Three months ahead of its September launch, Chevrolet has confirmed pricing for its all-new Cruze lineup, which will be available in four trim levels starting at $16,995. While the Cruze opens more than $500 higher than two of its most direct competitors, the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla, this eagerly awaited Chevy also boasts a significantly better set of standard features. Although Ford has yet to release pricing on its upcoming 2012 Focus which goes on sale early next year, it, too, is expected to embrace the same kind of pay-a-bit-more-to-get-a-lot-more philosophy.

Jim Campbell, U.S. vice president of Chevrolet Marketing positioned his division's newest offering by noting: "We believe the Cruze can redefine the expectations for compact-car owners and shoppers who are new to the segment. For the price of a compact car, Cruze offers the styling, safety features, roominess, amenities, and refinement of a much more expensive car."

Four for the road

A quick look at the spec sheet indicates there's a good deal of validity in Campbell's contention. Anchoring the mix, the $16,995 Cruze LS complements its 1.8-liter/138-horsepower Ecotec engine and a six-speed manual transmission with a full array of power assists, air conditioning, keyless remote and trial subscriptions to OnStar and XM plus StabiliTrak with rollover sensing, traction control, anti-lock brakes and a class-leading 10 airbags. Moving up to the $18,895 Cruze LT spec brings a 1.4-liter turbocharged Ecotec four that also makes 138 ponies but 200 lb.-ft. of torque -- 77 more of those critical twist units than the naturally-aspirated 1.8L -- backed by a six-speed autoshifter along with 16-inch wheels.

For fuel-sipper fans, Cruze Eco shares its base price with the LT but pairs its 1.4-liter turbo with a ratio-specific six-speed manual and gains 17-inch alloy wheels wrapped in special low-rolling-resistance tires plus aero-enhancing bodywork mods to help it net an expected class-leading 40-mpg EPA freeway number. At the top of the hierarchy, the $22,695 Cruze LTZ will build on the LT package with enhancements like leather upholstery, power driver's seat, auto climate control, ultrasonic rear park assist, remote start, steering wheel mounted audio controls, Bluetooth connectivity and a USB port. The options list, while modest, does include a navigation system with 40-gig hard drive, 250-watt Pioneer premium audio package and a sporty RS Appearance package that brings unique front/rear fascias and rocker moldings, foglamps and a rear spoiler.

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