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Took a week long "Cruze" ... albeit in a car; rental review

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I had the opportunity to rent a Chevy Cruze.  This would have been the last gen model, prior to the arrival of the new one that is now in the showrooms.  While the Cruze was definitely a step up in that niche from Chevy's previous Cavalier and Cobalt models, it was starting to get long in the tooth.  It was never ungainly.  It just seemed a little chunky.  Though I haven't driven one, the current Cruze fixes all that.

I got to select a car from the specified category at the rental car agency in SoCal.  Take a pale gold one (a color that does NOT draw attention) with Florida plates (far away!) ... or take a red one (a color that DOES draw attention) with local plates?  I went with the latter.

Given that I have driven Buick Veranos, Cruzes are easy to get used to, on many levels.  This one, if I recall, had the 1.4 liter Ecotec 4 cylinder engine with the turbocharger.  Pulling off the lot, driving down some side streets, and getting onto the freeway told me that this Cruze was up to the task and that it would be fine to live with for a week.  The ride was smooth enough and the cabin was quiet enough, although not exactly Verano smooth and Verano quiet.  You can tell exactly why there's that difference in their price points.  It's in everything you touch and feel.  Still, I am in no way denigrating the outgoing Cruze.  It's a good value.  The new one is evidently a better value.

The engine is peppy and the 6 speed automatic, which is sort of ubiquitous for GM, does what it's supposed to do without any fuss.  The handling is fairly predictable and agile, but then a car this size is easy to maneuver, whether in a parking lot, on city streets, on 2 lane roads, or on the freeway.  I got to sample them all.  The car is quiet enough but seems to be more hushed cruising on the freeway at 65 or 70 mph, and can handle crosswinds and gusts fairly well on freeways in the California desert.  It's a little coarser if pulling away from a light quickly and, most of all, if passing.  As for passing cars, I'd be cautious with that task.  There are only 1.4 liters under the hood, which means LESS than 90 cubic inches!  And to think my baptism into driving meant putting around in something with over 5 liters and thinking that was sort of average.  Anyway, I would make sure there is one very long stretch of unoccupied and visible territory ahead of you before attempting to pass someone on a 2 lane straightaway in a desolate part of California, or anywhere.  When one can do that, the hum from the engine compartment is fairly healthy ... and audible.

I liked the Cruze's cabin and the seating was satisfactory, finished in black cloth that wasn't uptown, but wasn't too cheap, either.  It was comfortable and ergonomic enough.  Again, the seating does not match the finish, size, and comfort of the bucket seats in its more lavished upon sibling, the Verano.  The placement of some of the upholstery on the lower part of the dash as an accent was unusual.  I've never seen that before.  It has been carried over into the new Cruze.  I wonder how this will hold up, especially in climates where it is boiling hot and where the dash is handled quite a bit  The dashboard does share some parts and knobs with the Verano and it's just slightly less cluttered than that of the Verano.  Everything seems to make sense.  Mostly, the only thing I don't like is all those information settings you operate from the left stalk.  That alone is probably the thing with the biggest learning curve in getting used to this car.  However, big kudos are given for having the soothing blue display of both the digital speedometer and the analog one where your eyes instinctively go, right atop the steering wheel's center hub.  Visibility was decent, especially since this model is a little more upright.  However, to improve visibility even more, I reclined the empty passenger seat such that the headrest would move out of the lateral view and below the belt line during big city driving.  This proved to be helpful and made it easier when changing lanes.

Mixed driving decreases gas mileage and the readings on those tanks weren't stellar, but definitely acceptable, especially when hilly terrain was involved.  As for the economy readings for uninterrupted highway jaunts, they came in at a respectable 37 and 38 mpg, and this included some stretches of 70 mph driving where it was permitted.

The bottom line is that I think the Chevy Cruze is a pretty good car.  I liked it, but I didn't love it.  I'm wondering what driving the latest rendition will be like.  I'm predicting that I will "like it +."  As I returned the car, I realized that it was a good set of wheels to putt around with, but that I would definitely prefer to have a Buick Verano over a Chevy Cruze as my daily driver, even if returns a handful less mpgs in both city and highway driving.

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Including a photo of a last gen Chevy Cruze in the desert:





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