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.