2012 Chevrolet Cruze Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
January 16, 2012

The 2012 Chevrolet Cruze is a practical, comfortable, fuel-efficient, and a strong value, but it does lack the nimble, tossable feel that some small-car fans appreciate.

For decades, Chevrolet filled out its lineup with compact cars that were adequate, but arguably not on par with segment leaders like the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla. But change is afoot at GM, and the 2012 Cruze is arguably better in many respects than those models—and with the likes of the Hyundai Elantra, Ford Focus, and Mazda3, it's one of the segment leaders.

The Cruze was an all-new design for the U.S. last year. While it's conservative on the outside, the interior makes a strong presentation, with rich materials, some stunning two-tone combinations, and an upscale feel. GM has borrowed some of the design cues from its larger Malibu sedan, and the Cruze's cabin has an almost mid-size feel, with enough space for four adults (five in a pinch), plus excellent adjustability for drivers and a huge trunk.

Going just by the specs page might lead to a little confusion; there are two four-cylinder engines offered in the Cruze, but it's the smaller of the two that's the 'premium' pick. The base 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine performs fine, though it's a little bit loud when pressed and you do need to rev it to move quickly. But step up to the 1.4-liter, turbocharged four (1.4T) that's offered throughout much of the lineup, as well as in the high-mileage Cruze Eco, and you'll find that it's not only smoother and more refined but produces more power down low and pairs well with the six-speed automatic (a six-speed manual is offered, too). EPA ratings are best for the 1.4T, and in Cruze Eco form—with weight savings and special aero improvements—it gets 42 mpg highway.

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In most other ways, the Cruze feels almost almost like a mid-sizer. You probably won't call it nimble or tossable, but its isolated cabin and absorbent ride will please most day-to-day users. It's one of the quietest vehicles in its class, damping out road and wind noise and soaking up major road shocks and potholes well—even if its ride is on the taut side. Seating is a strong point; you'll find more front headroom than most vehicles in its class, and it's a great pick for taller drivers as there's so much rearward seat travel. Just beware, you'll be crunching the knees of those in the back seat—which is, otherwise good for two adults across.

The Cruze is assembled in Ohio, but it's a 'world car,' with specialized versions sold in Europe, Asia, and such. The structure has earned top crash-tests everywhere, and the U.S. market is no exception. Safety equipment is top-notch in its class, too, with standard side-thorax bags and knee bags, and Bluetooth hands-free connectivity and a USB port are offered on most models. Remote start, heated leather seats, automatic climate control, and a screen-based nav system are also available.

8

2012 Chevrolet Cruze

Styling

The 2012 Chevrolet Cruze is tasteful but hardly fashionable on the outside; inside it's more charming, however.

The Cruze was an all-new design for the U.S. last year. While it's conservative on the outside, the interior makes a strong presentation, with rich materials, some stunning two-tone combinations, and an upscale feel.

While the Cruze represents a sea change in thinking (and engineering and quality) versus its predecessors, the Cobalt and Cavalier, it's not readily apparent from the outside. There's nothing particularly striking about the Cruze's styling. Its exterior is a little conservative--almost homely--and looks more like a blunted Malibu (Chevrolet's mid-size sedan) than it probably should. The clear three-box sedan layout is traditional and conservative, and not bound to offend anyone, while the arched roofline provides just enough contemporary pop. One exterior detail that we do appreciate is the relatively low beltline; we like how it affords more of a window greenhouse, as well as better visibility, potentially.

Thankfully, inside the 2012 Cruze bears very little semblance to that of the Cobalt. The wrap-around, multitiered instrument panel appears stylish from a distance, with lots of fine detailing and carefully coordinated trims. Up close, it looks and feels great, too, and you can even see a little bit of Cadillac design influence trickling down to the Cruze's center-stack design.

In the Cruze models that we've seen so far, fit and finish are excellent, as are most of the materials up close. Padded dash materials; grippy rubber-nubbed climate control dials and audio knobs; and high-quality upholstery (including optional leather with fashionable exposed stitching) top off the the Cruze's somewhat upscale look and feel.

6

2012 Chevrolet Cruze

Performance

Fuel-efficiency and ride comfort are clearly priorities that rank above acceleration and handling, but the 2012 Chevrolet Cruze performs well enough to satisfy most.

Skipping straight to the specs charts for the 2012 Chevrolet Cruze could lead to a little confusion. There are two four-cylinder engines offered in the Cruze, but it's the smaller of the two that's the 'premium' pick. The base 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine performs fine, though it's a little bit loud when pressed and you do need to rev it to move quickly. But step up to the 1.4-liter, turbocharged four (1.4T) that's offered throughout much of the lineup, as well as in the high-mileage Cruze Eco, and you'll find that it's not only smoother and more refined but produces more power down low and pairs well with the six-speed automatic (a six-speed manual is offered, too).

