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Chevrolet Cruze is an excellent choice among compact sedans, and is one of the best-selling cars in the Chevy lineup. It has a roomy interior, admirable fuel economy and a long list of standard features. This front-wheel-drive, four-door sedan seats up to five people.
New for 2014 is a diesel model that achieves a notable, EPA-estimated 27/46 mpg City/Highway, fitted with a turbocharged 2.0-liter diesel four-cylinder engine that makes 151 horsepower and 264 pound-feet of torque. The Cruze diesel comes standard with a 6-speed automatic transmission. Other Cruze models carry over unchanged for 2014.
Launched as a 2011 model, the Cruze is a compact sedan developed jointly by GM tech centers in Asia, Europe and the United States to compete with the stylish Hyundai Elantra, sporty Mazda3, and affordable Kia Forte, as well as the sales-leading compacts, the Honda Civic, Ford Focus and Toyota Corolla.
Styling of the 2014 Chevrolet Cruze is conservative, though it's a well-designed, handsome car. Its interior is one of the roomiest in its class, and it's also one of the nicest. Its trunk is also one of the largest in a compact sedan.
Cruze is offered with a choice of two four-cylinder gasoline engines: Cruze LS models get a 1.8-liter inline-4 that makes 138 hp and 125 lb.-ft. of torque. Cruze LT, LTZ and Eco models are powered by a turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder good for 138 hp and 148 lb.-ft. of torque. Transmission choices include a 6-speed manual or a 6-speed automatic.
Fuel economy is admirable from the turbocharged 1.4-liter, at 26/38 mpg City/Highway with both transmissions. Fuel economy for the 2014 Chevrolet Cruze with the base 1.8-liter engine is an EPA-rated 25/36 mpg City/Highway with manual transmission and 22/35 mpg with the automatic. Cruze Eco, the most fuel-efficient regular gasoline model, rates 28/42 mpg with the manual transmission and 26/39 mpg with the automatic.
Ride quality is quite good, and we found the Cruze handles well. It is slower compared to many cars in its class, but for everyday driving, the average person won't notice. The Cruze Eco is perhaps the biggest compromise; though it achieves a high fuel economy rating, efficiency comes with a penalty in the form of even slower acceleration, longer stopping distances and poorer handling compared to the less fuel-friendly Cruze models. Those who drive long distances at highway speeds would do well to opt for the Cruze diesel. Although it has a higher starting price, its superior range and highway fuel economy makes for a better value long-term.
Cruze comes well-equipped with features that are not always standard on cars of its class, such as a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel. On all trims but the base, the wheels are made of alloy, and are not only lighter than steel, but quieter. Prices climb by nearly $10,000 from the base model to a loaded, top-of-the-line LTZ. True, the latter comes swathed in leather and loaded with technology, but for that kind of money, the alternatives include larger, very nicely equipped midsize sedans. For this reason, we think the midrange Cruze LT hits the sweet spot in this class.
The 2014 Chevrolet Cruze is slightly bigger than many compact cars, yet not quite as big as those in the midsize segment. Competitors include the Ford Focus, Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra, Mazda3 and the new Toyota Corolla. Those considering the 2014 Cruze Diesel might also want to look at the Volkswagen Jetta TDI, which starts at about $1,800 less and gets slightly better combined fuel economy with an EPA rating of 30/42 mpg City/Highway. But the Cruze diesel wins when it comes strictly to highway mpg.
Cruze LS ($17,270) is powered by 1.8-liter inline four with 138 hp and 125 lb.-ft. of torque, with a standard 6-speed manual transmission. Standard features include air conditioning, power windows/door locks/mirrors, remote keyless entry, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel with audio controls, six-way manually adjustable driver's seat, 60/40-split folding rear seat, trip computer, a six-speaker audio system with CD player, Bluetooth phone connectivity, an auxiliary jack, USB port and satellite radio capability. The standard wheels are 16-inch steel.
Cruise 1LT ($18,815) is powered by the turbocharged 1.4-liter engine and comes standard with the 6-speed manual. Additional features include leather-wrapped steering wheel, cruise control, body-color power side mirrors and 16-inch alloy wheels. Cruze 2LT ($21,295) upgrades further to leather upholstery, a six-way power driver seat, heated seats, a 7-inch touch screen with Chevrolet MyLink, a sport-tuned suspension, 17-inch alloy wheels and four-wheel-disc brakes.
Cruze LTZ ($23,805) comes standard with the 6-speed automatic transmission, the contents of the 2LT package including leather upholstery, plus further upgraded interior trim, automatic climate control, keyless ignition, auto-dimming rearview mirror, rear-parking assist, fog lamps, heater mirrors and 18-inch alloy wheels.
Cruze Eco ($19,935) is optimized for fuel economy. It's powered by the 1.4-liter turbocharged engine and is nearly 200 pounds lighter than other Cruze models, with aerodynamic aids that make in slipperier through the air and a smaller gas tank, among other minor changes that save weight. Standard features those found on the 1LT plus the Chevrolet MyLink system and lightweight 17-inch alloy wheels with low-rolling-resistance tires.
Cruze Turbo Diesel ($24,985) is powered by a 151-hp 2.0-liter turbocharged clean diesel engine and includes everything on the LS and 1LT models plus leather upholstery, heated front seats, 6- way power driver's seat, remote start, a sport-tuned suspension, 4-wheel disc brakes and 17-inch alloy wheels.
