2012 Chevrolet Cruze Review

Consumer Reviews
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The Car Connection
2018
The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
January 16, 2012

The 2012 Chevrolet Cruze is a practical, comfortable, fuel-efficient, and a strong value, but it does lack the nimble, tossable feel that some small-car fans appreciate.

For decades, Chevrolet filled out its lineup with compact cars that were adequate but not nearly up to the quality benchmarks of the two mainstay Japanese brands: Toyota's Corolla and Honda's Civic. But change is afoot at GM, and for once a Chevrolet compact car can claim leadership in many respects versus the Japanese pair—and with the likes of the Hyundai Elantra, Ford Focus, and Mazda3, it's one of the segment leaders.

The Cruze was an all-new design for the U.S. last year. While it's conservative on the outside, the interior makes a strong presentation with rich materials, some stunning two-tone combinations, and an upscale feel. With design cues derived from the Cruze's larger sibling, the midsize Malibu sedan, Chevrolet's compact sedan welcomes passengers with a bigger-than-segment feel to the interior, a comfortable amount of space for four adults (or five in a pinch), a massive trunk, and a full range of adjustable driver position settings for enhanced comfort.

Going just by the specs page might lead to a little confusion; there are two four-cylinder engines offered in the Cruze, but it's the smaller of the two that's the 'premium' pick. The base 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine performs fine, though it's a little bit loud when pressed and you do need to rev it to move quickly. But step up to the 1.4-liter, turbocharged four (1.4T) that's offered throughout much of the lineup, as well as in the high-mileage Cruze Eco, and you'll find that it's not only smoother and more refined but produces more power down low and pairs well with the six-speed automatic (a six-speed manual is offered, too). EPA ratings are best for the 1.4T, and in Cruze Eco form—with weight savings and special aero improvements—it gets 42 mpg highway.

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In most other ways, the Cruze feels almost almost like a mid-sizer. It may not feel like it's ready for an autocross, but it more than makes up for that with a quite cabin and compliant ride to soak up the worst of your underfunded, local roads. 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. Just beware, you'll be crunching the knees of those in the back seat—which is, otherwise good for two adults across.

The Cruze is assembled in Ohio, but this 'world car' is also built in other locations and sold around the globe, including in Europe and Asia. The structure has earned top crash-tests everywhere, and the U.S. market is no exception. Safety equipment is best-in-class, too, with standard side-thorax bags and knee bags. Bluetooth hands-free connectivity and USB input are offered on most models. Remote start, heated leather seats, automatic climate control, and a screen-based nav system are also available.

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2012 Chevrolet Cruze

Styling

The 2012 Chevrolet Cruze is tasteful but hardly fashionable on the outside; inside it's more charming, however.

While the Cruze represents a sea change in thinking (and engineering and quality) versus its predecessors—the Cobalt and Cavalier—it's not readily apparent from the outside. There's nothing particularly striking about the Cruze's styling. Its exterior is a little conservative—almost homely—and looks more like a blunted Malibu than it probably should. The clear three-box sedan layout is traditional and not bound to offend anyone, while its arched roof provides just enough contemporary pop. One exterior detail that we do appreciate is the relatively low beltline; we like how it affords more of a window greenhouse, as well as better visibility, potentially.

Thankfully, no part of the 2012 Cruze's interior finds its origin in the Cobalt, instead sporting a stylish, multitiered, wrap-around instrument panel that shows an attention to detail. You may even notice some Cadillac design influence trickling down to the Cruze's center-stack design.

In Cruzes we've seen so far, fit, finish and materials are excellent—even up close. The somewhat upscale look is aided by padded dash plastics, rubber-trimmed audio and climate control knobs, and high-quality upholstery—including optional leather with eye-catching stitchwork.

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2012 Chevrolet Cruze

Performance

Fuel-efficiency and ride comfort are clearly priorities that rank above acceleration and handling, but the 2012 Chevrolet Cruze performs well enough to satisfy most.

Base-model Cruzes in LS trim find motivation from a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine. But it's the miserly and torque-filled turbocharged 1.4-liter Ecotec four-cylinder that powers most models. The upgraded engine is smooth and quiet at idle, yet doesn't need to be revved nearly as high as the larger 1.8 when power is needed. Throttle tip-in isn't as aggressive as other cars in the segment, instead responding with linear, almost Germanic acceleration. The Cruze's Aisin-sourced six-speed automatic smoothly shifts its way through its wide gear ratios; first gear is ultra low for rapid acceleration off the line, while sixth is a very deep overdrive gear for highway fuel efficiency. Drivers looking to force gear changes in the automatic are provided a manual gate instead of paddle shifters, and surprisingly, the automatic offers slightly more sprightly acceleration versus manual-transmission models due to the taller ratios used in the manual designed to hit the 40 mpg highway target.