Entry-level Cruze LS models come with the 1.8, but the rest of the lineup—including LT and LTZ trims—will come with a 1.4-liter Ecotec turbocharged four. While the 1.4T isn't really more powerful, and it's probably only slightly more responsive, it's considerable more fuel-efficient, taking advantage of the smaller displacement when you don't need it. It's also a flexible, docile engine that always seems to manage to churn out more torque than we expected. Once started, it settles to a very smooth, quiet idle, and throttle response is quick. We especially appreciated the nice, linear—almost German—feel of the throttle, which was a refreshing change of pace compared to the on/off, touchy accelerators we've noticed in many small cars of late.

The Aisin-built six-speed automatic shifts smoothly and has a very low first gear for quick takeoffs, with a wide span resulting in a very deep overdrive sixth. There aren't any paddle-shifters, but there's a manual gate. Acceleration is actually a bit slower with manual-transmission models, due to the taller ratios (designed to hit that EPA 40-mpg highway figure).

If you seek a particularly nimble-feeling small car, the 2012 Chevrolet Cruze probably isn't the best pick. It handles responsively in normal driving, though, with the help of a Watt's-linkage (non-independent) rear suspension, which helps keep the rear tires fully in contact with the road--even when the surface is choppy. There's also a fair amount of body lean to discourage much enthusiasm. But the steering itself is excellent; with rack-mounted electric power steering and nice weighting that gives it a light but secure feel on center.

Chevy offers the Cruze with a choice of two different suspension tunes. LT models pick up the Touring chassis; 2LT and LTZ models get the Sport chassis, which has about a 15 percent increase in spring rate, retuned dampers, and a ride height that's nearly a half-inch lower. Base Cruze models come with discs in front and drums in back, while all models with the Sport chassis (except the Eco) claim four-wheel discs. Our recommendation: Go with the Sport setup unless you live around level terrain and straight roads.

8

2012 Chevrolet Cruze

Comfort & Quality

If comfort is your priority, the 2012 Chevrolet Cruze is one of your ideal small-car picks, as its roomy cabin, refined feel, and huge trunk give it a mid-size feel in a compact package.

Comfort and seating space are clearly among the Cruze's top priorities; its design has them in abundance, and the Cruze is one of the best compact sedans for a long Interstate road-trip, or a commute from far-out exurbs.

Seating is especially well-designed, with a steering wheel that tilts and telescopes to a wide range of positions, so this small sedan can fit even the largest or lankiest occupants. The standard manual seat in the Cruze is height- and tilt-adjustable, while the power seats on the LT2 and LTZ models accommodate a wide range of drivers. The Cruze easily beats the Civic and Corolla in usable interior space, and its seats are subjectively much better than those in the Hyundai Elantra. The lower cushions in particular provide more thigh support than those in most rival small-car models, and only the Volkswagen Jetta comes close for legroom.

The backseat is what reveals the Cruze as a compact, not mid-size, sedan; while it rivals mid-sizers for legroom, it's not nearly wide enough for three adults. Getting in is a little harder to get into than it should be, though, mostly as a result of the surprisingly short back doors. Adding to the comfort, especially in back, is a relatively low beltline that affords a good view out for all—it's likely you won't need to pack as much Dramamine.

The trunk is a huge (for a compact) 15.4 cubic feet, with a large underfloor compartment on most models.

Refinement across most of the 2012 Cruze lineup is superb. With all the windows rolled up, it's readily apparent that while it's no frisky Mazda3 or Mitsubishi Lancer rival; the Cruze feels more mature and like a much more expensive car. Triple door seals, acoustical headliner materials, nylon baffles in the body panels, and special engine mounts are just some of the atypical measures that make the Cruze feel quieter and more comfortable than other small car.

If you opt for the Eco model and its 42-mpg highway rating, you'll get a number of small changes to cut weight and maximize fuel economy. Those changes also make the Cruze a little noisier inside, however, and with the Eco giving up the other models' Watt's linkage arrangement, there's noticeably more body motion during hard cornering.

10

2012 Chevrolet Cruze

Safety

If you want a compact sedan and are prioritizing safety, you can't do any better than the 2012 Chevrolet Cruze.

The 2012 Chevrolet Cruze offers a level of safety that distinguishes it not just as one of the best compact sedans for sale in the U.S. market, but among the best in the world. Its structure has earned top crash-test scores everywhere, including top 'good' results in every IIHS category and the IIHS Top Safety Pick designation again for 2012. Also in federal NCAP testing the Cruze earned five-star results overall and in every subcategory.

Digging deeper, it's all the more impressive that the Cruze has aced every other major crash-test program in the world, including the Euro NCAP, KNCAP (Korea), C-NCAP (China), and ANCAP (Australia). These market-specific models of the Cruze vary slightly, but not significantly, in structure.

There are ten standard airbags, including frontal, head-curtain, thorax side bags front and back, and knee bags, and the rear thorax and knee bags are standard-feature firsts for a value-priced compact car.

