy advantage dissipates in the real world. We measured 30 mpg overall, which trails frugal class leaders like the Corolla, Civic, Mazda3, and Hyundai Elantra. Notably, that's only one mpg better than the much larger Chevrolet Malibu.
The diesel version is a different story. We measured an impressive 41 mpg overall and an outstanding 60 mpg on the highway. It also became one of our road-trip kings with a massive 810-mile highway cruising range.
Commendable ride comfort also adds to the Cruze's maturity. Most small cars are far from plush, but here the Cruze shines with an uncanny ability to mute and swallow bumps that's still rare in the compact class.
Clearly, driving fun is not part of the Cruze's repertoire. While secure, the Cruze doesn't like to be rushed, giving the driver plenty of cues that it's more about comfortable cruising than sporty handling. Consequently, it lacks the reflexes to challenge the agile Ford Focus, Mazda3, and Volkswagen Jetta.
Inside the somewhat drab cabin, we appreciated the added amenities brought by the Convenience package's power driver's seat and heated front seats. We were less enthused about the lack of lumbar support and the old-fashioned, foot-operated parking brake.
All Cruzes come with a standard seven-inch touch screen infotainment system. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility is built in, which allows you to plug in your smart phone and access a few apps on the screen.
A sacrifice to the sleeker design is a rather small rear window and a high package shelf compromising rear visibility. Fortunately, a backup camera comes standard.
Advanced safety gear availability is a mixed bag, especially for a new design like this. Blind spot warning with rear cross traffic warning comes as part of the readily available and affordable Driver Confidence package. But if you want forward collision warning and city speed automatic emergency braking a highly desirable feature, it's only available on the top-trim Premier as part of a more expensive options package.
All in all, the Cruze imparts the feeling of being a comfortable and relaxed midsized sedan, compressed into a compact package. This may be exactly what many customers seek. Further, this American-built compact sedan may be just the ticket to win the votes of import-car shoppers.