2014 Chevrolet Cruze Review

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The Car Connection
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The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

John Voelcker John Voelcker Senior Editor
August 11, 2014

The 2014 Chevy Cruze is comfortable and practical--and now it offers a diesel engine that can return 40 mpg in real-world use.

The Chevrolet Cruze re-established GM's biggest brand as a real competitor in the compact-sedan segment. And though its rivals keep getting safer, more stylish, and more technologically advanced, the four-year-old Cruze still compares well with them, with great refinement, a lovely interior, and its own conservatively styled body. 

This year, it joins the VW Jetta in the segment by offering a new fuel-saving powertrain: a turbodiesel four-cylinder, the first diesel engine in any Chevrolet passenger vehicle since 1986.

Competitors include an entirely new Toyota Corolla, a Ford Focus that will receive styling updates and several new features for 2015, and a Honda Civic that was all-new in 2012 but then extensively updated just one model year later. Unlike the single body style of the Cruze, the Hyundai Elantra now has three different body styles--sedan, coupe, and hatchback--and that lineup continues to sell as fast as they hit dealers. Only the Dodge Dart has fallen short of expectations among compact sedans.

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The compact Chevy's on-target design and equipment keep the 2014 Cruze a strong competitor. It's large inside, has a remarkably quiet highway ride, good safety ratings, and even a top trim level that brings mid-size luxury to a compact four-door. Its handsome exterior has aged well, but it was the interior that was the biggest improvement over its predecessors. 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. Other contenders have added soft-touch materials as well, but the Cruze remains a car that impresses passengers.

Indeed, the interior room is almost that of a small mid-size sedan--and it's especially close to Chevy's new Malibu, which actually got smaller inside in its latest version. Four adults can travel comfortably (five somewhat less so), and the trunk is huge. The one factor that feels somewhat old is that everyone rides fairly close to the floor, an adjustment for drivers and passengers used to the more upright seating positions of utility vehicles.

As for the new Cruze Diesel, ditch your diesel preconceptions: Courtesy of 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. The turbodiesel engine meets all the same emission standards as any other car, but should return fuel economy that's significantly better than its 33-mpg EPA combined rating, especially if driven largely at highway speeds. 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.

Like all turbocharged engines, there's a slight lag as the turbo spools up when you stomp on the accelerator. After that, however, the diesel Cruze surges forward and gathers speed without any fuss. The diesel clattering noise you might expect isn't evident inside the car, but standing next to an idling Cruze diesel, you'll know exactly what's under the hood. And its 15.6-gallon fuel tank could give you as much as 700 miles of range at highway speeds.

For 2014, there are now three different Cruze engine options: turbocharged 1.4-liter and conventional 1.8-liter gasoline engines, plus the diesel. The smaller (but pricier) engine 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 noisy and coarse when pressed.

You'll get the best gas mileage from the Cruze Eco model with the smaller engine and the manual; it's rated at 33 mpg combined. That Eco model has some additional weight reductions and aero tweaks to achieve that figure; the rest of the gasoline lineup ranges from 27 to 30 mpg combined.

On the road, the Cruze rides well, and the gasoline models are some of the quietest highway cruisers in the class, damping out wind and road noise and absorbing road shocks well. It's not the sportiest compact car--leave that to Mazda or Ford--but its absorbent suspension and quiet cabin will keep most passengers happy. The ride can be on the firm side, especially in the fuel-efficient models with low-rolling-resistance tires.

Inside, the Cruze is a good option for taller drivers. There's lots of headroom, due to that low seating position, and the front seats adjust over a lengthy range, accommodating long-legged occupants well. Only in back does its compact size betray you: The Cruze is just too narrow for three adults in the rear.

The Cruze has done well in previous years on crash-safety test ratings from both the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Last year Chevy added new safety equipment, including a rear-view camera system as part of a Technology Package. It also offered an Enhanced Safety Package that includes Rear Cross-Traffic Alert, Side Blind-Zone Alert, and parking assist--features restricted to high-end German luxury sedans not so many years ago.

