After decades of showing apathy, General Motors has a seriously good compact sedan with the 2016 Chevrolet Cruze.
While it isn’t revolutionary in any way, there’s shockingly little wrong with the new Cruze, and that’s a good thing. Because GM’s small cars have typically come with some serious catch that could only be solved by massive rebates, a practice that moved millions of Cavaliers and Chevettes and Sunfires and Cobalts and so on and so forth.
The last Cruze was a solid effort, even if it didn’t exactly threaten the class leaders with the way it drove or with efficiency or price. But who knew it would preview this latest version that should be mentioned in the same breath as sedans from Honda and Mazda and others?
Compact sedans keep getting more grown up, but not all of them act as mature as they look. The main selling point of the Cruze emerges with the way it drives.The Cruze is now right up there with the Civic and Mazda 3 for that level of accomplished manners that’s so surprising. Most of the credit goes to the slick 1.4-liter turbo four and six-speed automatic. Despite economy minded gearing and a start-stop system, it’s hardly ever caught off-guard when your right foot summons it. And the low-end torque will surprise anyone who just got out of a Hyundai Elantra, for example.
Like the Hyundai, the ride with the 17-inch wheels feels soft rather than floaty, or as stern as it is in the Civic. It gives off the impression the Cruze is a bigger car than it is – and, suddenly, there’s less of a case for its bigger brother, the Malibu.
Steering could be sharper and the whole car feels less solid than before, but that’s a trade-off from the nearly 300 pounds it shed in the redesign, which is part of the reason why a 40 mpg highway run was easily doable. Even 30 around town was pretty common. And this is about $8,000 less expensive than the last Toyota Prius I drove.
It’s drivers who’ve been in Import Land for decades who will inevitably be the most impressed by the Cruze. No, it isn’t the leader in sportiness, but it hits dead-on the mark between comfort and enthusiasm. Mazda 3 drivers will appreciate the quiet. Toyota Corolla drivers will like the vastly improved connection between the steering wheels and front tires. Nissan Sentra drivers will wonder why the Cruze uses a transmission instead of a grumbling teenager to get the power to the wheels. There’s something in the Cruze for every compact sedan buyer.
Top Cruzes go for around $28,000, which is roughly what loaded Civics and Elantras cost and still less that what you can end up with for a Focus Titanium (although discounts apply there, too). I’d be tempted to step down to an LT to get a manual for around $22,000, but losing access to leather and nice wheels makes me wonder how good the Cruze is with a stick.
If GM does this right, they stand to gain a lot from the Cruze. Because where the Civic is polarizing and the Elantra is anything but, the Cruze strikes a neat balance between the two. Throw in a good engine with great efficiency and pretty spot-on pricing, and the biggest thing you’ll have to explain is that it isn’t a new Malibu.
Photos: Zac Estrada/Carscoops