American automakers haven’t been known for building good compact vehicles. Previous attempts have faltered when compared to those from the likes of Honda, Mazda, and Toyota. But this perception began to change when Ford brought out the Focus in 2000. It seemed progress was being made in making a decent compact vehicle thanks to their European branch helping out. Seeing this, GM decided to follow the same path. They called in their Korean and European offices to help out with the development of a new model known as Cruze. The vehicle proved to be a massive improvement from the Cobalt as it got the basics right such as fuel economy and overall interior space. Yes, the Cruze was lacking in some key areas such as design and driving fun. But it was light years ahead of GM’s previous attempts at a compact vehicle.
When it came time to work on the next-generation Cruze, Chevrolet knew they had a good starting point and only needed to make improvements to make the model a real contender in the class. Let’s see if that has panned out or not.
Dare I say the new Cruze is a sharp looking compact? Yes, but to a point. It is clear that Chevrolet’s design team took a lot of inspiration from the Volt PHEV when working on the second-generation Cruze. The overall profile and certain lines of the Volt appear on the Cruze. The front end features Chevrolet’s new tiered-grille and a set of slimmer headlights. Where the Cruze’s design falls flat is in the back. It seems Chevrolet’s designers really couldn’t be bothered to do something special. There two ways you can fix this. You can either go with the Cruze hatchback which to our eyes looks so much better thanks to the longer roofline and tailgate, or opting for the RS appearance package which dresses up the back with a more aggressive bumper. The RS package also adds mesh grille inserts, and sporty looking wheels - 18-inch ones on our Premier tester.
Moving inside, Chevrolet has put a lot of effort in making the Cruze a nice place to sit in. Many surfaces are covered with high-quality materials and feature some unique touches such as a curving character line on the dashboard. Making yourself comfortable is quite easy thanks to eight-way power adjustments for the driver and a tilt-telescoping steering wheel. The front passenger has to make do with manual adjustments. In the back, there is enough legroom for most passengers. Headroom is slightly tight if you decide to get a sunroof. One nice item for those sitting in the back is the option of heated seats.
One area Chevrolet is using as a selling point for the Cruze is technology. All Cruzes get a seven-inch touchscreen with Chevrolet MyLink and compatibility with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. OnStar 4G LTE with Wi-Fi also comes standard across the board. Our Premier tester came with the optional 8-inch touchscreen with navigation. MyLink has been a source of frustration in many of Chevrolet vehicles we have reviewed, but it seems they are starting to get its act together. Overall performance has seen a slight improvement with transitions into various functions being snappy. The navigation system still has some performance issues as it slows down when zooming in or out. Chevrolet has also fixed some of the bugs with their Apple CarPlay integration. We saw no issues of slowdown or apps crashing whenever we had CarPlay up.
Under the Cruze’s hood is a turbocharged 1.4L four-cylinder with 153 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed automatic is the only transmission choice if you get the Premier. Anything below and you have the choice of the automatic or a six-speed manual. A diesel engine is coming later this year. The performance figures for the turbo 1.4L will not knock the socks off of anyone - 0-60 mph time of just over eight seconds. But you won’t think the Cruze is a slowpoke thanks the engine having a lot of low-end grunt. The vehicle leaps forward when leaving a stop and doesn’t feel that it is going to run out of breath. It doesn’t hurt Chevrolet has dropped almost 300 pounds from the new model. The six-speed automatic is quick to upshift to maximize fuel economy, but the same cannot be said for downshifts. It takes a moment or two for the automatic to go down a gear when you step on the accelerator.
The turbo 1.4 comes with an auto stop-start system as standard. The system is quick to start the engine back up whenever you take your foot off the brake. One item that will irk some people is that you cannot turn off the stop-start system.
EPA fuel economy figures for the 2017 Chevrolet Cruze stand at 29 City/39 Highway/33 Combined for the Premier sedan. Our average for the week landed around 31.2 mpg. The L, LS, and LT sedan get slightly higher fuel economy figures of 28/39/32 for the manual and 30/40/34 for the automatic.
It seems most compacts are trying to outdo one another in terms of offering the best driving experience. So it is a bit of fresh air that Chevrolet has decided to skip this and make the Cruze ride like a bigger car. The suspension provides a cushy ride with most bumps being ironed out. Road and wind noise are kept to almost silent levels. Handling is competent in the class as the Cruze shows little body roll. However, the steering is too light in terms of feel and weight when driven enthusiastically.
Chevrolet’s previous attempts at a compact vehicle have ranged from the punchline to a bad joke to something that can be considered at competent. But with the 2017 Cruze, Chevrolet put their heads down into making a compact that could stand tall among competitors. They have succeeded as the Cruze gets the fundamentals right and offers some distinctive traits that help it stand out from others such as the big-car ride and impressive amount of tech. Yes, it would be nice if Cruze was a slightly sharper in terms of design and the steering tweaked a bit to make it a bit more fun to drive.
Since I have been reviewing new vehicles for almost five years, there have been only a few vehicles that I keep thinking about to this day. Chevrolet has two to its name. The first was the 2014 Impala and the Cruze is number two.
Disclaimer: Chevrolet Provided the Cruze, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas
Engine: Turbocharged 1.4L DOHC VVT DI Four-Cylinder
Driveline: Six-Speed Automatic, Front-Wheel Drive
Horsepower @ RPM: 153 @ 5600
Torque @ RPM: 177 @ 2000-4000
Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 29/39/33
Curb Weight: 2,978 lbs
Location of Manufacture: Lordstown, OH
Base Price: $23,475
As Tested Price: $29,195 (Includes $875.00 Destination Charge)
Sun & Sound w/Navigation - $1,995.00
RS Package - $995.00
Enhanced Convenience Package - $865.00
Driver Confidence II Package - $790.00
Floor Mats - $140.00
Wheel Lock Kit - $60.00