Chevy's MyLink system offers voice commands and touch-screen control to operate connected smartphones. Included on the 2LT, LTZ, and Eco models, and optional on 1LT Cruzes, it also lets you stream music via Pandora or Stitcher through your smartphone's data connection, and includes album art and playlist info from Gracenote.

7

2014 Chevrolet Cruze

Styling

The Chevy Cruze is a known shape by now, and a more conservative one at that; the interior is its most stylish aspect.

The Chevrolet Cruze four-door sedan previewed a new design direction in 2011; now, it's a well-known and accepted shape on U.S. roads. The exterior is straightforward and handsome without being jaw-dropping, but it's behind the wheel that you'll sense the true sea change in quality, engineering, and design that the Cruze embodied.

Chevy saved its best efforts for inside the car--where buyers actually spend their time. Four years later, the interior is still better than the average among compact cars, with high-quality materials giving a solid, upscale impression. The two-tone treatment is especially good, with tan or grey seats and door panels accented by the black of the dashboard, and just the right hint of matte silver trim. It looks like something you might find in a car costing $10,000 more.

The Cruze doesn't try to outdo the Hyundai Elantra or Ford Focus on the outside, although its confident exterior lines are a huge step ahead of its predecessors, the cheap and apologetic Cobalt and (going further back) Cavalier. The roofline arches back to a short trunk that holds far more than you might think. The proportions are good--long hood, short trunk--and its smooth sculpting is pleasant and won't age quickly, even if doesn't turn many heads.

Visually, the Chevy Cruze is only slightly smaller visually than the redesigned 2013 Malibu, a "mid-size" sedan that's suffered in the market for lack of rear-seat room. Its beltline is lower and less upswept than the Malibu's, too, giving it decent outward visibility these days.

Fit and finish have been excellent on every Cruze we've tested, and there are a lot of smart design touches: knobs with rubber ribs that make them easier to grip and padding in the right places--though we found the sliding elbow rest on the center console bin didn't extend far enough forward. The upholstery has a high-quality feel even in low-end cars, and the exposed stitching on the optional leather upholstery again conveys the impression of value and luxury.

The wraparound instrument panel, with a mild version of Chevy's classic "twin cockpit" layout, pulls off the difficult trick of being stylish and functional. It's nicely detailed and pleasant to look at, and its areas of hard plastic don't look downmarket as they do on some competitors. The central vents in the dash flank the vertical console, and everything's easy to reach.

If you want a dash of sporty, the RS Appearance Package adds racier front and rear plastic fascias, a rear spoiler, "aero" rocker moldings, and front fog lamps. Inside, it provides backlighting in an icy blue, along with chrome accent rings around some controls, and opaque bezels for the instrument clusters. It changes the ambiance of the car without affecting the mechanicals--which stay stock--and can be ordered as an option on the LT and LTZ trim levels.

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6

2014 Chevrolet Cruze

Performance

Any attempt at sport-sedan handling in the Chevy Cruze is trumped by ride quality; acceleration and braking is competent, not exciting.

The 2014 Chevrolet Cruze has added an additional diesel powertrain option to the two gasoline four-cylinder engines it's offered since 2011. The clear choice is between the diesel and the smaller of the gasoline engines, and a lot of it will depend on what kind of driving you do.

The Cruze LS entry-level car comes with a 1.8-liter four that performs adequately but needs to be pushed hard--and is loud once you do. The rest of the lineup--the LT and LTZ trim levels--comes with a turbocharged 1.4-liter four that is smoother, more refined, and stronger at lower engine speeds. It has a good linear accelerator feel, and pairs well with the six-speed automatic transmission that's offered for both engines. There's a six-speed manual gearbox offered on most models as well, but the vast majority of buyers will go for the automatic.

New this year is a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder diesel engine, known as the 2.0T and closely related to one sold for years in Europe in various Chevy and Opel models. It produces 151 hp and a substantial 264 lb-ft of torque, and is paired to a different, beefier six-speed automatic only (there's no manual gearbox offered). The driving feel of the Cruze Diesel is quite different; it lags and is hesitant off the line but then surges forward swiftly through its gears and accelerates hard once it gets going. This makes it borderline annoying in stop-and-go traffic, but delightful on the highway.

