(Not mine pictured, identical)
The Chevrolet Cruze is a compact sedan known for it’s.... um, competence? decency? Whatever. It’s a good, if not loin-stirring vehicle. The Eco trim adds a few more mpgs thanks to it’s standard tiny engine, tinier turbo powertrain and tall ratio 6-speed transmission.
(Full Disclosure: GM wanted me to drive one so badly they let a dealership offer one with a CPO warranty. After a modest non refundable deposit they gave me the keys and a weird piece of paper in the mail.)
(A Chevrolet Cruze in it’s natural environment, a used car dealership)
It’s not bad. The blunt, round nose isn’t flattered by Chevrolet’s ubiquitous double stacked grill. The side view is a huge improvement over the previous Cobalt thanks to the flush door frames. (Tip: Never do that again GM and Chrysler, the cost savings are not worth it) However, I can’t help but assume that it would have the profile of the first Mazda3 without the plastic triangle on the C-pillar. The distinctive headlights are the only truly noteworthy exterior feature although since I’ve been spoiled by the HIDs of the Murano the halogen headlights seem dim. The extra lower valence helps improve aerodynamic efficiency at the slight cost of frontal clearance, avoid THAT shopping center entrance. You know the one I’m talking about.
(2013 interior pictured, Mine has a slightly smaller monochromatic (blue) center display)
It’s a good interior. The steering wheel is well sized and the materials are better than the original price would suggest. However I’d personally flip the steering wheel controls so that I could adjust the radio/bluetooth with my left hand as I shift with my right. The cruise control would work well on the right as I’ve never found myself shifting while adjusting my cruise control. There is lots of plastic out of the way, but I can’t bring myself to care about it. As long you’re not licking the door pockets neither will you. The switchgear switches and feels ‘right’ after 50,000 miles. I’m not sure how else to describe the tactile feel of it. Its better than a 2003 Toyota Corolla and worse than a Rolls Royce (I assume, call me BMWUSA) The cloth seats and cloth dashboard panels are a bit different thanks to it’s rough texture and it took some getting used to. If you have sensitive skin you may want to skip the nude driving sessions. The rear seat is a bit cramped but skip the road trip for 5 and let your 6’4" friend ride shotgun and there should be minimal complaints. The interior has no luxury pretensions which is welcome. It’s a straight forward cabin with just a few odd switch placements (power locks are on the center console as opposed to the door and my left hand naturally falls to the rear power window switches rather than the front ones) I’ll discuss the toys in depth later.
Thanks to the 6-speed manual transmission and small quick spooling turbo you can wring a smile or 2 out of the first 3 gears. Torque is available at all legal speeds thanks to being just off boost at ~75mph in 6th gear. Lazy passes and long hills don’t require a downshift using just a hint of foresight. I’m never deluded into thinking I’m in anything but an economy car, but feeling the car climb into the boost is a fun sensation and one worth repeating.
The manual lets you squeeze the lemon, which is the best part of any non performance stickshift. It is a notchy affair with a light vague clutch pedal. but that seems to be par for course these days, specifically the clutch. My wife was determined to learn to drive a manual on this and learned very quickly, so it is apparently a newbie friendly setup. (She has since declared that all new cars must be manual) The 3-4 mpg advantage and ease of use makes the manual the best transmission choice for the Cruze Eco even ignoring my pro-manual bias.
The ABS is a bit obtrusive, especially in the wet. A combination of low grip tires and conservative ABS programming team up for this. Probably rightfully so. Ugh. The front disks/rear drums setup, while offensive to my sensibilities, are adequate and the tiny drums in the rear are lighter than a similar disc setup. Or GM didn’t want to bother re-engineering the optional rear disc brakes on other trim levels onto the lighter rear suspension.
The Cruze’s handling is decent but the fact that it is a FWD commuter on low resistance tires cannot be overcome. The suspension compromises on this car are for lightness...but not the giggly go fast lightness you might be looking for. You likely wont be laughing coming out of a switchback, but you won’t actively avoid them either.
Another case of tires affecting the results I believe. Not too much body roll and well damped dealing with the undulations of the interstate but expansion joints and concrete edges are abnormally obtrusive. Never uncomfortable but definitely noticeable. Dozens of miles of cold concrete could prove annoying.
The radio is.... adequate (A running theme here) and the removal of the sound deadening is hardly noticeable to my untrained ear in regards to wind and road noise. There is a good noise from about 2,000 to 4,000 rpm from the understandably muted exhaust but no vrrroooom woosh noises I always imagined my first turbo car to have. Oh well. You could pick up your date comfortable in the knowledge that they won’t ask if the engine is actually in the back of the car or if something is broken.
Bluetooth, aux in, usb and an extra outlet gives me all the connectivity I need and then some. If I wanted to subscribe there is Onstar(with nav) and Sirius available. Tons of menus to explore although adjusting bass/treble on the fly isn’t very intuitive. The best part is the driver data display which can display you instantaneous and average mileage. Setting the high score adds fun to any commute and saves gas too.
My wife and I average 32 mpg in mixed driving which isn’t as impressive as it was a few years back when gas wasn’t $1.59. Thanks Obama. But oil wont be $32 a barrel forever. The Eco performs its stated goal admirably even if I’m the only one trying to set the high mpg score (sometimes). Generally GM’s compacts are cheaper on the used market and for many years it was easy to see why. The Cruze just turned over 50k miles and I’d have a hard time finding a flaw. No squeaks or annoying rattles, no sloppiness or damaged plastics. The CPO warranty so far has been worthless, which is honestly the best thing to be said about a warranty. Yeah, my experience is anecdotal and all used cars are their own beasts but if you or someone you know is looking for a small car I can’t see how the price difference between the Cruze and similar Corolla or Civic is warranted.
Not bad. Certainly a hatchback or wagon would have garnered a higher score.