2013 Chevrolet Cruze Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
July 31, 2013

The 2013 Chevrolet Cruze is one of the smartest picks for anyone wanting practicality, comfort, and safety in a compact sedan—although it's missing the fun-to-drive edge of some other models.

Are you ready for this? The Chevrolet Cruze is, quite frankly, a better car than the Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla. Behind its subtle styling is a top-shelf alternative to every other car in the compact economy car segment. It's built with excellent safety, features, comfort and interior room–and it's now one of our top recommendations for small cars, alongside the Ford Focus and Hyundai Elantra.

The Cruze feels more mature, more like a mid-sizer, and that's a good thing if this sedan is going to pinch-hit as a family vehicle. 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. Look to the backseat, and it's what reveals the Cruze as a compact; it's just a little too tight to fit three across. The trunk? It's huge.

It's a soberly styled vehicle, which might be considered a relief given its more brash competition. When it was first introduced for the 2011 model year, the Cruze set a new design direction for GM compact cars. And while it isn't all that head-turning from the outside, the interior has one of the most stylish, cohesive layouts in this class of rather look-alike sedans. Inside, rich materials, stunning two-tone combinations, and an upscale feel all keep the Cruze above the rest.

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The Chevy Cruze could be perplexing when it comes time to choose between powertrains, but to us the choice is clear. There are two four-cylinder engines offered in the Cruze, but don't be lead astray; it's the smaller of the two that's the 'premium' pick. The step-up 1.4-liter turbocharged four that you get with most LT and all LTZ models is smooth and refined, and it pairs better with the available six-speed automatic (a six-speed manual is offered, too). The base 1.8-liter four is a little too noisy and coarse when pressed. EPA ratings are pretty impressive for the whole lineup, but they're best for the Eco model, which gets 42 mpg highway through weight savings and special aero improvements.

The Cruze has in past model years been both an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) Top Safety Pick, as well as a federal five-star performer; the only exception is a 'marginal' small overlap result. To complement that, Chevy has introduced even more available safety equipment. A rearview camera system is now available as part of a Technology Package, and a new Enhanced Safety Package includes Side Blind Zone Alert, Rear Cross-Traffic Alert, and rear park assist—all features that were the exclusive domain of luxury brands up until a few model years ago.

Chevrolet MyLink, which gives you voice-command access and touch-screen control of connected smartphones—is now offered in the 2013 Cruze. Chevy also offers Gracenote functionality, which grabs playlist and album-art information; Pandora and Stitcher apps let you stream music while using your smartphone's data connection. MyLink is included on Cruze 2LT, Eco, and LTZ models, and optional on 1LT.

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2013 Chevrolet Cruze

Styling

Tasteful but not at all daring, the Chevy Cruze stretches more for style inside than it does outside.

When it was first introduced for the 2011 model year, the Cruze set a new design direction for GM compact cars. And while it isn't all that head-turning from the outside, the interior has one of the most stylish, cohesive layouts in this class of rather look-alike sedans. Inside, rich materials, stunning two-tone combinations, and an upscale feel all keep the Cruze above the rest.

The Cruze isn't all that striking from the outside compared to flamboyant new compact-sedan designs like those of the Ford Focus or Hyundai Elantra, nor is it radically different on the outside compared to predecessors the Cobalt and Cavalier. The Cruze represents a sea change in thinking (and engineering and quality), but that isn't readily apparent from the outside either. 

From a distance, the Cruze probably looks a little too much like a blunted Malibu (Chevrolet's mid-size sedan), but it does have a traditional three-box sedan layout and pleasant, inoffensive proportions. The arched roofline and smoothly sculpted side sheetmetal provide just enough contemporary pop—in a way that won't look dated a few years down the line. Practically speaking, we like the relatively low beltline, and how it affords a bit more outward visibility than is typical.

Inside it's a different story; the 2013 Cruze bears very little semblance to GM compact cars of the past, and its wrap-around, multi-tiered instrument panel appears stylish from a distance, with lots of fine detailing and carefully coordinated trims that look and feel great up close. It's a Chevrolet small car, but between the vertically oriented center stack, flanked by vents, and the wraparound dash with chiseled details we can see Cadillac design influence trickling down into this more affordable GM sedan.

