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Redesigned 2016 Chevrolet Cruze promises more space, improved safety

Larger, next-gen sedan looks to be an even tougher competitor

Published: June 25, 2015 03:00 PM

Chevrolet hopes to Cruze to more sales with a roomier, more luxurious redesign of its popular compact sedan. In an early look, the new Cruze strikes us as a big step forward. One of the biggest updates comes in the rear seat, where passengers no longer need Japanese subway pushers to cram them inside. It’s one of the roomiest back seats in the class, with  plenty of leg and foot room even for six footers. In fact, the rear seats look like they have more legroom than Chevy’s next larger sedan, the Malibu. (The Malibu is growing larger with its own 2016 redesign.) Some versions even pamper rear-seat occupants with their own seat heaters—a rare treat in a small car.

Of course, Chevrolet didn’t skimp up front, either. The cabin feels more upscale, with interior materials and the control layout being a notable a step up from the old car. The front seats felt plenty supportive and comfortable, and some Cruzes even offer a heated steering wheel, which drivers will doubtless appreciate in frigid winter months.

Drivers can also reach a new infotainment system featuring Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which mirror your cell-phone screen on the dashboard. That puts Apple or Google maps at your fingertips while driving and makes it easy to use natural voice commands via Siri or Google Now from your phone. We’ve found these systems bring their own challenges, however.

The standard engine in the new Cruze is an updated 1.4-liter, four-cylinder turbo that gets direct fuel injection and a start-stop feature to reduce fuel use during idling. It’s rated at 153 hp—up 15 hp from the old engine.

Photo: ROCHE_PHOTO

Despite a three-inch stretch in overall length, some versions of the new Cruze are 250 pounds lighter than the old version, which should also help save fuel. Both six-speed manual and automatic transmissions are available. In 2017 the Cruze will get a new 1.6-liter turbodiesel engine. Like the current diesel, it will be certified to run B20 biodiesel. Unimpressive fuel economy for the class was a sore point in the old Cruze; EPA numbers for the new engines haven't been announced, so we have to reserve judgment there.

A new top-level Premier trim line replaces the LTZ and will feature a more sophisticated multi-link rear suspension in place of the twist-beam axle that is used on lower trim levels. New LED headlights also distinguish Premier versions from the rest of the Cruze line. MacPherson struts are used for all Cruzes up front.

Chevrolet will offer a variety of advanced active safety features on the Cruze, including forward-collision warning, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and lane-keeping assistance. Unfortunately, those systems are only available on high-trim models. We believe Chevrolet—and all manufacturers—should make key active safety features standard, or at least available, on all trim levels.

The new Cruze goes on sale early next year, giving us a chance to try the new seat and steering wheel heaters during the chilly winter. In the meantime, we can only hope Chevrolet has addressed the biggest fault in the old Cruze: its below-par reliability.

With better fuel economy and reliability, and a more comfortable back seat, the new Cruze could be more than competitive; it could be a real small-car contender.

—Eric Evarts

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