In its initial release, the 2016 Chevy Cruze offers only one engine—a 153-horsepower turbocharged 1.4-liter 4-cylinder—and choice of 6-speed automatic transmission or, on lower-end models, a 6-speed manual.
Chevrolet quotes a 0-to-60-mph acceleration time of 7.7 seconds, and the 2016 Cruze is agile in around-town use. Like so many cars designed for tougher, rising corporate average fuel-economy rules, it reaches power limits that are just a little lower than you may expect during hard acceleration. You'll find you will floor the car on that short, uphill highway on-ramp; the car will get you safely into traffic, but it doesn't have a lot of reserve left when it does.
Chevrolet promises it will add a 1.6-liter turbodiesel option early in the 2017 model year that will be the lineup's fuel-economy champ. A stop-start system is standard on all versions; it works smoothly and restarts quickly.
With up to 250 pounds less weight than its predecessor, the new Cruze has been designed to be more responsive and nimble, with a higher "fun to drive" quotient overall. Chevy's largely achieved that; the car handles well, cornering flat and staying firmly planted on the road while responding quickly and predictably to steering and power inputs.
Top Premier trims get an improved Watt’s link rear suspension arrangement, for crisper roadholding, while the rest of the lineup uses a conventional torsion-beam setup. All versions have rack-mounted electric power steering, and extended-life Duralife rotors for the four-wheel disc setup. It's no sport sedan, but it handles more confidently better than some of its Japanese and Korean competitors.
As always, ride quality is sensitive to wheel choice. The 2016 Cruze offers four different sizes of wheels and tires, from 15-inch steel rims on the base L and LS up through 16-inch alloys on the LT, 17-inch alloys on the Premier, and 18-inch alloy wheels with low-profile tires on the Premier RS version. The bigger wheels look more stylish on the wedge shape, and seem to hold the road a bit better, but they ride worse. The most compliant ride, in fact, came in the base car we tested, and it had less road noise to boot.
Overall, the new Cruze strikes the right balance between a firm but comfortable ride and confident roadholding, though you'll get the best ride from the smallest wheels whose tires have tall sidewalls.