The Cruze is a dramatic improvement over the Cobalt, which it replaced, but it isn’t yet at the top of the highly competitive small-car class, which has recently seen all-new or heavily refreshed cars from Honda (Civic), Hyundai (Elantra), and Ford (Focus) added to its ranks. Where the Cruze really shines is inside. Its cabin is user-friendly, attractive, and finished in quality materials and comes in a close second to that of the class-leading Elantra. Under the hood, the Cruze offers a choice of two engines: a 1.8-liter four-cylinder and a turbocharged 1.4-liter four that produces 138 hp and 148 lb-ft of torque. The 1.4-liter is exclusive to the North American market, and although it’s a bit sluggish around town, it moves the Cruze along effortlessly at highway speeds. In all but the Eco model, the 1.4-liter is paired with a six-speed automatic. The Eco and the LS additionally offer six-speed manuals. The Eco version sheds a few pounds with lighter-weight parts (wheels and rear suspension pieces) and options restrictions. It also benefits from low-rolling-resistance tires and aerodynamic aids. To compete with the fuel-economy ratings of its newer competitors, Chevy has managed to eke out another 2 mpg from its turbo engine when paired with the six-speed automatic, for a rating of 26/39 mpg. Although the Cruze has some shortcomings — soft handling, light but somewhat artificial steering feel, an unrefined automatic transmission — its excellent interior, quiet highway ride, and supple suspension make it a legitimate contender in the small-car segment.

Drive: Front-wheel
Trim Levels: Eco, LS, LT, LTZ
Body style: Sedan, 5-passenger
Engines: 1.4L turbocharged I-4, 138 hp, 148 lb-ft 1.8L I-4, 138 hp, 125 lb-ft
Transmissions: 6-speed manual, 6-speed automatic
Passenger volume: 95.0 cu ft
Cargo space: 15.4 cu ft

The biggest news for the 2012 Cruze is a fuel-economy increase to 26 mpg in the city and 36 mpg on the highway from its 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder equipped with the six-speed automatic. The Cruze Eco, which uses the 1.8-liter four-cylinder, also got a bump in highway fuel economy to 39 mpg with the six-speed automatic transmission.

The Cruze comes equipped with ten standard air bags, with dual-stage front, side, knee, and side curtain air bags for front passengers and side-impact air bags for rear passengers. ABS, traction and stability control, and OnStar are standard. Rear parking assist is standard on the LTZ, optional on Eco and LT models, and unavailable on the LS.

All: 22-28 mpg city/35-42 mpg highway

  • Nicest interior Chevy makes
  • Eco manual gets 42 mpg hwy
  • Refined highway cruiser
  • Underwhelming automatic
  • Overweight
  • Unsupportive seats

A truly competitive small car with an impressive interior and an underwhelming transmission.

  • Ford Focus
  • Honda Civic
  • Hyundai Elantra
  • Mazda 3

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