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The 2015 Chevrolet Cruze offers an exceptionally quiet ride at highway speeds, a spacious interior, good safety scores, and a trim level at the top of the range that borders on luxury-car quality. The Cruze is now in its fifth year as the compact sedan that returned Chevy to competitiveness in the crucial compact sedan segment after two decades of grim Cavaliers and Cobalts suitable mostly for rental-car fleets, if that. Its strong points remain just as they were when it launched for 2011. There's even a diesel engine option.
But this Cruze is a lame duck, and an all-new model will arrive for the 2016 model year. Still, Chevy hasn't rested on its laurels, and the 2015 Cruze gets infotainment and connectivity updates for its final year. It also acquired some added brightwork at the front to set off new headlights. Insider, there are new cupholders, and both the door-lock switch and the trunk release have been relocated to more convenient places (the driver's door and the center console, respectively).
Otherwise, the shape of the Cruze is the same well-proportioned four-door sedan that's become a familiar sight on streets and highways. The beltline is parallel to the ground--no swoopy wedge shapes here--and the tall windows, long hood, and short trunk give it a classic sedan profile. We continue to find it handsome, with more presence than its size might indicate.
But it's the look and feel of the interior that really set the Cruze apart from other compacts. Even next to some of the newest entries in this class, it's the one that will likely impress passengers. The Cruze's cockpit uses rich materials and available two-tone color treatments to give a look that's equal in design and material quality to that of a much pricier mid-size sedan. Between interior comfort and its excellent ride quality, the Cruze remains the most relaxing highway cruiser in the class.
It has the sophisticated, well-damped ride of a larger sedan; the cabin is quiet, too, with road and wind noise well damped out. There's good front-seat space (it's one of the best picks its size for taller drivers) and rear-seat comfort, and while this isn't one of the sportier entries in this class (look to the Ford Focus or Mazda 3 for that), it's definitely one of the most livable for daily driving—and for regular back-seat use.
As before, you'll have a choice of three different powertrains for the Cruze: a base 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine, a 1.4-liter turbocharged four, or a 2.0-liter turbo-diesel four. The 1.4-liter is the 'premium' of the two gasoline engines; while it makes the same 138 horsepower as the 1.8-liter, the 1.4T's accessible low- and mid-rev torque makes it a better match for the automatic transmission—as well as a smoother, more agreeable choice in terms of day-to-day livability.
You'll find the 1.4-liter in most LT and all LTZ models is by far the better choice for gasoline models. It's smoother, more refined, more fun to drive, and more fuel efficient too. It can be paired with a six-speed manual gearbox, but most buyers will opt for the six-speed automatic. The 1.8-liter four is the cheaper base engine, but it's definitely not our preference as it's noisy and coarse when pressed.
The Chevrolet Cruze Diesel is well worth considering, even though it's only offered in a single model and trim. For this, you need to ditch your diesel preconceptions. The four-cylinder 2.0-liter diesel puts out 151 hp but a strong 264 lb-ft of torque, and it's mated to a different and beefier six-speed automatic transmission than the gasoline car. Thanks to no fewer than three different types of exhaust after-treatment, you won't smell a thing out the exhaust, nor see any smoke or soot. It will also return fuel economy that's significantly better than its 33-mpg EPA—especially if you tend to drive more on the highway, or drive longer distances (with its 15.6-gallon fuel tank could give you as much as 700 miles of range).
Otherwise, you'll get impressive mileage from the Cruze Eco, which is also rated at 33 mpg combined with the manual transmission and has various weight reductions and aero tweaks to achieve that.
The Cruze has done very well in crash-test safety ratings from both the federal government and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The 2015 Cruze comes with 10 air bags as standard, and buyers can add additional safety features such as blind spot and rear cross traffic warning systems, rear park assist and a rearview camera. They're fast becoming available in this affordable class of car, but it's worth noting that just a few model years ago these were exclusive to luxury nameplates.
The Cruze, which reaches dealerships this fall, will remain offered in an entire range of trim levels, including LS, LT, RS, and LTZ models. And at all levels, technology has received a significant upgrade in the 2015 Cruze. The Cruze now can be equipped with an upgraded version of the MyLink infotainment system—Siri Eyes Free connectivity for iPhones. It will offer a new Text Message Alerts feature that can read incoming texts. The new OnStar 4G LTE high-speed embedded data connection will also be available, including Wi-Fi hotspot capability; and the system now has a seven-inch touch screen, additional USB ports, available navigation, and an (upcoming) AppShop.