Safety features on all models include stability control, antilock brakes, full-length side curtain airbags, front knee airbags and front and rear side impact airbags. Cruze LS, 1LT and Eco models use a front-disc/rear-drum brake setup. The 2LT, LTZ and diesel models use disc brakes on all four wheels. Also standard is OnStar, which includes automatic crash notification, on-demand roadside assistance, remote door unlocking and stolen vehicle assistance. Blind-spot monitoring and cross-traffic alert are optional for all Cruzes except the LS.
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Although it isn't perfect, the Cruze is one of the best all-around models in the compact-car pack.
The Cruze is available with two four-cylinder engines; the base displaces 1.8 liters, producing 138 horsepower and 125 pound-feet of torque. The upgraded engine is actually smaller, at 1.4 liters, but its turbocharger produces the same amount of horsepower, but with an additional 23 pound-feet of torque.
Cruze's powertrain isn't glaringly weak, but it's not one of the highlights in its portfolio. We found the 1.4-liter turbo engine does an adequate job of propelling the Cruze. It's impressively smooth and reasonably quiet, even when working hard, and at 75 mph hour on the freeway, it's only turning about 2800-2900 rpm in top gear. The power comes on fairly low in the rev range, and then evenly all the way to redline.
Still, the Cruze is slower than most cars in this class. On paper, it accelerates from 0-60 mph in the high 8-second range, which is quick enough for the average driver. Our complaint is more about how hard the engine is working in the process, and how you really need to keep it floored to get this car to go.
Transmission choices include a 6-speed manual or a 6-speed automatic. We found the manual more enjoyable to drive, and it's the most economical choice for those who don't mind (or who even enjoy) rowing through the gears.
The 6-speed automatic is fine for driving at a relaxed, fairly casual pace. Shifts are smooth, but it seems pokey in instances when you need power fast, like when merging or passing. You really have to floor it once you hit the freeway or a patch of mountainous road. Most likely this is a symptom of the Cruze's gearbox being optimized for fuel economy. On top-of-the-line Cruze models equipped with paddle shifters, drivers can eek a bit more out of the transmission by shifting manually, however, we doubt most drivers will use this feature while slogging through their daily commute.
One important way the Cruze surpasses much of its competition is in its tight, ultra-solid body/frame structure, which provides a solid foundation for a lot of good things that make Cruze pleasant to drive.
Interior comfort is one of them. Very little vibration finds its way into the Cruze cabin, and it's one of the quietest compacts we've driven, even with its little, hard-working engine. There is very little wind noise, and not much of the high-pitch mechanical or vibration buzz that can come across as white noise.
The solid body also contributes to excellent ride and handling. Even without a fully independent rear suspension (something that can make cars of this type jittery and prone to bounce in the rear), the Cruze's ride is nearly flawless. It absorbed mid-winter potholes with the aplomb of a luxury sedan, without a lot of bounce-rebound-bounce, or anything close to mushiness or float. In total, this compact leads the pack in ride quality, but it isn't sluggish. Cruze models fitted with the sport suspension have a firmer quality, but are still comfortable.
In wintry weather we found the Cruze more than able, even with its standard all-season tires. Its lithe, balanced quality helps the Cruze on slippery roads, because if the driver is reasonably smooth, there won't be any body swaying that can shift weight, upset traction and make the car harder to manage, as if there were a giant bowling ball rolling around in its shell. Traction control and electronic stability control further help the driver stay safe and planted.
Electric power steering on the Cruze is reasonably well sorted. It requires almost no effort to turn at low speeds, but resistance builds somewhat as speeds increase. The steering is also fairly quick, to the point that a driver might have to correct and re-adjust the car's trajectory through a curve, because the wheel was initially turned too much.
The new Cruze diesel is fitted with a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder and the 6-speed automatic, as well as the same sport suspension found on 1LT models and above. The chassis, steering and brakes feel the same as on other Cruze models. Although it can seem sluggish off the line, there's plenty of pep around town once the turbocharger spools up. With 264 lb.-ft. of torque, the Cruze diesel has considerably more low-end thrust than other Cruze models, yet it doesn't feel overly torquey like some small diesel engines. At idle and at slow speeds, there is a moderate amount of noise and vibration characteristic of a diesel engine, especially when the engine is cold. But on the freeway, the diesel's grumblings are imperceptible.
Fuel economy estimates for the 2014 Chevrolet Cruze diesel are an excellent 27/46 mpg City/Highway, but, like all fuel economy ratings, they will vary depending on drive style. On a 250-mile drive using mostly freeways, with little regard to fuel economy, we ended up with an average of 34.4 mpg. At one point, we achieved a high of 35 mpg, but most of the time, it hovered around the 34 mpg mark. Although that's not anywhere near the estimated 46 mpg highway, that's still above the EPA-estimated combined estimate of 33 mpg. Range was also notable, as we were able to go the first 200 miles on only a quarter of a tank of gas.
Cruze Eco models are fitted with additional aerodynamic enhancements and low-rolling-resistance tires, and are lighter than other Cruze models, which all help to achieve an EPA-estimated 28/42 mpg City/Highway with the manual transmission, and 26/39 mpg with the automatic. The Cruze Eco's outstanding mileage ratings will no doubt appeal to many compact drivers, but Eco's low-rolling-resistance tires will be harder and offer less grip than those on other models, which tends to adversely affect both ride and handling. For those who rack up lots of freeway mileage, the superior range and fuel economy of the diesel engine could be worth the extra investment.
The Chevrolet Cruze is a solid choice among compact sedans. It has plenty of standard features, good fuel economy, and a roomy interior, but falls off a bit in power and performance, and gets expensive at the high end of the model range. The new diesel model is an efficient but pricey alternative for those who rack up lots of freeway miles.
NewCarTestDrive.com senior correspondent Laura Burstein reported from Los Angeles.