After months of cutthroat campaigning, another presidential primary season is at last in the rear-view mirror.
Engine: 1.4-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder
Power: 153 hp, 177 lb-ft of torque
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
EPA Fuel Economy (MPG): 30 city, 42 highway, 35 combined
CAN Fuel Economy (L/100 km): 7.8 city, 5.6 highway, 6.8 combined
US Price: Starts at $16,120, $24,640 as-tested including $875 in destination charges
CAN Price: Starts at $15,995, tops out at $23,895
Each of America’s two major political parties have finally rallied behind a front-runner, well, for the most part. Still, on election day, we’re stuck with one candidate who’s a giant middle finger to large segments of the population and Donald Trump.
Vitriol, bad behavior and scandal are the major themes of this election cycle (aren’t they always?). I’m too numb to remember, but what I do know is that things are just as contentious in the automotive world, though regrettably in this business, campaign season never ends; it’s just an ever-evolving real-time strategy game with no winner except consumers, who have a constantly improving crop of options from which to choose.
Sallying forth into the heart of America’s compact-car segment is the all-new 2016 Chevrolet Cruze. This unexpectedly reserved offering is set to battle popular options like the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla and Ford Focus, bringing a multitude of wholesome attributes to the fray.
It seems like GM’s product planners have aggressively played to the segment’s base by designing a car with loads of interior space, a roomy trunk, refined interior and seriously little excitement. The Cruze plays it safe in a segment that’s often dominated by stuffy traditionalism.
But just because it isn’t the most exciting compact model on the market doesn’t mean it totally lacks any upsides. This Chevy offers a gigantic trunk measuring up to 14.8 cubic feet. The frosting on this cake of convenience is that said volume is easily accessed through a large opening with a low lift-over height.
The Cruze’s aft accommodations are unexpectedly spacious in all three dimensions, though a touch more headroom would be appreciated. Another boast-worthy feature, its rear backrests fold nearly flat for even more storage space.
Unfortunately, the Cruze’s front buckets are a little too much like a dirt road, being both hard-packed and flat. Having flown long-haul in economy class more times than I care to admit, they’re hardly the least ergonomic chairs I’ve ever sat in, but a little more squishiness and sculpting would go a long way in improving this car’s comfort.
The 2016 Cruze is larger yet simultaneously lighter than its predecessor; it’s also more efficient to boot. Sounds like progress to us!
Enabling all of this, the car has gone on a massive diet, losing up to 250 pounds with this redesign, which is, frankly, astounding for a compact car because there just isn’t that much there to begin with.
Overall, the new Cruze is sold in more than 75 countries around the world, proving that GM thinks it’s good enough to compete on the global stage, and, for the most part, it is.
Tucked beneath its short hood is a muscular little motor that pulls like a much larger engine. Displacing a scant 1.4-lites, this turbocharged dynamo is the only one available, but it’s all you really need. It puts out a class-competitive 153 horsepower along with 177 pound-feet of torque.
Two gearboxes are offered in the new Cruze, each with six gears. Our tester was graced with the automatic, but a manual is also on the menu. This self-shifter keeps the EcoTec four-banger in the meaty portion of its powerband and helps deliver impressive fuel economy. According to its window sticker, our Cruze tester is rated at 30 miles per gallon in urban driving and an impressive 42 on the highway. In mixed motoring, you can expect to average 35 mpg.
However, I managed to beat that combined score without even trying. During my week in this compact Chevy, I was able to extract 37 miles out of each gallon of fuel, without any hypermiling trickery.
Helping minimize consumption is standard stop/start, which nixes internal combustion when sitting in traffic or waiting at a red light. Unlike some other systems, this humble Cruze’s is about as seamless as you could ever expect; it’s exceptionally smooth, especially for a four-cylinder engine.
Inside, this car’s cockpit is a mostly pleasant place. It’s constructed almost exclusively of hard plastic, which is not an issue in this case because it’s handsomely textured. Think of it as ground round that tastes like sirloin steak. Fabric trim on the dashboard also adds a touch of class.
This upmarket theme continues elsewhere. Our test car was equipped with Chevy’s optional MyLink infotainment system, which comes with an eight-inch screen mounted front and center on the dashboard. Bluetooth is included for hands-free calling, as is a nine-speaker Bose sound system and a reconfigurable color display nestled in the instrument cluster. Both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are available for convenient connectivity.
From intuitive technology to a spacious back seat, the Cruze’s interior is likeable in all the right ways, though it’s not perfect. The headliner looks like it’s made out of recycled lint scavenged from a dry cleaner’s dumpster; it’s seriously low rent. Similarly, the turn-signal and windshield-wiper stalks do not feel long for this world, like their inner workings will disintegrate after a month or two of ownership.
A Spotty Record
The previous generation Cruze wasn’t much fun to drive and Chevy’s 2016 offering is pretty uninvolving as well. For starters, its steering feels way too light. The ratio is fairly quick, which is appreciated, but there’s no heft to it, something that makes the car seem unsettled.
As for its chassis, there’s not much to say. This car is quiet and comfortable, again, overly conservative. In short, you’ll never want to take the long way home while driving a Cruze the way you might in a Focus or Mazda3.
The highlight of its entire driving experience is the engine. It’s torquey, pulling with unexpected authority until about 5,000 rpm, where its enthusiasm tapers off until the transmission grabs the next gear. This 1.4-liter turbo is also very well isolated, with commendable smoothness and little harshness, though the transmission could be smoother. During my testing, there were times when it felt a little clunky.
According to Chevy, the new Cruze should be able to sprint from zero to 60 mph in a fleet 7.7 seconds, so no complaints there.
Balancing the Budget
Minimizing wasteful expenditures, the new Cruze kicks off at around $17,500, including $875 in destination charges to get the car out of Lordstown, Ohio where it’s built, which is curiously the state where eight presidents were born, more than any other. #FunFact
The midrange LT automatic model I evaluated checked out at a totally reasonable $24,640, a price that’s sure to help balance household budgets. Extras that inflated said figure were the $1,495 Sun and Sound Package as well as the Convenience Package, which cost $1,150 and added an eight-way power driver’s seat, remote start and more.
The Verdict: 2016 Chevrolet Cruze Review
Like a career politician, the 2016 Chevy Cruze is altogether competent, though rather unlovable. Seemingly, this car’s greatest attribute is its ability to not offend. If you’re in the market for a compact sedan, should you buy one? Well, if comfort, space and stellar efficiency matter, then you don’t need the Supreme Court to make a decision on this case. However, if style and driving dynamics are top priorities, then vote with your checkbook for another compact candidate.
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