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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.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.