If you seek a particularly nimble-feeling small car, the 2012 Chevrolet Cruze probably isn't the best pick. A Watt's-linkage (non-dependent) rear suspension keeps its rear tires in contact with the road—even on broken surfaces—providing responsive handling in normal driving conditions. But a fair amount of body roll discourages enthusiastic driving. Still, steering is excellent thanks to a rack mounted, electric power-steering system that balances light steering effort with a secure on-center feel.

Owners have the choice of two suspension tunes: LT-trimmed Cruzes are bestowed a softer, touring-focused setup; Cruzes in 2LT and LTZ trims receive a sport suspension tune, with 15-percent stiffer springs, dampers to match, and a ride height cut by nearly a half-inch. The base Cruze LS makes do with rear drum brakes, while all trims gifted with the sport suspension tune—save the Cruze Eco—are equipped with four-wheel disc brakes. Our recommendation: Go with the sport setup unless you live around level terrain and straight roads.

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2012 Chevrolet Cruze

Comfort & Quality

If comfort is your priority, the 2012 Chevrolet Cruze is one of your ideal small-car picks, as its roomy cabin, refined feel, and huge trunk give it a mid-size feel in a compact package.

Comfort and seating space are clearly among the Cruze's top priorities; its design has them in abundance, and the Cruze is one of the best compact sedans for a long Interstate road-trip or a commute from far-out exurbs.

Seating is especially well-designed, with a steering wheel that tilts and extends to a wide range of positions, making the Cruze the official car of those who shop at Big and Tall stores. A manually tilting, height-adjustable seat is standard in even the base Cruze, while LT2 and LTZ trims are equipped with power-adjustable seats.. The Cruze easily beats the Corolla and Civic in usable interior space, and its seats are subjectively much better than those in the Hyundai Elantra. Lower seat cushions in particular offer more support at the thigh than in most competing compact cars. Only Volkswagen's Jetta rivals the Cruze for front legroom.

The backseat is where you, or at least your passengers, will notice the Cruze's true compact origins. While it rivals mid-sizers for legroom, there's not enough width to seat adults comfortably three abreast. Getting in is also more difficult than one would expect due to shorter than normal rear doors. But once passengers strap themselves in, they're presented with a low beltline affording good exterior visibility—it's likely you won't need to pack as much Dramamine.

The trunk is a huge (for a compact) 15.4 cubic feet, with a large underfloor compartment on most models.

Refinement across most of the 2012 Cruze lineup is superb and makes you feel like you're driving a much more expensive car. Keeping the cabin quiet are some atypical measures, including triple door seals, nylon baffles under the body panels, special engine mounts, and even acoustic headliner materials.

If you opt for the Cruze Eco and its 42-mpg highway rating, numerous changes to improve fuel economy also have a detrimental effect on noise isolation. With the Eco giving up the other models' Watt's linkage arrangement, there's also more body roll under hard cornering.

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2012 Chevrolet Cruze

Safety

If you want a compact sedan and are prioritizing safety, you can't do any better than the 2012 Chevrolet Cruze.

The 2012 Chevrolet Cruze offers a level of safety that distinguishes it not just as one of the best compact sedans for sale in the U.S. market, but among the best in the world. Its structure has earned top crash-test scores everywhere, including top 'good' results in every IIHS category and the IIHS Top Safety Pick designation again for 2012. Also in federal NCAP testing the Cruze earned five-star results overall and in every subcategory.

Further to the Cruze's level of safety, this world car has performed well in a slew of other crash-test regimes, including Euro NCAP, ANCAP (Australia), KNCAP (Korea), and C-NCAP (China). While the Cruzes sold in these markets differ from those sold in America and each other, the compact's overall structure is relatively unchanged between region.

There are ten standard airbags, including frontal, head-curtain, thorax side bags front and back, and knee bags, and the rear thorax and knee bags are standard-feature firsts for a value-priced compact car.

Other noteworthy standard safety features include OnStar with Automatic Crash Response, which automatically notifies OnStar and first responders, such as a 911 operator, depending on the chance of severe injury. There's also a collapsible pedal system to help reduce the risk of leg or ankle injuries.

