New & Used Chevrolet Cruze: In Depth
2016 Chevrolet Cruze unveiling, Detroit, June 2015Enlarge Photo
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An all-new model of the Chevrolet Cruze will launch as a 2016 model, but the first generation of Cruze--sold from 2011 through 2015--was one of the better options in its segment. The compact four-door sedan competes with heavyweight compacts like 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.
The 2016 Cruze is the North American version of a car that is 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 compact Volt plug-in hybrid hatchback. We haven't driven a new Cruze yet, but it should arrive in dealerships early in 2016.
The sole powertrain for the 2016 model 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.
For 2015, the last year of the first generation, Chevrolet restyled the front end to tie it more closely to the new car. It also added a new base trim level to the Cruze, which was one of the only cars in the class to offer a diesel engine to U.S. buyers.
The first Cruze, launched for 2011, had a tall task: erasing memories of the outdated Cobalt compact it replaced, as well as the ancient Cavalier that came before that.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. Take into consideration the wide range of adjustability and excellent seats, along with its huge trunk, and the Cruze feels almost like a mid-size sedan. Just a few years ago, its 181-inch overall length would have been called mid-size.
The Cruze is more conservative in styling than many competitors, but its interior has always been one of its strongest points. The feel is upscale, the materials of the twin-cockpit dash design are rich, and in some ways they elicit memories of the best Volkswagen products of yore--it's better, frankly, than the current version of the Jetta, which lost some of its luxury in the quest for lower sticker prices.
All that said, the Cruze is far from the sportiest contender in the group. The base LS, with a 136-horsepower, 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine, tends to be perfectly adequate but noisy and harsh when pushed; Eco, LT, and LTZ models all step up to the 1.4-liter turbo engine, which makes 138 hp and more torque at lower rpm—making it feel like the perkier choice with either transmission. It’s also smoother and feels more like a premium engine.
Both gas engines can be equipped with either a six-speed automatic or six-speed manual transmission; the star of the lineup is arguably the Cruze Eco model, which achieves 42 mpg on the highway with the manual. The Eco employs 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. On any Cruze model, steering is confident but not all that engaging; ride quality is superb, though.
For 2014, Chevrolet launched a diesel-engined Cruze model based on the one it's been selling in Europe for several years. The Cruze Clean Turbo Diesel model (confusingly badged Cruze 2.0 TD) comes with a direct-injected and turbocharged 2.0-liter diesel engine producing 148 horsepower and 248 lb-ft of torque. It's paired only with the six-speed automatic transmission, and rated at 33 mpg combined (27 mpg city, 46 mpg highway). 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.
The Cruze had a good safety record even before reaching our market, and that has continued since U.S. sales commenced. The Cruze received the Top Safety Pick honor from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and is rated five stars for overall safety by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. These are top-of-the-class scores, aided by the side-thorax and knee airbags offered here, which are unavailable on most competitors.
The Chevy Cruze has had a fairly trouble-free history thus far. However, the NHTSA posted a recall notice in late 2012 for the 2012 model-year Chevy Cruze (and the related Buick Verano) for a potential flaw with its airbags.
The Cruze’s feature set is also more in step with those of mid-size sedans than with other compacts; even the base LS includes keyless entry, air conditioning, power accessories, and a six-speaker sound system. LT models get USB, Bluetooth, and remote start, while the LTZ includes items such as automatic climate control, heated mirrors, and park assist. Heated seats and touch-screen navigation are 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 Side Blind Zone Alert and Rear Cross Traffic Alert systems, 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 WiFi hotspot capability.
Also for 2015, the Cruze received a nice face lift that echoes the look of the current Malibu sedan. The grille is more detailed and the headlights are reworked. Inside, only the cup holders and locations for trunk release and door lock buttons change. The refresh is just enough to keep the Cruze looking new without much alteration to the substance.
To try and prop up sales of the 2015 model at the end of its life cycle, Chevrolet added a price-leader Cruze L trim at the very bottom of the range and restyled the front end to give the older version a look closer to that of the upcoming 2016 model. The Cruze L is available only with a manual and does without things like floor mats and a spare tire (an inflator kit is substituted) while keeping its advanced tech like 4G LTE and USB connectivity. The 2015 Chevy Cruze L carries a starting price of $16,995.