The Chevrolet Cruze is an excellent choice among compact sedans. It's the best small car GM has offered in North America in decades. More important, it's among the best cars in its class.
Fuel economy is improved for 2012, and the list of standard equipment has grown longer, especially in the mid-range LT level. Otherwise, the 2012 Chevrolet Cruze is unchanged from 2011.
Launched as a 2011 model, the Cruze replaced the sturdy but boring Cobalt, and represented a great leap forward in technology, features and appeal. The Cruze was developed jointly by GM tech centers in Asia, Europe and the United States to battle compact competitors such as the Hyundai Elantra and Kia Forte, the best Volkswagen Jetta in years, and perennial leaders like the Honda Civic, Mazda 3, and Toyota Corolla. The Cruze holds its own with all of them, and surpasses many in key areas.
Cruze is conservatively styled, to be sure, but in our opinion it's a well designed, handsome car. Its interior is one of the roomiest in its class, with acceptable space for four adults, and it's also one of the nicest. By the quality of materials, fit or function, it surpasses nearly all its competitors. Its trunk is also one of the largest in a compact sedan.
The 2012 Cruze is offered with a choice of two adequately powered engines: a 1.8-liter four-cylinder and 1.4-liter four-cylinder with a turbocharger. As with most cars in this class, the Cruze is front-wheel drive. Both the manual and automatic are 6-speed-transmissions, which is rare in this class. The automatic offers some high-tech features that help conserve fuel.
Fuel economy for the 2012 Chevrolet Cruze is an EPA-rated 26/38 mpg City/Highway with the 1.4-liter engine with manual or automatic transmission. With the 1.8-liter engine the government rates it 25/36 mpg with the manual, 22/35 mpg with the automatic. The 2012 Chevrolet Cruze Eco rates 28/42 mpg with the manual, 26/39 mpg with the automatic.
The Chevrolet Cruze might be the smoothest, quietest compact offered in the United States. Ride quality is outstanding, yet the car is nimble, balanced and handles exceptionally well. Its steering is powered by electricity to save fuel. Underway, the steering feels sharp, with decent feel.
The Cruze comes standard with a long list of safety features, including advanced electronic stability control, anti-lock brakes, and a full complement of 10 airbags. There are knee-protection airbags for front passengers, side-impact airbags for rear passengers, and head-protection curtains with rollover deployment. Every Cruze comes with GM's OnStar telematics system, including a six-month subscription for automatic accident response and other services, a great safety feature.
Among the 2012 Cruze models, the Cruze Eco delivers the best fuel economy. Its aerodynamic features, including grille vanes that close at highway speeds, help it slip through the air more easily, and it weighs more than 200 pounds less than other models. To achieve its superb fuel economy, however, the Cruze Eco sacrifices performance, resulting in slower acceleration, longer stopping distances, and poorer handling than the other Cruze models.
The Cruze LTZ comes swathed in leather and loaded with technology. The Cruze LTZ is available with a full-feature navigation system, rear park assist, concierge services, premium Pioneer audio and remote starting. A loaded LTZ will crack the $26,000 barrier, however, at which point the Cruze makes less sense for many buyers, unless they seek a smaller, fuel-efficient car loaded with the latest features. For that kind of money, the alternatives include larger, very nicely equipped midsize sedans such as the Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata or Nissan Altima. We think the midrange Cruze LT hits the sweet spot in this class.
In short, the Cruze deserves to be on the list for anyone shopping for a fuel-efficient economy car.