Payne: First drive of 2nd-generation Chevy Cruze
Chevrolet’s headliners are the chiseled Camaro, athletic Corvette and elegant Impala. But most customers’ first date will be with the brand’s more affordable, compact Cruze sedan.
So the celebrities are sharing their wardrobe with junior.
With sculpted lines and wrap-around eyewear handed down from its cool red-carpet siblings, the all-new, 2016 Chevrolet Cruze is no longer the vanilla cone of the compact segment. That means more buyers will actually get inside the Cruze — and that’s where the second-generation sedan really excels. With class-leading connectivity, cabin quiet and improved rear legroom, Cruze lays claim to the best interior in its class.
The result is a car that, unlike Generation One, charms with a distinct personality on one of the auto kingdom’s most competitive dance floors. Despite early success in winning new customers to the Chevy brand, Cruze sales sagged to fourth in the segment in 2015.
Introduced to much fanfare last June, member of the new media put the Chevy (base price: $17,495) through the wringer at GM’s Milford test track for the first time on Thursday, just as Cruzes start heading to dealer showrooms. Shoppers will discover a strikingly different car inside and out — from the Impala-like face and swept greenhouse, to the Camaro-like instrument display.
“The Chevrolet family needs consistency,” says Global Vehicle Chief Engineer Martin Hayes. “There’s commonality in Cruze and Impala and Malibu in the lines. And in the interior, there’s a Camaro look around the steering wheel and the pod around the gauge cluster.”
The design makes for one of the most dramatic profiles since the 2011 Hyundai Elantra — a standard the 2017 Elantra abandoned as it adopted the more conservative styling of its Hyundai family. Over a Milford test course of demanding sweepers and uneven, potholed pavement — your typical Michigan commute, actually — a $23,145 Cruze LT (the expected volume model) proved more poised than its predecessor, thanks to electronic steering shared with Camaro and Corvette and a lighter (250 pounds) chassis and refined suspension.
“We benchmarked this Cruze to the last generation. We’ve taken the car to a different level in all aspects,” says Al Manzor, North America chief engineer for GM small vehicles.
Mission accomplished, though against a 2016 Civic with an independent rear suspension benchmarked against the sensational Audi A3, the solid-rear axle Cruze comes up short. But if the Cruze cedes at-the-limit athleticism to the Honda (and the all-wheel-drive market to Subaru Impreza, the only so-equipped compact entry), its interior takes a back seat to no one.
Form follows function — with passengers connected to the outside, world engineers spared no detail in furnishing a quiet, plush cabin: laminated front glass, soft materials, extensive sound deadening, and a silky, torquey, 153-horsepower 1.4-liter turbo engine married to a six-speed automatic (no buzzy CVTs here).
“With 4G LTE Wi-Fi, OnStar, Apple Carplay, Android Auto and Bluetooth technology available in all our vehicles, it’s really important to have a quiet car so you can really use it,” says Manzor.
The powertrain matches the retail sales-leading Civic for best in class fuel economy: 35 mpg combined. An extended wheelbase for a roomier cabin also equals class-best Civic and Toyota Corolla — though to match the Honda’s airy headroom, Cruze buyers may want to wait for the five-door hatchback. It arrives this fall.
Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or Twitter: @HenryEPayne
2016 Chevy Cruze
Vehicle type: Front-engine, front-wheel drive, five-passenger sedan
Price: $17,495 base ($24,640 LT as tested)
Powerplant: 1.4-liter, turbocharged inline-4 cylinder
Power: 153 horsepower, 177 pound-feet of torque
Transmission: 6-speed manual; 6-speed automatic
Performance: 0-60 mph, 7.7 seconds (manufacturer)
Weight: 2,935 pounds
Fuel economy: EPA 30 mpg city / 42 mpg highway / 35 combined (automatic)
Highs: Comfy, connected interior; Vanilla no more
Lows: Pinched rear headroom; More sports model options, please
Excellent ★★★★ Good ★★★ Fair ★★ Poor ★