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.
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