Up close, fit and finish are excellent from what we've seen in the Cruze, with padded dash materials, grippy rubber-nubbed climate-control dials and audio knobs, and high-quality upholstery—all at the level you would expect in a Volkswagen, before Volkswagen took aim at affordability. At the high end, leather with exposed stitching top off a more upscale appearance.

While the Cruze doesn't aim at the performance set, the available RS Appearance Package at least lets you look the part. Available on LT and LTZ models, the package adds special front and rear fascias, extended rocker moldings, a rear spoiler, and fog lamps. And inside, chrome accent rings, opaque instrument-cluster bezels, and ice-blue backlighting give the RS a different ambiance.

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2013 Chevrolet Cruze

Performance

Ride quality is top priority in the 2013 Cruze; road feel is secure but not as inspired as some other compact sedans.

The 2013 Chevrolet Cruze could be perplexing when it comes time to choose between powertrains, but to us the choice is clear. There are two four-cylinder engines offered in the Cruze, but don't be lead astray; it's the smaller of the two that's the 'premium' pick.

Entry-level Cruze LS models come with the 1.8, but the rest of the lineup—including LT and LTZ trims—get a 1.4-liter Ecotec turbocharged four. The base 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine performs well enough, though it's too loud when pressed and you do need to rev it to move quickly. Step up to the 1.4-liter turbocharged four (1.4T) that's offered throughout the rest of the lineup—including in the high-mileage Cruze Eco, and you'll find that it's not only smoother and more refined but stronger down low in the rev range. And that means it pairs well with the six-speed automatic transmission (there's also a six-speed manual on most models). We also like the nice, linear throttle feel that comes with the 1.4T.

You won't find steering-wheel paddle-shifters in the Cruze, but 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. Acceleration is actually a bit slower with manual-transmission models, due to the taller ratios (designed for high EPA highway numbers).

The Cruze is docile and responsive enough for commuters and growing families, though it's not by any means edgy. 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, the Cruze handles reasonably well, without a ride that's busy or harsh. There's also a fair amount of body lean to discourage much enthusiasm. But with rack-mounted electric power steering and a nice weighting overall, it's not entirely nimble, but confidence-inspiring.

And there are actually two different suspension tunes offered in the Cruze. LT models pick up the Touring chassis; 2LT and LTZ models get the Sport chassis, which has about a 15-percent increase in spring rates, 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. Between the two, we recommend the Sport setup unless you're on level Our recommendation: Go with the Sport setup unless you keep mostly to straight roads and level ground.

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2013 Chevrolet Cruze

Comfort & Quality

The Cruze feels almost mid-sized, with excellent interior space and trunk room.

The 2013 Chevrolet Cruze has one of the most comfortable interiors among compact sedans, If seating and cargo space are priorities, this should be one of your top picks, as the Cruze has them in abundance.

At about 181 inches long, the Cruze would have been considered a mid-size car not too long ago; and in terms of interior space, it feels the part even by today's standards. Seating in front and in back is 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 surpasses the Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla for usable interior space, while the seats themselves are better than those in the Hyundai Elantra. Tall drivers will find that only the Volkswagen Jetta comes close for front-seat legroom.

Look to the backseat, and it's what reveals the Cruze as a compact. While it rivals some mid-sizers for legroom, it's not all that wide—and not wide enough for three adults. Also, the rather short rear doors make it a little harder to get in than it should be. But for those in front or in back, the relatively low beltline makes it more comfortable—and eliminates the need for the Dramamine.

Cargo space and versatility is strong; the trunk is a huge (for a compact) 15.4 cubic feet, with a large underfloor compartment on most models, and seats fold forward to expand trunk space.

The 2013 Cruze again feels more like a mid-size sedan when it comes to refinement. The Cruze feels more mature and upscale compared to many of its rivals this size, with triple door seals, acoustical headliner materials, nylon baffles in the body panels, and special engine mounts. And thanks to it all, there's not much road noise inside.

Opt for the Cruze Eco model and its 42-mpg highway rating, and you'll get a number of small changes to cut weight and maximize fuel economy. You'll give up the other models' Watt's linkage (Z-link) rear suspenaion—yielding more body motion during quick maneuvers—and you do get a little more road noise.

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2013 Chevrolet Cruze

Safety

Few compact cars rival the safety scores and equipment found in the Chevy Cruze.