Other noteworthy standard safety features include OnStar with Automatic Crash Response, which automatically notifies OnStar and first responders, such as a 911 operator, depending on the chance of severe injury. There's also a collapsible pedal system to help reduce the risk of leg or ankle injuries.

8

2012 Chevrolet Cruze

Features

Going smaller won't involve any sacrifice of features; the 2012 Chevrolet Cruze lineup offers the feature set of a larger sedan, despite a bargain price.

Just as the 2012 Chevrolet Cruze approaches the comfort and refinement of a mid-size sedan, it's features list is more in step with a mid-sizer than with other small cars--and that's certainly a good thing.

Standard equipment even on the base Cruze LS includes keyless entry, power accessories, air conditioning, a six-speaker sound system with auxiliary input. Mid-range LT models add items like a USB port, Bluetooth, and remote start, while the LTZ, which we spent the most time with (ours stickered at less than $23,000), gets automatic climate control, heated mirrors, park assist, and a snazzier gauge cluster, as well as optional heated seats.

LT models are split into 1LT and 2LT, confusingly. The 1LT adds chrome wheels and power rearview mirrors, while the 2LT brings 16-inch alloy wheels, leather seats, a power driver's seat, heated front seats, cruise control, a USB port, Bluetooth, remote start, and steering-wheel audio controls. Heated front seats will be included as part of a Touring Package that's optional on the 1LT.

At the top of the lineup, the LTZ includes the sort of feature list you'd find in top V-6 editions of the Malibu--with things like 18-inch flangeless alloys, four-wheel discs, automatic climate control, heated mirrors, rear park assist, and an upgraded gauge cluster and interior trims.

A touch-screen navigation system is optional on the LTZ. But all Cruze models include a six-month subscription to OnStar's Directions and Connections services. Through the latter service, which requires a subscription after an intro period, an operator answers and beams navigation directions to the car. Once the directions are in, the vehicle will correct if you miss another turn. Overall, it's a feature that we've found tremendously useful.

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2012 Chevrolet Cruze

Fuel Economy

The 2012 Chevrolet Cruze lineup isn't particularly impressive in city driving, but it's one of the greenest small sedans for highway driving--especially in Eco form.

The 2012 Chevrolet Cruze is significantly more fuel-efficient than the Cobalt models it replaced last year; and even against a number of compact sedans that don't feel as roomy, the Cruze gets better mileage.

EPA ratings for the Cruze models with the 1.4-liter turbocharged engine are higher than those with the 1.8-liter engine in general, with 1.4T versions rated at 26/38 mpg with either of the transmission choices. 1.8-liter versions range from 22 to 25 mpg in the city and 35 or 36 on the highway.

The Cruze Eco model targets shoppers who are looking for good fuel economy and perhaps have other green motivations but lack the higher budget that hybrids require. Changes include thinner steel panels, smaller welds, and reduced flanges at welded joints, altogether reducing weight by about 25 pounds. To help aerodynamics, the Eco has a lower ride height (about the same as the Sport models), a rear spoiler, a larger front air dam, and an underbody air diverter, among many features that aid aerodynamics and reduce drag. Overall, the Eco gets 26/39 with an automatic transmission or 28/42 with the manual. As such, the Cruze Eco is claimed to have the highest fuel economy of any non-hybrid compact car sold in the United States, with a cruising range of more than 500 miles.

Cruze models with the automatic transmission also get a neutral idle feature that automatically disengages the torque converter when sitting at stoplights in Drive—helping to boost mileage in stop-and-go driving.
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July 18, 2017
2012 Chevrolet Cruze 4-Door Sedan LTZ

Solid, reliable, good handling, economical, but some things ought to be better

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2012 Cruze LTZ has over 100,000 miles and is still very solid and rattle-free. It handles very well and gets great gas mileage (usually 34 mpg or more in mixed city and highway, and I've gotten almost 50 mpg... + More »
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January 14, 2017
2012 Chevrolet Cruze 4-Door Sedan LT w/2LT

Very comfortable for compact car

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- automatic transmission need improved ( not smooth up anh down ) - need improved for gas comsumption ( little high for 1,4 l engine ) - need opened the trunk with key ( only opened by remote key) + More »
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August 4, 2015
2012 Chevrolet Cruze 4-Door Sedan ECO

Vehicle Does WHat is aupposed to do.

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I bought the Cruze because of the milage on the highway. I have gotten as high as 44 mpg on trip. Comfort is not what I expected and on a long trip can be almost crippling. I have had several recalls but at... + More »
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April 29, 2015
2012 Chevrolet Cruze 4-Door Sedan LTZ

Like it very much

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Very good car like the ride like the power on hells and gas miles
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April 28, 2015
2012 Chevrolet Cruze 4-Door Sedan LT w/1LT

Love the car, hate the maintainance

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When I purchased the car I got exactly what I wanted. A comfortable safe car with good mileage. The car had a few recalls during the first two years and a few covered under warrantee repairs. Not too bad... + More »
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