Cruzing the countryside: A day out in Chevrolet's redesigned compact sedan
The countryside around Nashville, Tennessee, is criss-crossed by wonderful country highways with twisting bends and rolling hills that really showcase what a car can do, which is why Chevrolet invited us there to experience the redesigned 2016 Cruze.
Often considered the birthplace and certainly the hub of Country and Western music, Nashville is also home to some of the most vibrant food and fun found anywhere. Just outside of the city are the rolling hills and beautifully lush countryside of Tennessee itself. For a fast-paced 24 hours, we took all of this in while digging deep with engineers and designers as we drove the new 2016 Chevrolet Cruze.
First a taste of thelocal culture. We arrived in the afternoon and settled into our hotel before heading off to dinner at a new restaurant called the Little Octopus, serving an interesting mix of Miami and Southern California fare. Four well-known and excellent songwriters working in Nashville were there to talk about the songs they've written and how the songs came about as well as how they ended up being recorded by the famous performers associated with them. Lead by Frank Rogers, the quartet represented a panorama of styles and personalities in the country music genre, having written songs for performers as varied as Hootie and the Blowfish and Trace Adkins.
This intimate experience was enhanced by the peppering of the wives and friends of the songwriters, who were dining with us, making for a unique experience.
Early the next morning, we assembled for breakfast and sat down with representatives from Chevrolet to talk about the plans for the day and get an overview of the many changes that had been made to the Cruze for this new generation. Our driving partners would include Stuart Cooper, the Design Strategy Manager for Chevrolet globally; Jim Dimond, Program Engineering Manager for the North American market Cruze; Brent Deep, Vehicle Performance Engineer for the Cruze; Martin Hayes, Global Vehicle Chief Engineer on the Cruze; and Jennifer Krafka, Interior Design Manager for the Cruze.
During the day, we drove both the mid-tier LT model for the 2016 Cruze and the upper-tier Premier model. On paper, the new Cruze is only marginally eye-catching. Although it boasts more interior space and an upgraded engine over the previous generation, in comparison to other top-selling compact sedans on the market, the Cruze doesn't immediately grab you. Look closer, however, and that starts to change.
Fuel economy is excellent in all renditions of the car, with 40 mpg (5.9 l/100km) being the lowest highway rating and the best being 42. The engine outputs 153 horsepower (114 kW), which appears adequate for the class on paper, but doesn't communicate the peppy impact of 177 pound-feet (240 Nm) of torque in the broad 2,000-4,000 rpm range it comes in. Nor can the effect of the higher-end braking system with low drag and high-response or the excellent body handling from excellent suspension tuning be easily translated. These are things that must be felt.
To get to those aforementioned country highways we had to ply the streets of downtown Nashville through an urban and collegiate environment. These opportunities gave us a good view of the car over about 50 miles (80km) of driving per model (120 or so all told). With multiple stops to see things like replicas of the Dodge Charger and Sheriff's car from the popular 1980s television show The Dukes of Hazzard and eat the wonderful local fried fare, we still averaged an impressive 39.7 mpg in our driving.
Our first drive partner was Brent Deep, with whom we talked about the engineering underpinning the chassis, noise reduction, and vibration damping for the new Cruze. From the acoustic glass in the windshield to the careful placement and use of engine mounts and noise dampening, the Cruze is remarkably quiet. With the windows rolled down as we drove along a city highway with high walls, Deep demonstrated a simple version of their "drive through" test. This test measures sounds coming into the cabin both with the windows up and down in a sound-reflective environment with the engine at idle, at normal ranges of rpm usage, and with an open throttle at flat-out max rotations. Microphones placed throughout the car measure the sound occupants will hear and adjustments are made to engineering and design points to improve the quiet ride quality targeted for the car. Chevy did a good job here.
We also spoke about the very well-tuned braking system in the 2016 Chevrolet Cruze, which was accomplished by upgrading to advanced Duralife rotors and carefully tuned calipers to minimize drag without losing the close gap required to allow precision braking. To go with this, a capable steering system utilizing electric-assist at the rack and a smart body-leveling dynamic created with the MacPherson sideloaded struts and coil springs keep the car stable in the corners. The Cruze is not a performance car, of course, but it certainly has a sporty and engaging dynamic on the road. The car being a global effort, the European expectation of well-tuned driving is certainly pegged with this new Cruze.
After stopping for a restroom break and to grab a soda, we switched from the LT model to a Premier model and were paired with Interior Design Manager, Jennifer Krafka. During an hours' drive with Kraftka, we learned about the coalitions and compromises made between teams as interior design affects and is affected by other design and engineering components of the vehicle. The interior of the 2016 Cruze is spacious and well-designed, with a very open, modern appeal to it. The multi-tone look, even at the lower end of the model spectrum, and the judicious use of secondary materials to create multiple tones and textures is thoughtfully done. The straight lines of the dash are countered by curved swoops which match the exterior's flat belt line and curved rear pillar and roofline. Seating is comfortable with much of the expanded space in the Cruze being noted in the back seats, which are now adult-friendly. Trunk space ranges from 14.8 cubic feet in the L and LS models to 13.9 cubic feet in other models (419.1/393.6 liters).
In our final leg, we took another Premier model, this one featuring the high-end Kalahari leather package for the interior, and brought along Stuart Cooper and Jim Dimond to talk about global and North American efforts with the new Cruze. For North America, Dimond told us, infotainment integration and connectivity is the key focus in this new-generation Chevrolet Cruze. In the U.S., for example, the Cruze comes with options like a 2 year 4G OnStar connection with WiFi with enough data usage availability to allow over an hour of music streaming per day. The "premium" offerings also include heated seats (available in front and rear) and Apple Car Play and Android Auto smartphone integration.
This was an excellent introduction to the all-new 2016 Chevrolet Cruze and a good chance to get some insight from the people who designed it. We are hoping to soon get a more thorough experience of the car with a longer-term press loan to drive for full review.
Product page: Chevrolet Cruze
Disclosure: airfare, lodging and meals for this media event were provided for by Chevrolet