Given the top-tier crash-test ratings that the Chevrolet Cruze achieves from both U.S. safety agencies, along with the new active-safety options offered in the 2013 Cruze, it offers one of the most comprehensive safety packages of any compact sedan.

The 2013 Cruze isn't just one of the safest compact sedans for sale in the U.S. market, but one of the safest in the world. The Cruze's structure—only slightly different in other markets—has earned top ratings in Euro NCAP, KNCAP (Korea), C-NCAP (China), and ANCAP (Australia) tests.

The Cruze has earned top crash test scores from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), with 'good' results in most categories, and it's been named an IIHS Top Safety Pick. And in the federal NCAP tests, the Cruze earned five-star results in all categories. There's one rather significant blemish, though; the Cruze earns just a 'marginal' rating in the tough new small overlap frontal impact test from the IIHS.

Throughout the Cruze lineup, standard safety features include ten standard airbags—frontal, head-curtain, thorax side bags front and back, and knee bags—plus stability control and 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.

New for 2013 is an Enhanced Safety Package, which includes Side Blind Zone Alert, Rear Cross-Traffic Alert, and rear park assist—all advanced accident-avoidance features that were just a couple of model years ago the exclusive domain of luxury-brand vehicles.

Although the Cruze has reasonably good outward vision compared to other cars in this class, a rear vision camera is available as part of several option packages as well. 

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2013 Chevrolet Cruze

Features

Updated infotainment brings the Cruze even closer to the top of the compact class for 2013.

The Chevrolet Cruze already had a feature set that was in line with that of a more expensive mid-size sedan, not a compact. But it the Cruze feature set just got even better for 2013, especially with respect to connectivity and infotainment.

GM is introducing the Chevrolet MyLink system to the 2013 Cruze. MyLink, which is a system based around a color touch screen, as well as voice commands, will be of interest to busy parents, as well as younger shoppers who want to take their smartphone connectivity everywhere they go, seamlessly. The system permits voice control for hands-free calling, music, and radio functions, as well as Gracenote functionality to grab playlist and album-art information. There are also Pandora and Stitcher apps that let you stream music while using your smartphone's data connection. MyLink is included on Cruze 2LT, Eco, and LTZ models, and optional on 1LT.

A touch-screen navigation system remains 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.

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 gets automatic climate control, heated mirrors, park assist, and a snazzier gauge cluster, 18-inch flangeless alloy wheels, as well as optional heated seats.

Mid-level 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.

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2013 Chevrolet Cruze

Fuel Economy

Highway mileage is excellent, though the Chevy Cruze doesn't fare quite as well on the EPA's city cycle.

The 2013 Chevrolet Cruze is very fuel-efficient—if you do mostly highway driving, and if you choose the smaller (and smoother) 1.4T engine.

With the 1.4-liter turbocharged engine that comes in most LT and all LTZ models, the Cruze achieves 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.

And if you steer away from hybrids, the Cruze Eco is one way to delight while keeping it simple. Changes include thinner steel panels, smaller welds, and reduced flanges at welded joints, altogether reducing weight by about 25 pounds. A lower ride height (about the same as the Sport models), a rear spoiler, a larger front air dam, and an underbody air diverter are among the many features that improve fuel economy and aid aerodynamics. And the strategies work, for a significant improvement of 28/42 mpg with the manual transmission or 26/39 with an automatic transmission or 28/42 with the manual. As such, its cruising range of more than 500 miles.

To help boost mileage in stop-and-go driving, all Cruze models with the automatic transmission also get a neutral idle feature that automatically disengages the torque converter when sitting at stoplights in Drive.
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May 15, 2015
2013 Chevrolet Cruze 4-Door Sedan LTZ

Being a skeptic Honda owner, I drove this and found it amazing!!

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This car had all of the options I was looking for in a car. I wanted the sunroof, remote start, and sporty look. So I liked it before I even took it for a test drive. When I did drive it and compared it to my... + More »
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April 14, 2015
For 2013 Chevrolet Cruze

2013 cruze Eco. Turbo with 6 speed stick

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This car is an unexpected fun drive. A little 4 cylinder turbo boosted engine provides plenty of low end power if you need it (or want it) especially with the standard tranny 6 speed. . The car handles... + More »
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Styling 7.0
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Comfort & Quality 9.0
Safety 9.0
Features 8.0
Fuel Economy 8.0
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