2016 Chevrolet Cruze: Good things come in compact packages

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The 2016 Cruze has some very unexpected extras, including what may be the quietest ride in the segment and some dynamic, if not sporty handling characteristics(Credit: Aaron Turpen / Gizmag)

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As a follow-on to our quick in-and-out day-long experience with the 2016 Chevrolet Cruze in Nashville, Tennessee in April, we recently spent a week with the vehicle in its Premier trim level. We loved the car when we drove it in Nashville and found the extra time didn't tarnish our original impressions of it.

The compact car segment is a tough sell nowadays with premium-level cars seeming to be the norm. Expectations a few years ago were that a low-cost compact would have a low-rent build and a low-end experience for the driver. Today, compacts are more sophisticated than many premium-level and perhaps luxury cars were a decade ago.

Recently, we've noted the sophisticated interiors of compacts like the Hyundai Elantra and the economy-minded Kia Optima. The 2016 Cruze takes this in stride and adds some very unexpected extras, such as what may be the quietest ride in the segment and some dynamic, if not sporty handling characteristics.

The most notable aspect of the new Cruze, though, is the exterior styling. This is a much more appealing and sharp-looking car. The body lines are much bolder than they've been in previous-generations, with the upward-cut lower edge complementing a strong, continuous line across the doors and rear quarter to create the beltline.

Up front, powerful curves create well-defined fenders and a solid fender-top edge travels into the front pillar for the beginnings of a strong Euro-sedan roofline. A sharp nose, sporty fascia, and strong foglamp cutouts below narrow headlamps finish the 2016 Chevrolet Cruze's great look.

Inside, as mentioned, this trend continues with a lifted dashboard to begin the stylish upgrades seen here. Good materials quality is found throughout and the curving line along the dash continues with hints through the cabin to make for a good visual flow in the car.

Up front, seating is good in all of the renditions of the Cruze that we've driven in this new model year, but in the Premier, they get downright cuddly – in a good, supportive way, not in a creepy auntie kind of way. In the back, seating is also very good, with improvements to both legroom and ride height for better thigh support. Headroom is also good in all seats, despite the sloping roofline. There is little to fault in the new 2016 Cruze's interior, though we'd like to see a lower lip and wider opening for the trunk, which stands at 14.8 cu ft (419 L) in the lower trims and 13.9 cu ft (394 L) in the LT and Premier trims.

We mentioned the quiet ride and it's worth expounding on that thought. During our week with the 2016 Chevrolet Cruze, we noted its very quiet interior in nearly all driving situations. Even with the wild cross winds and gusts common to Wyoming at all times of year, the Cruze was almost always close to silent inside. We've driven luxury cars that couldn't make that claim. Yet the engine does occasionally pipe in to let you know you've punched the throttle, though you will not hear the transmission except on the rarest of high-rev points. It's very possible that the 2016 Cruze has the quietest interior on the road.

The Cruze now features Chevrolet's MyLink infotainment system as standard. A 7-inch touchscreen is standard and an upgrade to 8 inches is available in the LT and Premier models. This is the newly-upgraded MyLink rolled out by Chevy mid-year in 2015. It's faster, more responsive, and more intuitive to use than before and now includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard.

Both the 7-inch and 8-inch screens are clear and crisp and most of the expected Bluetooth connectivity, such as music streaming (including from apps like Pandora and the like) is included, while the upgraded version has navigation and expanded connectivity options through Chevrolet's OnStar system.

Powering this new 2016 Cruze is a new Ecotec 1.4-liter four-cylinder turbocharged engine that outputs 153 hp (114 kW) and 177 lb-ft (240 Nm) of torque. That torque comes in a 2,000-4,000 rpm range, making this a peppy little car despite the tiny displacement. It also means that the Cruze is very fuel efficient at up to 42 mpg (5.6 L/100km), though our Premier model was rated at 40 mpg (5.9 L/100km) on the highway due to the added equipment weight in this near-luxury model.

EPA ratings are 35 mpg combined (6.7 L/100km) with 30 mpg in the city and 42 mpg on the highway (7.8 and 5.6 L/100km) with the the six-speed automatic transmission that's standard in most renditions of the 2016 Chevy Cruze. Our test model was rated at 34 mpg combined (6.9 l/100km) with 30 mpg city and 40 mpg highway (7.8 and 5.9 l/100km). In the real world, after 483 miles (777 km) of mixed daily driving in the car, we saw 30.8 mpg (7.6 L/100km) as our average in the Cruze Premier. We expect that most drivers at average altitudes (we are very high) would see just under the EPA's numbers as the norm.

On the road, though, that early power delivery and the Cruze's impressive steering and chassis mean that it's a much more engaging drive on the road. The punchy engine pushes the car forward off the line quickly and the excellent electric-assist steering and tight points make turns an almost sporty affair. This is somewhat unusual in the compact segment without getting into premium-level cars.

Bringing it all together, Chevrolet has done an excellent job with the new 2016 Cruze. We enjoyed it during our quick Nashville trip to drive the car and we thoroughly enjoyed it as a daily driver and family hauler during our week with it at home. The 2016 Chevrolet Cruze is setting a new bar for the compact sedan segment.

Product Page: 2016 Chevrolet Cruze

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