2016 Chevrolet Cruze gets new looks, 40 mpg hwy

Melissa Burden
The Detroit News

The 2016 Chevrolet Cruze that debuted Wednesday is larger and lighter than the previous-generation car. The General Motors Co. compact will get 40 miles per gallon on the highway. It goes on sale early next year.

Cruze has been a powerful player for Chevrolet, its top seller worldwide with more than 3.5 million sold in 115 countries since it debuted in 2008 in global markets. Those sales include 1 million in the United States since it hit showrooms in 2011.

The Cruze replaced the lackluster Chevrolet Cobalt. The Cruze helped GM grow its retail share in the compact segment to 9.4 percent last year; GM had only 5.8 percent of the compact market in 2010 with the Cobalt.

GM North America President Alan Batey said the Cruze and other entrants have helped Chevy attract younger buyers; 34 percent are under 35. And 35 percent are new to Chevy.

GM CEO Mary Barra, who revealed the car at the Fillmore in Detroit, said the car will be more profitable than the current version.

"It's a beautiful vehicle," she told reporters. "It's one of the most important we have in the Chevrolet portfolio."

Cruze, third in sales in the compact segment behind Toyota's Corolla and Honda's Civic, sold 105,291 through May, down 11.8 percent from the previous year. The compact segment has shrunk this year amid lower gasoline prices, with many buyers opting for crossovers and pickups.

Batey said the segment is competitive (a new Civic with more variants is expected to start rolling out later this year), but he predicts the 2016 Cruze will build on the success of the first generation and take market share from the Japanese.

"We've got to grow on the West Coast. ... But to do that, that's where the Japanese are deep. But how do you do that?" Batey said. "No. 1, you get the product right that you don't have to explain. No. 2., you get the network."

Some analysts such as Akshay Anand of Kelley Blue Book said the Cruze's updated styling and features will help propel sales closer to Honda Civic levels.

"The car looks a lot better," he said. "Ever since Impala, we've really seen Chevrolet styling has gone up in a much more modern and elegant direction. You see that in Impala, Malibu, the new Volt and now Cruze."

John Cafaro, executive director of Chevrolet Global Design, said the Cruze is sportier and bold. Mark Reuss, head of global product development, called it "expressive." It looks more like the Impala, Malibu and Volt, while borrowing cues from the Camaro and Corvette. The rear gets a standard integral spoiler.

The car is 2.7 inches longer and 250 pounds lighter with a new architecture. It has two more inches of rear legroom and offers heated rear leather seats and a heated steering wheel. There is more storage.

"We lengthened the wheelbase substantially to get more rear-seat entry room. It's a very roomy car," Cafaro said.

The Cruze gets a new 1.4-liter Ecotec four-cylinder turbocharged engine for all trim levels. It generates an estimated 153 horsepower and 177 foot-pounds of torque. GM says it will get 40 miles per gallon on the highway with a new six-speed auto transmission; that's up 5 mpg from the base engine with auto transmission today. The 2016 Cruze comes standard with a manual transmission, but fuel economy estimates for that configuration are unavailable.

The engine replaces a base 1.8-liter four-cylinder (a 1.4-liter turbo also was available). GM will end production of a more expensive Eco Cruze model that got 42 mpg highway.

GM says the new car trims more than a second off 0-60 mph acceleration.

All automatics will come standard with gas-saving stop/start technology that shuts the engine down at stoplights.

A 1.6-liter turbodiesel will be available in 2017. Ron Arnesen, global chief engineer for Cruze, said the diesel reconfirms Chevy's commitment to diesels in North America. Chevy introduced a 46 highway mpg diesel version of the Cruze for 2014 in the U.S.

"It's going to be the best diesel out there from a feasibility standpoint, from an overall refinement standpoint and from a fuel economy standpoint," Arnesen said, adding Chevy will go after the German makes.

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto tie smartphones to the infotainment screen. OnStar 4G LTE Wi-Fi is standard, as are a rearview camera and 10 air bags. Advanced safety features such as lane-keep assist will be offered.

The 2016 Cruze will be available in L, LS, LT and Premier trim levels and a sportier RS package. Pricing has not been announced, but the current car starts at about $17,000 for a base L model with manual transmission. A 2015 LTZ Cruze automatic lists at about $25,000.

It will be built at GM's Lordstown Assembly Plant in Ohio.