New & Used Chevrolet Cruze: In Depth
Angular Front Exterior View - 2015 Chevrolet Cruze 4-door Sedan Auto 1LTEnlarge Photo
The Chevrolet Cruze is the automaker's compact car. New for the 2016 model year, the Cruze has in the past been sold as a four-door sedan—but now, GM confirms, it will be offered as a five-door hatchback as well.
The 2016 Cruze is the North American version of a car already on sale in China, though with different powertrains, interior, and equipment. The second-generation Cruze has a racier and more wedge-shaped look than the more slab-sided older car, and actually looks remarkably similar to the first-generation Volt plug-in hybrid hatchback. The new Cruze should arrive in dealerships early in 2016.
The sole powertrain for the 2016 models is a new and more powerful 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. A six-speed automatic transmission is one offering, though we'd expect a six-speed manual gearbox on some models, and Chevy has also promised a 1.6-liter turbodiesel engine option for 2017 as well. There may even be a Cruze Hybrid, but all models should deliver better fuel efficiency than any equivalents in the first-generation model.
The Cruze competes with perennial best-sellers such as the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic, as well as the Ford Focus, Hyundai Elantra, and some lower-volume entries like the Kia Forte, Mazda 3, Subaru Impreza, and Volkswagen Golf.
MORE: Read our 2016 Chevrolet Cruze preview
The first generation of Cruze—sold from 2011 through 2015—was one of the better options in its segment. It had a tall task: erasing memories of the outdated Cobalt compact it replaced, as well as the ancient Cavalier that came before that.
The Cruze was Chevrolet's first global compact, designed in South Korea, but comprehensively updated before it came to the States.
The first Cruze was more conservative in styling than many competitors, but its interior was one of its strongest points. The feel was upscale, the materials of the twin-cockpit dash design were rich, and in some ways they elicited memories of the best Volkswagen products of yore. The Cruze was better, frankly, than the contemporary version of the Jetta, which lost some of its luxury in the quest for lower sticker prices.
The Cruze was far from the sportiest contender in its class, though. The base LS, with a 136-horsepower, 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine, was adequately quick but noisy and harsh when pushed; Eco, LT, and LTZ models stepped up to the 1.4-liter turbo engine, which made 138 hp and more torque at lower rpm, making it feel like the perkier, smoother choice with either transmission.
Both gas engines could be equipped with either a six-speed automatic or six-speed manual transmission; the star of the lineup was arguably the Cruze Eco model, which achieved up to 42 mpg on the highway with the manual. The Eco employed several weight-saving measures, making it the lightest of the bunch and also the most enjoyable to toss around, even with its low-rolling-resistance tires.
For 2014, Chevrolet launched a diesel-engined Cruze model based on the one had sold in Europe for several years. The Cruze Clean Turbo Diesel model (confusingly badged Cruze 2.0 TD) came with a direct-injected and turbocharged 2.0-liter diesel engine producing 148 hp and 248 lb-ft of torque. It was paired only with the six-speed automatic transmission, and rated at 33 mpg combined (27 mpg city, 46 mpg highway), according to the Environmental Protection Agency. It's worth noting that diesel cars often deliver better real-world fuel economy than their EPA ratings. In part because of a base price approaching $25,000, the diesel Cruze hasn't sold in huge numbers.
Take into consideration the wide range of adjustability and excellent seats, along with its huge trunk, and this first Cruze felt almost like a mid-size sedan. Just a few years ago, its 181-inch overall length would have been called mid-size.
The Cruze had a good safety record even before reaching our market, and that continued with U.S. sales. The Cruze received the Top Safety Pick honor from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and was rated five stars for overall safety by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The Cruze’s feature set was also more in step with those of mid-size sedans than with other compacts; even the base LS included keyless entry, air conditioning, power accessories, and a six-speaker sound system. LT models offered USB, Bluetooth, and remote start, while the LTZ included items such as automatic climate control, heated mirrors, and park assist. Heated seats and touch-screen navigation were on offer in the LTZ.
New for 2013 was a touchscreen and voice-based MyLink system, which provides Bluetooth audio streaming, hands-free communication, and apps for Pandora and Stitcher streaming audio, plus Gracenote playlist and album art capability. And for the 2013 model year, Chevrolet bolstered that impression even further by offering blind-spot monitors with cross-traffic alerts, together in a new Enhanced Safety Package that also includes rear park assist. A rearview camera system was also added. For 2015, 4G LTE connectivity was added as well, providing a quicker connection for OnStar as well as Wi-Fi hotspot capability. Also for 2015, the Cruze received a facelift that echoed the look of the Malibu sedan.