Back in 2010, I had gotten a phone call from my editor at an automotive website I was working for at the time. He wanted to know if I would be interested in helping out with a comparison test of the just launched Chevrolet Cruze versus its predecessor, the Cobalt. Of course I wanted to help out. It would be a great chance to try this new compact sedan that was being claimed as the best General Motors had ever done.
I was nervous as my editor and I met up and drove to the dealership where the two vehicles were waiting for us. Once we had gotten the keys and plates, we were off. Driving around in the two Chevrolets for most of the day brought forth some interesting thoughts about them.
At the end of the day, he and I compared notes. We agreed that the Cruze was not only light-years ahead of the Cobalt; it was GM’s best effort.
Since that time, I have left said site and moved on to a couple other sites to write for. Also during that time, the Cruze began climbing up the sales charts for GM, while being heaped with praise left and right.
But now, the two of us meet again; a little bit older and maybe a little bit wiser. Is the Cruze still as good as I remembered or has the competition and age dealt it a blow?
One of the biggest complaints about the Cruze since we last met is its styling. Compared to the curvaceous Hyundai Elantra and Kinetic design of the Ford Focus, the Cruze is very conservative. You will not find a coupe like roofline, pronounced creases, surface flaming, or any other cool design cue on this car. In fact, for being on sale for almost two years, the Cruze is the third oldest design in the compact segment after the Nissan Sentra and Kia Forte. That's not a reflection on Chevrolet's designers. It's more of how competitive the segment has become within that time.
But don’t think of that as a downside. The Cruze, though conservative, is a very handsome car. The front end carries Chevrolet’s trademark double grille opening with chrome accents running around the edge. The front headlights extend toward the fenders. The side profile of the Cruze has a character line running from the front door to the taillights, while the belt line is accented with some chrome. The back end is very short and has a tall trunk lid. Other design cues include chrome bar in the middle of the trunk lid and a distinct pair of taillights. Top it all off with LTZ’s standard 18-nch wheels and the Crystal Red paint on this particular model.
Next: The Inside Story
When I first drove the Cruze back in 2010, one of the biggest things that impressed me was the interior. My first thought was, "Wow! GM has done a compact interior right." That still holds true in 2012.
The dash is a mix of plastic and some sort of mesh cloth that seems to have the same pattern that you see on gym shorts. Odd choice, but it works. Ahead of the driver lies a three spoke steering wheel wrapped in leather and provides controls for the stereo, Bluetooth and cruise. The instrument cluster is well laid out and easy to read.
The leather covered seats in the Cruze are very comfortable and provide enough support for the driver and passenger. Back seat passengers will have no complaints as there is enough head and legroom - a fold-down armrest with integrated cupholders is a nice touch.
Trunk space for the Cruze stands at 15.4 cubic feet and grows when the back seats are folded.
This particular Cruze was equipped with the optional seven-inch navigation unit. Unlike most navigation systems where the data is stored on a hard drive, the Cruze’s unit uses an SD card. It takes a few seconds longer for the system to load when you start the car, but works normally thereafter. The screen was bright, easy to read at a glance, and responded pretty quickly whenever touched. The system can also be controlled by set of buttons and knobs for the stereo and HVAC systems.
The optional Pioneer sound system was very good. Whatever I played through it – iPod, XM, or FM, the system had no problem at all filling the car with sound.
The LTZ also came with a new feature for 2012; keyless entry and start. The keyless entry was hit and miss – causing me to resort to the remote unlock more than a few times during the week. Thankfully, the keyless start worked flawlessly. The keyless system also has an alarm to let you know that you left your keys in the car. I can attest it worked since it went off on me three times during the week.
Next: How does the Cruze fare with cruising?
Ride & Drive
The Cruze LTZ uses a 1.4Liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine producing 138 horsepower and 141 pound-feet of torque. The engine isn’t what you would call a powerhouse, but its feisty nature and williness to provide power make it a pleasure to drive.
One of the big problems I had when I drove the Cruze back in 2010 was the six-speed automatic. The transmission delivered balky shifts when on the move, making it very unpleasant to drive. Thankfully, GM remedied that last year with new programming and the balky shifts are gone. In its place is smoothness.
Fuel economy on the Cruze’s 1.4L turbo is 26 City/38 Highway/30 Combined. During the week I had the Cruze, I averaged about 26.5 MPG in mostly city driving. On the highway, I couldn’t get close to EPA’s 38 MPG rating – getting around an average of 32 MPG during a 40 Mile round trip with the cruise set at 70 MPH.
The Cruze’s ride focuses on comfort. Driving along on the highway or in the city, the chassis and 18 inch wheels provided a ride that could rival cars costing twice as much. Even driving through some of the craters that dot Southeast Michigan, the Cruze was stable. More surprising was how quiet the Cruze was. Wind and road noise were tamped down by a large amount. Chevrolet must have borrowed a few of Buick’s sound engineers during the development.
But what happens when you show the Cruze some curves? The Cruze handles them ok. The chassis and Michelin tires do a good job of keeping it steady though corners. Steering while quick to respond is also somewhat numb.
The older things get, the better they are mantra plays true with the Cruze. Since being introduced in 2010, GM has been making small improvements and fixing problems to keep the Cruze right on the top of the compact car segment. In fact in 2011, the Cruze outsold the stalwart Honda Civic by 10,497 vehicles and fell short of beating the segment king Toyota Corolla by just 8,527 vehicles.
But there is one thing I haven’t talked about and that is the Cruze’s pricetag. As tested, this Cruze LTZ costs $25,625. Now, that seems like a lot for a compact car. But after driving it for a week, the price tag seems very justifiable. Partly due to competitors like the Ford Focus either matching or going above the as tested price for similarly equipped vehicles. But also for what you’re getting for the price; a well rounded compact car that can get you from point to point in comfort and style.
Just keep in mind about the highway fuel economy.
Smoothness of the Automatic
Highway Fuel Economy
Even after a year and a half, the Cruze is still a formidable player.
Disclaimer: General Motors provided the Cruze, Insurance, and one tank of Gas.
Year - 2012
Make - Chevrolet
Model - Cruze
Trim - LTZ
Engine - 1.4L Turbocharged four-cylinder
Powertrain - Front Wheel Drive, Six Speed Automatic
Horsepower @ RPM - 138 @ 4900
Torque @ RPM - 148 @ 1850
Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 26/38/30
Curb Weight - 3155 lbs
Location of Manufacture - Lordstown, OH
Base Price - $23,110
As Tested Price - $25,625 (Includes $750.00 Destination Charge)