Just a few years ago, there wouldn't have been much point in comparing a small Chevy to the Honda Civic. The outcome would've been too obvious. While the popular American brand excelled in many areas, it didn't seem too interested in building sophisticated compacts.
Fast forward to today and the Chevrolet Cruze is fully competitive with the best of the imports. But is it good enough to top the legendary Civic?
Where the Cruze Scores
Although the Cruze isn't big enough to qualify as a family car, its quality and features are right up there with larger sedans, as is the generous trunk. Buyers also get competent handling coupled with a pleasant ride. The sport-tuned suspension on the upper trims is on the firm side, but the impact on riding comfort is minimal.
The base Cruze runs with a 1.8-liter four-cylinder with 138 horsepower, but most versions carry a 1.4-liter turbo that delivers more torque and slightly better fuel economy. Eco versions of the Cruze are good for 42 mpg on the highway. There's also a new 2-liter turbo-diesel that generates 151 horsepower and reaches 46 mpg.
Where the Civic Scores
The current Civic debuted in 2012 and received a significant refresh the very next year, so you can expect the latest engineering from Honda. You also get a heavy load of standard features, like a rearview camera, Bluetooth connectivity, and a data-rich color information display. Interior refinement ranks near the top of the compact class.
The Civic continues to offer nimble handling, multiple trim levels, and a deep engine roster. Power plants range from 110 to 201 horsepower and include hybrid and natural gas choices. At 44 mpg, the hybrid is the mileage champ of the lineup.
The Bottom Line
The Cruze offers an admirable combination of performance and efficiency along with ample room for couples and young families. With fine overall polish and abundant features, the Civic shows no intention of relinquishing its sales crowd.
Our Verdict: Chevrolet Cruze
Practical but spirited, the Cruze represents the whole package of small-car virtues.