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2012 Chevrolet Cruze

Features

Going smaller won't involve any sacrifice of features; the 2012 Chevrolet Cruze lineup offers the feature set of a larger sedan, despite a bargain price.

Just as the 2012 Chevrolet Cruze approaches the comfort and refinement of a mid-size sedan, it's features list is more in step with a mid-sizer than with other small cars--and that's certainly a good thing.

Standard equipment on the base Cruze LS includes air conditioning, power accessories, keyless entry, and a six-speaker audio system with basic auxiliary input. Jumping up to the LT trim adds Bluetooth, USB input, and remote start. The LTZ trim gets a fancier gauge cluster, automatic climate control, park assist, heated mirrors, as well as optional heated seats.

Like many GM products, LT models are confusingly separated by 1LT and 2LT packages. Power rearview mirrors and chrome wheels are standard on the 1LT; 2LT adds 16-inch alloy wheels, power driver's seat, leather seats with heated front seats, Bluetooth and USB input, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls, cruise control, and remote start. You can also get heated front seats on the 1LT if you opt for the Touring Package.

At the top of the lineup, the LTZ includes a similar feature list to what you'd find in top V-6 editions of the Malibu: 18-inch alloy wheels with four-wheel disc brakes, automatic climate control, an upgraded instrument panel, upgraded interior trim, heated mirrors, and rear park assist.

A touch-screen navigation system is optional on the LTZ. But all Cruze buyers are given a six-month trial subscription to OnStar's navigation and concierge service. OnStar navigation is provided by an operator who transmits navigation directions directly to your car. Once the directions are in, the vehicle will correct if you miss another turn. Overall, it's a feature that we've found tremendously useful.

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2012 Chevrolet Cruze

Fuel Economy

The 2012 Chevrolet Cruze lineup isn't particularly impressive in city driving, but it's one of the greenest small sedans for highway driving--especially in Eco form.

The 2012 Chevrolet Cruze is significantly more fuel efficient than the Cobalt models it replaced last year; and even against a number of compact sedans that don't feel as roomy, the Cruze gets better mileage.

EPA ratings for the Cruze models with the 1.4-liter turbocharged engine are higher than those with the 1.8-liter engine in general, with 1.4T versions rated at 26/38 mpg with either of the transmission choices. 1.8-liter versions range from 22 to 25 mpg in the city and 35 or 36 on the highway.

The Chevrolet Cruze Eco aims directly at buyers seeking fuel economy but neither have the funds nor the desire to own a hybrid. It's not just a grille-shutters package either. GM has made the steel panels thinner, welds smaller, and reduced flanges at welded joints all in an effort to save 25 pounds. A lower right height, rear spoiler, larger front air damn, and panels underneath the car improve aerodynamics and reduce drag. Additionally, automatic models are equipped with neutral idle torque convertor disengagement when in drive at a dead stop, further boosting mileage in stop and go driving. All these changes on the Cruze Eco combine for fuel economy ratings of 26/39 mpg on automatic transmission models and 28/42 for those equipped with a manual transmission, making the Cruze Eco the most efficient non-hybrid compact in America.

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July 18, 2017
2012 Chevrolet Cruze 4-Door Sedan LTZ

Solid, reliable, good handling, economical, but some things ought to be better

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2012 Cruze LTZ has over 100,000 miles and is still very solid and rattle-free. It handles very well and gets great gas mileage (usually 34 mpg or more in mixed city and highway, and I've gotten almost 50 mpg... + More »
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January 14, 2017
2012 Chevrolet Cruze 4-Door Sedan LT w/2LT

Very comfortable for compact car

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- automatic transmission need improved ( not smooth up anh down ) - need improved for gas comsumption ( little high for 1,4 l engine ) - need opened the trunk with key ( only opened by remote key) + More »
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August 4, 2015
2012 Chevrolet Cruze 4-Door Sedan ECO

Vehicle Does WHat is aupposed to do.

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I bought the Cruze because of the milage on the highway. I have gotten as high as 44 mpg on trip. Comfort is not what I expected and on a long trip can be almost crippling. I have had several recalls but at... + More »
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April 29, 2015
2012 Chevrolet Cruze 4-Door Sedan LTZ

Like it very much

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Very good car like the ride like the power on hells and gas miles
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April 28, 2015
2012 Chevrolet Cruze 4-Door Sedan LT w/1LT

Love the car, hate the maintainance

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When I purchased the car I got exactly what I wanted. A comfortable safe car with good mileage. The car had a few recalls during the first two years and a few covered under warrantee repairs. Not too bad... + More »
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