The American-made Chevrolet Cruze boasts strong gas mileage, good handling, and just about ever safety and comfort item you can find on cars at twice the price. Buyers now have a single engine, a turbocharged 1.4, with a choice of six-speed manual or automatic transmission; you can option up to an eight-inch center display and seven-inch trip computers. The top Premier model has a different rear suspension than the rest, a pricier multilink setup, and our review reflects the Premier experience.
The Cruze is surprisingly smooth on city streets, but almost uncomfortably firm on highways; we had the RS package and found we could whip around turns more than quickly enough for most people. That said, we consistently scraped the front on our driveway.
There was little wind noise, but a good deal of road noise on the highway (less around town).
Our test car had a six-speed automatic, with a manual-shift mode on the top of the shifter. There is no stop between Drive and Manual. The standard stop-start system shuts off the engine at traffic lights and instantly turns it back on when you let off the brake; it operated rarely when the air conditioning was on (even on “eco” mode), and isn’t sold with the stick-shift in the US.
The least thrifty Cruze is rated at 30/40 mpg (all the Cruze variations come out to about the same mileage). We could reach EPA ratings when we drove very gently and restricted our highway speed; most people are likely to get around 27 city, 34 highway, which is good for a car of this size.
You don’t get instant motion when you want to launch quickly or pass; floor the pedal and you have to wait a second or two for real thrust, and on the highway, a downshift is usually needed. If you drive fairly gently, you may never notice it. Even if you stomp on pedal, the delay is not unsafe, if you expect it; and once power comes, it stays on.
The front seats are surprisingly comfortable and well padded, with side support. The rear seats have thinner padding, more typical of the class; the low roof impedes headroom and getting in is a little tricky.
The Cruze has a good deal of legroom, which is what you really need to fit four people; it’s unusually generous in the class. The trunk is also enormous, not very deep but quite long, with plenty of room not only for the spare tire, but also for the battery and computer — stored back there partly for weight balance and partly because neither one likes the heat of the engine bay.
Storage spaces are well designed and clever, especially the phone pocket (suitable for many phone sizes). Cup/mugholders have no padding and no way to hold smaller bottles firmly in place. USB and auxiliary ports are right out in the open.
Gauges are easy to read, though both tachometer and speedometer go further than they need to (why not have “H” on the temp gauge go all the way to 2,000°, too?)
The steering wheel has numerous controls on it, in a sensible layout. The headlights are pretty much set to be on automatic, if you want them off you have to turn the switch back to Off with every drive. Most controls are backlit at night.
The MyLink user interface is oddly designed but not impossible to work with; the print on the map labels is too small and too many things require a touch to the dock to reveal common options (e.g. map zoom). The system is snazzy and usually works quite well but the devil is in the details.
AirPlay and Android Auto are supported via USB, working perfectly except for not using the gauge cluster for turn by turn directions.
The sound quality on the optional stereo was excellent, with high clarity and strong but not muddy bass.
The top-trim driver information center (DIC), or trip computer, is operated from a stalk or the steering wheel, and shows miles driven and fuel economy for two trips, or oil life, 50-mile economy, or tire pressures. You can set preferences, including a speed alert (e.g. for 75 mph), and it shows turn by turn instructions when the GM navigation is used.
Advaned safety gear includes blind spot detection, rear cross path detection, front and rear distance sensors, front collision warning/prevention (pioneered by GM), and even lane maintenance up to 112 mph, if it can see the stripes. All work well — well, lane maintenance is usually unnecessary.
You can get a base Cruze for $16,620. Ours was the top of the line Premier, selling for $23,995 with destination. It includes the multilink rear suspension, two oil changes and tire rotations, the automatic transmission, numerous airbags, a backup camera, heated mirrors with turn signals, 17-inch wheels, a 16-inch spare, eight-way power driver’s seat, air conditioning, cruise, heated front seats, tilt/telescope steering column, USB port, six-speaker audio, remote starter, seven-inch trip computer, CarPlay and Android Auto, a WiFi hot-spot, and five years of OnStar emergency services.
Our car had many option packs. The $1,995 Sun and Sound and Nav had the power sunroof, eight inch touch-screen with navigation, and nine-speaker premium audio. The RS package added $995 for a body kit, labels, 18-inch wheels, fog lamps, and a spoiler. $865 more was added for the express power windows, automatic a/c, auto-dimming rear view mirror, wireless device charger, heated rear seats, and AC outlet.
The safety pack, at $790, included automatic high beams, rear park assist, forward collision alert (but not “smart cruise” or forward parking), rear cross traffic alert (very handy in parking lots), lane-keep assistance, and blind-spot alert. The last item was $395 for the red paint, bringing the cost to $29,035.
The Cruze is quite pleasant around town; on the highway, it was stiffer, bumpier, and a little twitchy (without the RS package’s 18 inch wheels, this may not be an issue). It was very enjoyable, and could easily substitute for a larger, more expensive car, with its wide range of options and fine legroom.
|Review Notes: 2016 Chevrolet Cruze Premier RS compact car|
|Personality||Upscale around town, sporty on the highway — except for power|
|Above Average for Price||Gas mileage (driven gently), ride (city), quietness, safety options|
|Below Average for Price||Highway comfort, responsiveness to sudden throttle|
The author of Dodge Viper, Jeep’s Go-Anywhere Vehicles, and The Rise and Reinvention of Chrysler Minivans, David Zatz has been writing about cars and trucks since the early 1990s; he also writes on organizational development and business at toolpack.info and covers Mac statistics software at macstats.org.
David has been quoted by the New York Times, the Daily Telegraph, the Detroit News, and USA Today. You can reach him by using our contact form (preferred) or by calling (313) 766-2304.