In picking powertrains, choose the one that's best for the driving you do. If you drive long distances at highway speeds, the diesel is the one to get, though it comes in at the high end of the Cruze range with a sticker price around $25,000. If your Cruze will be used around town, choose the 1.4-liter turbo, which is smooth and almost as fuel-efficient--especially if you go for the Cruze Eco model.

The Chevy Cruze handles and holds the road well enough, but it's more of a predictable family sedan behind the wheel than sportier competitors like the Mazda 6. On corners, the independently suspended rear wheels stay in touch with the pavement even on choppy surfaces. The ride is its strong point, never harsh or busy, though it comes at the expense of some body roll that discourages hard driving. Overall, the Cruze inspires confidence even if it's not the nimblest of mid-size sedans.

Base Cruze models come with rear drum brakes, while all others get four-wheel discs. The mid-level LT model gets a Touring chassis and high-end 2LT and LTZ trims move up to the Sport chassis--which has a slightly lower ride height, retuned shocks, and slightly stiffer spring rates. Unless you're doing mostly highway driving, we recommend the Sport if you have the choice.

The Cruze Diesel gets slightly larger front brakes to compensate for its extra weight; they work fine and stop the car confidently, even if they're a little jumpy at times. (It also gets a stronger 12-volt battery, a higher-output alternator, and so forth.) One other diesel peculiarity: We found that its ultra-low-rolling-resistance tires squealed on corners long before those of other Cruze models.

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9

2014 Chevrolet Cruze

Comfort & Quality

With lots of interior space and a huge trunk, the Cruze is large for its class, as well as quiet on the road.

The interior of the 2014 Chevrolet Cruze looks good, has surprising room to hold four adults, and is comfortable and well-made. If seating space and cargo capacity are at the top of your list, put the Cruze on your list--it offers oodles of room inside and 15.4 cubic feet of trunk volume. In fact, its size only barely sneaks under the wire as a "compact sedan," since it's just slightly smaller than the newly downsized "mid-size" Malibu sedan.

Front seats are comfortable, with even the manual seat offering height and tilt adjustment, and optional power adjustable front seats offering a wide range of positions. The steering wheel not only tilts but also telescopes as well, meaning both small and large drivers will likely find a comfortable position. Shorter drivers will also like the lower beltline, making it possible to see out more easily.

There's rear seat leg room even behind long-legged drivers, though the limited width will be what tips you off that the Cruze is still a compact sedan. Four adults will fit, but five remains a stretch. Still, the Cruze is noticeably roomier inside than the Honda Civic or the Toyota Corolla. The seats themselves feel sturdier and more luxurious than those of the Hyundai Elantra. The rear seat also folds forward for longer cargo, and on most models, the trunk offers an underfloor compartment as well.

Refinement is where the 2014 Cruze really stands out. With sophisticated sound insulation and baffling--from special engine mounts and nylon sound baffles in the bodywork to acoustic lining for the headliner and triple door seals--Chevy's compact sedan is quieter, calmer, and more pleasant at speed than pretty much any other mass-market compact.

The high-efficiency gasoline model, known as the Cruze Eco, has a number of modifications that cut its weight and improve its gas mileage. It has a simpler rear suspension, special lightweight aluminum alloy wheels, even lighter speakers, as well as higher gearing and active grille shutters. To get that 40-mpg-plus highway rating, you'll have to live with a slightly noisier car.

The Cruze Diesel also adopts a number of the Eco items to improve fuel efficiency as well. From the outside, you'll absolutely know it's a diesel, with the characteristic knocking sound audible from many feet away. But there's no soot or visible exhaust out the tailpipe, and from the inside of the car, it's only the different power range--a lag in revving, then fast shifts snapped off as the diesel propels the car forward at increasing speeds--that let you know.

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9

2014 Chevrolet Cruze

Safety

Even after four years, the Chevy Cruze sits at the top of its sector in safety ratings.

