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.