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2016 Chevrolet Cruze is Lighter and More Spacious

Longer, lower, more aerodynamic, and lighter.

Todd LassawriterDavid ZenleaphotographerThe Manufacturerphotographer

The 2016 Chevrolet Cruze addresses some of the biggest problems with the first generation of the compact car, namely its excessive weight and, despite being one of the larger entries in its segment, its cramped back seat. The second-generation Cruze has a 0.6-inch longer wheelbase and is 2.7 inches longer overall, with 2 inches of that going to rear-seat legroom, and it weighs as much as 250 pounds less than the car it replaces.

For the most part, the outgoing Chevrolet Cruze has proven itself to be a worthy competitor to the segment's sales leaders -- the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla -- while consistently outselling the Ford Focus. After decades of also-ran compact entries, including the single-term Citation and Cobalt, the Cruze has broken out of its maker's C-segment malaise to become what Chevrolet cars and crossovers marketing chief Steve Majaros claims is the globe's fourth-bestselling nameplate. The Cruze has also been General Motors' bestselling passenger car in the U.S. for several years.

The 2016 Chevrolet Cruze goes on sale early next year with just one engine, a 1.4-liter turbocharged inline-four from General Motors' new Ecotec family. With direct-injection, a variable-displacement oil pump and variable cam timing, it makes an estimated 150 horsepower and 177 lb-ft of torque, up 12 hp and 29 lb-ft from the current car's 1.4-liter turbo, and it's mated to an updated six-speed automatic transmission. The outgoing car's 1.8-liter base four is gone. Engine stop-start is standard on all automatic models, and Chevrolet will offer a six-speed manual on lower-trim Cruze models.

Chevrolet also promises that the diesel-powered Cruze will return. It arrives in 2017 with a new 1.6-liter turbodiesel four that GM claims is "best in class," although specific numbers have yet to be announced.

The car's stronger, lighter body structure, resulting in the aforementioned 250-pound weight reduction, translates to a curb weight range of 2,875 to 3,225 pounds for the new car, with the turbodiesel on the upper end.

The 2016 Chevrolet Cruze now has an obvious visual connection to its Delta-platform platform sibling, the 2016 Chevy Volt, especially from the front. The Cruze remains a four-door sedan with a trunk, of course, while the Volt remains a four-door hatchback, but there's much more family resemblance than before in its lower, more squat stance and the chiseled nose features.

Mike Pevovar, Chevrolet passenger car exterior design director, calls the Cruze's look "lean muscularity." It was inspired by Chevy's recent styling breakout, the Impala, and was designed along with the new Volt and 2016 Malibu. A stretched upper greenhouse gives the car more glass, and the taillamps clearly are Impala-inspired. The coefficient of drag is lowered to 0.29 from 0.33, Pevovar says.

Chevrolet would not officially comment on an Automotive News story that the second-generation Cruze hatchback will be sold in North America, other than to say that the unveiling is only about the new sedan. An official did not deny that future variations, beyond the diesel coming in 2017, will be added during the car's lifecycle.

Crystal Windham, who previously scored a big success with the 2014 Impala's interior, led design of the new Cruze's interior, as well. But the Cruze is a $25,000 sedan; not a $35,000 one, and while the top trim level car gets leather seats with real French seams, there's still some hard plastic on the upper door panels. This top trim level, renamed "Premier," has its design flourishes and is solidly competitive in this class, though we'll have to see some of the richer color options before we can call it a contender for best in class.

"Premier" replaces the LTZ trim, and the Cruze RS will be the sportiest, "more expressive variant." The L, LS, and LT trim levels remain. Standard equipment across the board will include 10 airbags, four-wheel disc brakes, and rearview camera. Options, some tied to trim levels, will include OnStar 4G LTE with a Wi-Fi hotspot, next-generation Chevrolet MyLink with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay (7-inch screen standard, 8-inch screen optional with CarPlay), LED/projector headlamps, wireless phone charging, heated rear leather seats and heated leather-wrapped steering wheel, side blind zone alert, rear cross traffic alert, lane keep assist, and forward collision alert.

The larger dimensions allow for a reasonably comfortable back seat for 6-footers, with the occasional close encounter with the headliner, depending on one's haircut. Knees will be only slightly upright, so Chevrolet has not had to scoop out the bottom of the back seat and have you sit close to the floor for that decently ample headroom.

First drives are still a few months away but, on paper at least, the new 2016 Chevrolet Cruze appears to assure its maker continued success in the small car field.