2016 Chevy Cruze: Big Leaps in Power, Appeal

By Frank A. Aukofer, May 14th, 2016

With the 2016 Cruze, Chevrolet finishes another fast lap toward winning converts who might never have considered the brand.

Manufacturer photo: A new 1.4-liter turbocharged engine with direct injection and 153 horsepower helps enable an estimated 40 mpg on the highway with the available six-speed automatic transmission
Manufacturer photo: A new 1.4-liter turbocharged engine with direct injection and 153 horsepower helps enable an estimated 40 mpg on the highway with the available six-speed automatic transmission

In modern times, the linchpin brand of General Motors has presented two faces, not unlike the famed theater mask that shows comedy and tragedy. Chevrolet has delighted fans with exciting cars like the Corvette and Camaro, but disappointed others with mundane machines like the Nova, Cobalt, Cavalier, and even some versions of the Impala and Malibu.

That changed with the arrival of the 2016 Malibu, which surprised critics and now is respected as a more-than-credible competitor to the likes of the Mazda6, Honda Accord, and Toyota Camry. Then Consumer Reports crowned the Impala as its Top Pick in the large car category.

Now comes the 2016 Cruze. It could alter the pecking order among compact cars, which continue to be popular even as midsize machines falter in the face of an onslaught of teeny and compact crossover sport utility vehicles.

It's not that the new Cruze needs to climb a mountain. The existing car, introduced in 2010, has been an important cog in the Chevy gearbox. Its 226,602 sales in 2015 placed it third behind the Corolla and Civic. But that's not a laurel to rest on, so Chevrolet presents the substantially refreshed 2016 model.

Manufacturer photo: A new 1.4-liter turbocharged engine with direct injection and 153 horsepower helps enable an estimated 40 mpg on the highway with the available six-speed automatic transmission

It's been restyled, is a bit bigger, lighter, and sports a new turbocharged engine. With 1.4 liters of displacement, it delivers 153 horsepower and 177 lb.-ft. of torque -- enough, Chevy says, to propel the Cruze to 60 mph in 7.7 seconds.

More important to buyers in this category, several Cruze models -- the LS and LT with the six-speed automatic transmission -- come with outstanding city/highway/combined fuel consumption ratings: 30/42/35 mpg. Even the loaded top-line version, the Premier RS, manages 30/40/34 mpg.

Contributing to the fuel economy is an engine stop/start system that is standard on every Cruze. Unfortunately, it cannot be turned off. Some drivers get annoyed when engines shut down at every stoplight and re-start with a shudder. However, the Chevrolet engineers have minimized the irritation. This system re-starts with little commotion and, if power is needed, say, to keep the air conditioning going, the engine continues to run.

An added attraction lurks under the hood. Every Cruze model carries the same powerplant. So buyers get the identical turbo 1.4L on an entry LS model that is standard on the Premier RS. They all share the six-speed automatic transmission, though a six-speed manual is available.

Chevrolet folks brag that the Cruze is the most connected car in its class. Every model comes with Chevy's MyLink audio system with a color touchscreen, Bluetooth streaming, and Apple CarPlay and Android capability to connect with smartphones.

Manufacturer photo: A new 1.4-liter turbocharged engine with direct injection and 153 horsepower helps enable an estimated 40 mpg on the highway with the available six-speed automatic transmission

The Cruze also comes with a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot and the General Motors OnStar system, which require payment of fees. But it all is available on a base LS version with a $19,120 price tag. That car also comes with full safety equipment, including a rear-vision camera and tire pressure monitoring, and air conditioning, as well as power windows, outside mirrors, and locks. However, there's no cruise control and the wheels are steel with plastic covers.

Though the Premier RS model carries a $29,035 price tag, the focus here is on the mid-level LT, which starts at $21,995. With options, the test car topped out at $24,610. It had cruise control, 16-inch alloy wheels, motorized sunroof, power driver's seat, pushbutton and remote starting, heated front seats, SXM radio, heated outside mirrors, and heated front seats.

The last is an added bonus to its comfortable cloth upholstery. Front seats are supportive with lateral bolstering for long-distance comfort. Outboard back seat passengers do not fare as well, though there's plenty of head- and knee room for 6-footers. As in most cars, the center-rear passenger is disrespected by a high perch, a floor hump, and the intrusion of the center console.

On the road, the Cruze is commendably hushed. The engineers borrowed some of the sound deadening technology from Buick's tomb-like Verano. Passengers can cruise serenely without cranking up the audio because there's little intrusion of wind, mechanical, or road noise.

Some minor turbo lag occurs when you punch the pedal to get moving quickly, but the engine offers plenty of passing power. The engineers also have massaged the suspension system to deliver a satisfying compromise between capable handling and a decent ride.

Manufacturer photo: A new 1.4-liter turbocharged engine with direct injection and 153 horsepower helps enable an estimated 40 mpg on the highway with the available six-speed automatic transmission

Later, the Cruze will again offer a stingier diesel engine and, in 2017, a nifty new hatchback to expand the model line even further.

Specifications

Base price $21,995 (as tested: $24,640)
Curb weight 2,932 lbs.
Displacement 1.4-liter
Engine type 16-valve turbo 4-cylinder w/DI
Epa mileage rating 30 mpg city, 42 mpg highway
Fuel capacity 13.7 gal.
Horsepower (net) 153 at 5600 rpm
Overall length 183.7 in.
Torque (lb.-ft.) 177 at 2000 rpm
Transmission 6-speed automatic
Vehicle type 5-passenger FWD compact sedan
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