2016 Chevrolet Cruze First Drive
When the Cruze debuted in the U.S. in 2011, Chevrolet finally found a formula that worked for a compact sedan. Long the domain of bestselling rivals like the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla and Nissan Sentra, that first-gen Cruze would prove that an American automaker could build with the best of them, and its own sales success would affirm that. Since its global debut in 2008, the Cruze has sold 3.5 million models.
Flash forward to today and the Cruze is all new and in its second generation. Can Chevy's latest version of its compact sedan build on its success? After our first blush, we say yes. For the all-new 2016 Cruze, Chevrolet has continued to refine the formula that worked so well for the first generation. Primarily, all the things that one did right have been strengthened.
The Cruze's secret is this trifecta
Chevy's compact sedan has three main strengths: It's quiet, comfortable, and connected. We could throw in a fourth and applaud its conservative yet handsome design.
The Cruze has always felt like a more mature choice among compact cars. Where others tout zippy handling and evocative design, this Chevy was always at its best as a quiet, comfortable cruiser. The latest version is even better. All 2016 Cruze models come with an all-new 1.4-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that replaces not only the prior 1.4 turbo, but also the 1.8-liter naturally aspirated engine found on base models of the outgoing Cruze.
With 153 horsepower and 177 lb-ft of torque, the Cruze sits midpack in its muscle. It's enough to scoot this small sedan along just fine, with decent acceleration that Chevy pegs at 7.7 seconds for 0-60 mph. Power is sent to the front wheels via a 6-speed manual transmission or optional 6-speed automatic, which is what most buyers will choose and we found plenty capable during a day of test drives around Nashville.
For better efficiency, automatic models are equipped with an idle start-stop system that cuts power when the car comes to a stop. Unfortunately it isn't defeatable, but fortunately it's not as intrusive as that of other cars with larger engines. Speaking of fuel economy, all Cruze models are near the top of the class, boasting up to 42 mpg on the highway. Even at the "lowest," the Cruze attains a 40 mpg highway rating, while city mileage is 29 mpg for manual models and 30 mpg for automatic versions.
While Chevy extols the new Cruze as lighter, nimbler and more athletic, its real strength lies in comfortable cruising. It's still not as athletic or lithe as a Mazda3 or even the new Honda Civic, for that matter. But if I had to choose one for a cross country road trip, I'd grab the keys to the Cruze.
In addition to its soft and quiet ride, the Cruze's cabin should be commended for its comfort and connectivity. In addition to joining the growing list of cars that are Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatible, the Cruze offers 4G LTE wireless connectivity. In fact, LT and Premier models come with 24 months of the in-car Wi-Fi service good for 24 gigs of data, plus 24 months of satellite radio, OnStar guidance and routine maintenance. That's a significant deal considering LT models start under $21,000.
Audio and climate controls are well-situated and easy to use, and even a base Cruze comes with a 7-inch touchscreen. The driver seats in both the Premier and LT models we tested were comfortable but would benefit from adjustable lumbar support.
More variants on the way
For the 2016 model year, the Cruze is only available as a sedan (and the all-new 2016 Cruze should not be confused with the 2016 Cruze Limited, a carryover model whose production ended a few months ago). But two exciting things are in store for the 2017 Chevrolet Cruze: a hatchback and a diesel variant.
We've already written about and posted video of the 2017 Cruze Hatchback, a svelte 5-door that will take on similar versions of the Mazda3, Subaru Impreza, Ford Focus and reborn Honda Civic hatchback. Details about the diesel are less known, but we applaud Chevy's commitment to such a high-mileage/high-torque variant in light of VW's recent diesel woes. Stay tuned for more on those Cruze variants as they get closer to launch.
For now, the 2016 Cruze sedan is already on dealer lots. Prices range from around $17,500 -- which undercuts rivals like the Civic and even the Hyundai Elanra -- to over $29,000 for a loaded model.