Test Drive: Cruze — stylish, good mileage, but a tight fit

 

Test driver Steve Macoy takes the wheel of a Chevrolet Cruze.

Test driver Steve Macoy takes the wheel of a Chevrolet Cruze.

For quite a few years, Chevrolet’s entries in the compact-sedan sweepstakes really weren’t competitive with the best of the American and Japanese competitors. The arrival of the Cruze in 2009 brought Chevrolet back into a game it once dominated.

For 2016, the Cruze underwent a design that made the compact four-door lighter and shapelier. The Cruze Limited, identical to the 2015 model, starts at $16,620, while the redesigned version has a base price of about $20,000.

For younger drivers, the Cruze’s strongest selling point may be its technology. All versions come with Chevrolet’s improved MyLink telematics, accessed via a 7-inch or 8-inch touch-screen.

Our top-of-the-line Kinetic Blue Metallic Cruze Premier had a base price of $23,120 and sticker price of $27,250. Among its standard infotainment features were XM satellite radio, 4-gigabyte wifi hotspot and OnStar, as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Despite these capabilities, the array of buttons and switches is impressively simple.

Powering the Cruze is a 1.4-liter turbocharged inline Four that generates 153 horsepower. It’s the only available engine. Consumers have a choice between a 6-speed stick shift in the Cruze L, LS and LT, while a 6-speed shiftable automatic is optional. That unit is standard in the Premier version.

Compared with other compacts we’ve driven lately, the Cruze has a roomier back seat and smoother ride. Its handling and performance, while competitive, do not stand out from the crowd.

Where the Cruze does stand out, at least in Premier trim, is interior style and quality. With leather upholstery, two-tone dash material, heated front seats, heated steering wheel and power driver’s seat, it provided near-luxury accommodations. The Sun & Sound With Navigation package ($1,995) added a power sunroof, the larger touch-screen, automatic climate control, heated rear seats and a navigation system.

The Cruze Premier is rated at an impressive 30 mpg city, 40 highway. We got far enough into the high 30s to conclude a careful driver could get 40 or more mpg in straight highway driving.

Dimming the Cruze’s good qualities is a singular black mark. Our 6-foot driver just couldn’t get comfortable. With the seat positioned to accommodate his legs, the steering wheel was too far away, even when full extended in tilt-telescopic mode. Moving forward alleviated this problem but placed the driver’s feet uncomfortably far forward – and to make matters worse, this arrangement made it more difficult to switch from the accelerator to the high-mounted brake pedal.

On the plus side, the automatic stop/start system, which shuts down the engine during stops to reduce fuel consumption, worked at least as well as similar systems in high-end cars we’ve tested. But not every driver likes this feature, and the downside is it can’t be turned off.

Crash-test data aren’t available on this redesigned model. Past Cruzes earned the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s top “Good” rating in every category except small-overlap-front crash protection (“Marginal”).

 

Steven Macoy (semacoy@gmail.com) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.

2016 Chevrolet Cruze Premier

Price: $27,250

Engine: 1.4-liter turbocharged inline Four, 153 horsepower, 177 lb.-ft. torque

Transmission: 6-speed shiftable automatic

Drive: Front-wheel

Weight: 2,932 lb.

Suspension: MacPherson strut front, torsion beam rear

Wheels: 17-in. alloy

Tires: 225/45R17 all-season

Seating capacity: 5

Luggage capacity: 13.9 cu. ft.

Fuel capacity: 13.7 gal.

Fuel economy: 30 mpg city, 40 mpg highway

Fuel type: Regular unleaded gasoline

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