The Chevrolet Cruze is a compact sedan with an appealing blend of fuel efficiency, elegant styling and overall refinement. After improving the fuel economy of the Cruze last year, Chevrolet has added a pair of new audio systems along with several new equipment packages for the latest model year.
Outside, the Cruze takes styling cues from the dapper last-generation Malibu and is a much sharper-looking car than its predecessor, the homely Cobalt. The interior is also a departure from small Chevrolet models of the past, featuring a clean and attractive dashboard with intuitive controls and impressive materials for the segment.
The primary engineering and development work for the Cruze was performed by GMDAT -- GM's Korean partner (although there was also been strong input from the North American and European planning groups).
The Cruze is a truly global model that is offered in a variety of markets. The U.S. version sees the rear independent suspension sold elsewhere replaced with a less sophisticated Z-link suspension, but gains an acoustic laminate windshield for added interior quietness. The Cruze also features rack-mounted electric power steering -- a feature that delivers a small fuel economy benefit and reduces required steering input for low speed maneuvers.
Entry-level models are powered by a naturally aspirated 1.8-liter four-cylinder, while higher trims get a turbocharged 1.4-liter Ecotec four-cylinder - both of which can be had with either a six-speed automatic or manual transmission (limited by trim level).
The turbocharged engine puts out 138 horsepower and 148 lb-ft of torque and achieves a recently improved rating of up to 28 city, 42 mpg on the highway in Eco trim and matched to a manual transmission, 39 mpg highway with the automatic-equipped Eco, or 26 city and 38 highway in non-Eco trim with either gearbox (also a two mpg improvement).
The 1.8-liter puts out 138 horsepower and 123 lb-ft. of torque, good for 25 city, 36 highway mpg with the manual transmission of 22 city, 35 highway with the automatic.
Trim Level Breakdown
The Cruze is offered in four standard trim levels: LS, LT, LTZ and Eco. It can also be had with a specialty option package, known as RS Appearance, which includes rocker moldings, unique front and rear fascias, front fog lamps and a rear spoiler.
The base LS trim level comes with the 1.8-liter Ecotec engine and a six-speed manual transmission, A/C, power locks and windows and remote keyless entry.
Opting for the LT essentially swaps out the less efficient 1.8-liter four-cylinder for the 1.4-liter turbocharged engine (the six-speed stick remains standard) and bumps the wheels up to 16-inches, adds a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob and outside power-adjustable, body-color mirrors.
The 1LT sub-trim level also adds the Connectivity Package as standard, which adds Bluetooth for select phones, UBS port in the center console and steering wheel-mounted audio controls. There is an available 1LT All-Star Package which adds a power sunroof and premium Pioneer audio system. The 1LT Driver Convenience Package includes driver six-way power seat adjuster with manual recliner, driver and front passenger illuminated vanity mirrors, auto-dimming inside rearview mirror and outside heated, power-adjustable mirrors
The 2LT sub-trim level adds front bucket seats with leather seating surfaces, six-way power driver seat and heated driver and front passenger seats. A seven-inch touch-screen that operates the sound system is new for the latest model year. The 2LT also has available navigation with touch screen seven-inch color display system, available premium Pioneer nine-speaker audio system, 17-inch alloy wheels with four-wheel disc brakes and rear park assist. The available 2LT Driver Convenience Package includes driver and front passenger illuminated vanity mirrors; auto-dimming inside rearview mirror; rear vision camera and outside heated, power-adjustable mirrors.
Factory remote start is included when the automatic transmission is selected.
The high-mpg Cruze Eco is specced similarly to the LT trim level with 17-inch alloy wheels and ultra low-rolling resistance tires, as well as a package to improve aerodynamics.
Jumping to the range-topping LTZ will result in the same 1.4-liter turbocharged engine, but with a six-speed automatic transmission. Drivers enjoy an uplevel chrome-trimmed instrument panel, drivers and passenger illuminated vanity mirrors, a six-way power driver's seat, leather seating surfaces, steering wheel and shift knob. Also standard is cruise control, Bluetooth, USB, steering-wheel radio controls, automatic climate control, ultrasonic rear-parking assist, 18-inch wheels and remote start.
New for the latest model year is Chevrolet's MyLink infotainment system, which offers voice control of certain entertainment functions and includes Bluetooth smartphone connectivity and streaming audio via Pandora radio and Stitcher SmartRadio. Mylink is not available on LS models, optional on the 1LT and standard on all other trims.
The Cruze features several high-tech options and features such as a premium Pioneer nine-speaker stereo system featuring a 250-watt amplifier, heated leather seats and OnStar.
A new enhanced Safety Package brings rear park assist, Side Blind Zone Alert and Rear Cross-Traffic Alert
The Cruze comes with an impressive 10 airbags, include dual front, front side, front knee, rear side and full-length side curtain airbags. Traction and stability control systems are also included.
Notably, the Cruze is the first automobile to utilize single-stage "smart" airbags. In contrast to traditional dual-stage airbags, which rely on one inflator for low-speed crashes and another for high-speed crashes, the single-stage airbags make use of a single inflator to handle both low- and high-speed crashes. In order to compensate for the single inflator, the single-stage air bag system employs a unique flexible venting technology that uses the driver's forward momentum to push air out of the bag, reducing the risk of inflation-induced injury.
The single-stage system is lighter and less complex than dual-stage units and, more importantly, has proven to be just as safe.
Those interested in the Cruze should also consider the redesigned Honda Civic and the newly Americanized Volkswagen Jetta. Other options include the Nissan Sentra and Mitsubishi Lancer.