The Cruze has been a homerun for Chevy, repeatedly appearing in the top of the sales chart for the compact class and giving the Toyota Corolla a run for its money as reigning champ of the segment’s sales. (Through November, the Cruze was only down by 4193 units to the number-one-selling Corolla among all compacts.) It’s no surprise that the Cruze has been popular with the car-buying public thanks to its best-in-class interior, handsome design, and good pricing. (In comparison, only the Hyundai Elantra and Mazda 3 are cheaper when similarly equipped, and by less than $1000.) The turbocharged four-cylinder is lively and peppy – especially around town – but the Cruze is not nearly as refined as the Ford Focus, nor does it feel as planted as the Focus, the 3, or the Elantra on the highway. However, color me impressed; it’s quite amazing that this car came from the same company that was peddling the Cobalt in the same segment just a few short years ago.
Donny Nordlicht, Associate Web Editor
The Cruze has grown on me. When I first encountered the car at an auto show a few years back, I found it difficult to look beyond the nondescript styling. My brief initial drives didn’t go much better, as I was turned off by the overly boosted electric power steering (earth to Chevy: most of us have more upper body strength than a five-year-old girl).
After a weekend with it, however, I find myself more impressed. The styling hasn’t become any more exciting, but particularly with these seventeen-inch wheels, it looks quite upscale. A closer examination finds excellent panel fitment, which had been a problem area on the Cobalt. Inside, cloth inserts on the dash are a nice deviation from the norm, and the optional navigation screen has sharp graphics. The overall interior materials quality doesn’t quite match the class-leading Focus, but it’s quite good nonetheless.
Best of all, if you can get beyond the light steering you’ll find surprising handling capabilities. Turn in is sharp and the car is less prone to understeer than some competitors. Body control is also above average, in keeping with the suspension’s European pedigree. I’d tend to disagree with my colleague Donny regarding the highway ride, which I found plenty comfortable and confidence inspiring at speeds up to 90 mph.
Overall, I still wouldn’t mistake the Cruze for an enthusiast’s car but it does possess some real substance.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
I’m with Zenlea on this one — I didn’t really give the Cruze much attention when it debuted because GM has such a sad record with small cars. I drove a Cruze quite a bit during our Small Car 6-Pack story earlier this year and I was really impressed by it. It feels as confidence inspiring as the Ford Focus and Mazda3 on the highway and gives up less than you’d expect to those cars on twisty roads. The interior is quite good and offers very logical groupings for all the buttons and knobs.
I’m not so thrilled with the 1.4-liter turbo I-4 engine. It produces adequate power, but doesn’t like to rev very much and at times feels almost like a diesel engine. That’s getting rather nitpicky and I’m sure most shoppers would appreciate the low torque peak (1850 rpm) and 38 mpg highway rating more so than an engine that spins to 7000 rpm. My only other complaint about the Cruze is the horribly overboosted steering that David mentioned.
It’s a pretty amazing time for compact cars in America right now. Nearly every manufacturer has a new or significantly updated offering and they are all worthwhile choices. The Cruze might even be my first choice if Chevy could dial in the steering.
Phil Floraday, Senior Web Editor
I’m impressed: the Chevrolet Cruze is really good! Apart from numb, overboosted steering and a somewhat iffy touch-screen interface, there is very little to fault here. The suspension tuning is very mature and makes the Cruze feel like a European car. It has excellent highway stability and relatively firm responses when cornering, yet the Cruze dispatches bumps with little noise or harshness. Though I admit it can be loud at times, power delivery from the turbocharged engine is smooth and plentiful. The torquey engine and responsive transmission make the Cruze “feel” quite quick, yet the car still returns decent fuel economy (an indicated 27 mpg in primarily urban driving).
There are two interior oddities: the fusebox opening is located only about an inch below the headlight switch, and I popped it open assuming it was a small storage cubby. Also, a green headlight icon for the daytime running lights remains illuminated in the instrument cluster unless the headlights are turned on.
Jake Holmes, Associate Web Editor
MSRP (with destination): $21,355
PRICE AS TESTED: $23,980
1.4-liter turbocharged I-4
Horsepower: 138 hp @ 4900 rpm
Torque: 148 lb-ft @ 1850 rpm
WHEELS AND TIRES:
17-inch aluminum wheels
FUEL ECONOMY (city/highway/combined):
Cargo: 15.4 cu ft
Legroom (front/rear): 42.3/35.4 in
Headroom (front/rear): 39.3/37.9 in
Towing: 1000 lb
Blue topaz metallic/Black
6-speed manual transmission
Stability and traction control
Antilock disc brakes
Daytime running lights
Tire pressure monitoring system
60/40 split folding rear seat
Heated front seats
Auxiliary audio input
Tilt-and-telescopic steering column
OPTIONS ON THIS VEHICLE:
6-speed automatic transmission- $1185
Navigation w/7-inch touchscreen display- $995
Premium audio system- $445
KEY OPTIONS NOT ON THIS VEHICLE:
RS package- $695
Power sunroof- $900
Highway fuel economy increases to 38 mpg and city fuel economy increases to 26 mpg on 1.4L turbo model with six-speed automatic transmission for 2012.