The 2014 Chevrolet Cruze continues as one of the safest of all cars on the market, with 10 airbags standard, excellent crash-test ratings, and new electronic safety systems added last year. Those 10 standard airbags—frontal, head-curtain, thorax side bags front and back, and knee bags—are supplemented by stability control and even a collapsible pedal assembly system.

The Cruze had been named an IIHS Top Safety Pick in 2013 by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), but it did not carry that rating into the current model year. It earned the top rating of "good" in every category, except for the new and tougher small-overlap test, where it was rated "marginal"--only one level higher than "poor".

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration too awarded the Cruze five stars (its top rating overall), and five stars in every category except rollover safety, for which it earned four stars.

Although the Cruze has pretty good outward vision compared to most of its competitors, it offers a rearview camera as part of certain option packages.

All Cruze models contain OnStar with Automatic Crash Response, which automatically notifies OnStar and first responders--such as a 911 operator--that a crash has taken place, along with some information the chance of severe injury. An Enhanced Safety Package was new last year; it adds Side Blind Zone Alert, Rear Cross-Traffic Alert, and rear park assist—all advanced accident-avoidance features limited to luxury-brand vehicles just a few years ago..

The Cruze also does well in safety tests around the world. The car's basic structure—only slightly different in other global markets—has earned top ratings in Euro NCAP, KNCAP (Korea), C-NCAP (China), and ANCAP (Australia) tests.

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8

2014 Chevrolet Cruze

Features

Last year's more modern infotainment options kept the Chevy Cruze competitive among compact cars.

The 2014 Chevrolet Cruze continues essentially unchanged after an upgrade last year, especially to its infotainment and connectivity offerings. This year, the sole changes (apart from the new Cruze Diesel model) are a handful of new paint colors.

The base-level Cruze LS makes do without any of last year's upgrades, and cost-cutting to reach an attractive entry-level price shows up in its less sophisticated, less fuel-efficient 1.8-liter engine, its lack of rear disc brakes, and so forth. It does, however, come with keyless entry; power windows, locks, and mirrors; air conditioning; and a six-speaker sound system with auxiliary input.

Most buyers will start shopping with the LT trim level, to add items like a USB port, Bluetooth, remote start, chrome wheels and power rearview mirrors. The LT trim level can be upgraded to the 2LT to add 16-inch alloy wheels, leather seats, a power driver's seat, heated front seats, cruise control, a USB port, Bluetooth, remote start, and steering-wheel audio controls.

The top-of-the-line gasoline Cruze is dubbed LTZ, and the Cruze Diesel--priced at about $25,000, and with very few options available--is more or less an LTZ with a different engine. Either of those models gets automatic climate control, heated mirrors, park assist, and a snazzier gauge cluster, 18-inch flangeless alloy wheels, as well as optional heated seats.

Last year, the Chevrolet MyLink system was made standard on 2LT and LTZ Cruze models (and optional on the LT). Based around a color touchscreen in the center of the dash, it will likely lure busy parents and younger shoppers for whom seamless smartphone connectivity is crucial. MyLink offers voice control for hands-free calling, music, and radio functions, plus built-in Gracenote to grab playlists and album-art graphics. Built-in Pandora and Stitcher apps let you stream music over your smartphone's data connection.

You can still get a traditional touch-screen navigation system as an option on the Cruze LTZ. All versions of the Cruze come with a six-month subscription to OnStar's Directions and Connections services--but you'll have to subscribe after that. It lets you dial an operator, who can beam travel directions to the car--which will then guide you if you miss a turn. Overall, we've found it to be a tremendously useful feature.

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8

2014 Chevrolet Cruze

Fuel Economy

The smaller 1.4-liter gasoline engine was the economy champ, but the new 2014 Chevy Cruze Diesel sets the bar much higher.

The 2014 Chevrolet Cruze offers seven different combinations of engines and transmissions, three of which are the ones to pick for fuel efficiency. It  also carries the distinction of offering the very first diesel engine in a General Motors passenger car since the mid-1980s. Rest assured, it's not your father's diesel.

Of the two gasoline engines on offer, choose the smaller (and smoother) 1.4-liter turbo four engine. Not only does it get better EPA fuel-economy ratings across the board than the base 1.8-liter four, but it's more fun to drive and less noisy. Ratings vary depending on your transmission choice, but models with the 1.4-liter engine get 30 mpg combined with either a six-speed automatic transmission or a six-speed manual gearbox, and the less-efficient 1.8-liter engine is rated at 27 to 29 mpg combined for the automatic and manual respectively. To help boost mileage in stop-and-go driving, all Cruze models with the automatic transmission also get a neutral idle feature that automatically disengages the torque converter when sitting at stoplights in Drive.

The Cruze Eco model is a fuel-efficiency special without the complication and weight of a hybrid powertrain. Instead, the Cruze Eco has marginally thinner steel panels, smaller welds, and reduced flanges at its welded joints, cutting body weight by about 25 pounds altogether. Its lower ride height (about the same as the Sport models), a rear spoiler, a larger front air dam, active grille panels to block airflow when it's not needed for engine cooling, and an underbody air diverter are among its features to cut aerodynamic drag and improve fuel economy.

It works, too. The 1.4-liter engine in the Eco delivers up to 33 mpg combined in the Cruze Eco with a six-speed manual gearbox (28 mpg city, 42 mpg highway). That drops to 31 mpg combined with the six-speed automatic (26 mpg city, 39 mpg highway).

Then there's the new-for-2014 Cruze Diesel. Like many diesels, it overdelivers on its EPA ratings when used at highway speeds. We've seen real-world 40-mpg fuel efficiency in highway use, and at its EPA highway rating of 46 mpg, it can provide more than 700 miles of range.

The combined EPA rating for the Cruze Diesel is 33 mpg (27 mpg city), the same as the Cruze Eco with six-speed manual. In the end, it's a matter of how and where you drive. We pick the diesel Cruze for high-speed highway efficiency, but find the gasoline Cruze more pleasant to drive and equally fuel-efficient in around-town stop-and-go driving.

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November 17, 2015
2014 Chevrolet Cruze 4-Door Sedan Automatic Diesel

I love my Cruze diesel

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I drove diesel VW's for a while, then become the opportunity of choosing something else that would cost a little bit less. I read a lot and Cruze diesel was always up front. So I chose a Chevrolet Cruze... + More »
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September 18, 2015
For 2014 Chevrolet Cruze

Very impressed with the comfort and quality of the 2014 Cruze

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I absolutely love the 2014 Cruze. It handles really well, is very comfortable for the driver and passengers, and has that huge trunk space. I previously owned a 2006 Cobalt which was an extremely reliable car... + More »
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August 14, 2015
2014 Chevrolet Cruze 4-Door Sedan Manual 1LT

like/hate relationship

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I bought my 2014 new off the lot last year after my 2012 crapped out on me. it was a lemon, just like my 2014. there is a like/hate relationship between me and my car. I like the car because it gets me from... + More »
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May 28, 2015
2014 Chevrolet Cruze 4-Door Sedan Automatic Diesel

Even Better Than Expected!

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The Chevy Cruze Diesel has outstanding fuel economy and thus range. I drive over the Cascade Mountain Range frequently and the Cruze has more than enough power (torque) to pull up and over with no problems... + More »
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May 15, 2015
2014 Chevrolet Cruze 4-Door Sedan Automatic Diesel

I wish Chevy would advertise this car more because most people don't even know it exists.

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This GM Diesel car is not your Grandfather's Diesel. You have to take it out for a test drive and see for yourself. I love this car and it's not anything like my old VW Rabbit Diesel of years ago. I've had it... + More »
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May 12, 2015
2014 Chevrolet Cruze 4-Door Sedan Manual LS

Stylish and economical for the price.

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Enjoying my Cruze. Easy access controls. Fun to drive. Has some pep in its step.
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April 17, 2015
For 2014 Chevrolet Cruze

The 2014 Chevy Cruze Diesel has more than lived up to my expectations.

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Loaded with everything you need for a compact semi-luxury car. The mileage, power and torque are just frosting on the cake.
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