2014 Chevrolet Cruze Driving Impressions

Although it isn’t perfect, the Cruze is one of the best all-around models in the compact-car pack.

The Cruze is available with two four-cylinder engines; the base displaces 1.8 liters, producing 138 horsepower and 125 pound-feet of torque. The upgraded engine is actually smaller, at 1.4 liters, but its turbocharger produces the same amount of horsepower, but with an additional 23 pound-feet of torque.

Cruze’s powertrain isn’t glaringly weak, but it’s not one of the highlights in its portfolio. We found the 1.4-liter turbo engine does an adequate job of propelling the Cruze. It’s impressively smooth and reasonably quiet, even when working hard, and at 75 mph hour on the freeway, it’s only turning about 2800-2900 rpm in top gear. The power comes on fairly low in the rev range, and then evenly all the way to redline.

Still, the Cruze is slower than most cars in this class. On paper, it accelerates from 0-60 mph in the high 8-second range, which is quick enough for the average driver. Our complaint is more about how hard the engine is working in the process, and how you really need to keep it floored to get this car to go.

Transmission choices include a 6-speed manual or a 6-speed automatic. We found the manual more enjoyable to drive, and it’s the most economical choice for those who don’t mind (or who even enjoy) rowing through the gears.

The 6-speed automatic is fine for driving at a relaxed, fairly casual pace. Shifts are smooth, but it seems pokey in instances when you need power fast, like when merging or passing. You really have to floor it once you hit the freeway or a patch of mountainous road. Most likely this is a symptom of the Cruze’s gearbox being optimized for fuel economy. On top-of-the-line Cruze models equipped with paddle shifters, drivers can eek a bit more out of the transmission by shifting manually, however, we doubt most drivers will use this feature while slogging through their daily commute.

One important way the Cruze surpasses much of its competition is in its tight, ultra-solid body/frame structure, which provides a solid foundation for a lot of good things that make Cruze pleasant to drive.

Interior comfort is one of them. Very little vibration finds its way into the Cruze cabin, and it’s one of the quietest compacts we’ve driven, even with its little, hard-working engine. There is very little wind noise, and not much of the high-pitch mechanical or vibration buzz that can come across as white noise.

The solid body also contributes to excellent ride and handling. Even without a fully independent rear suspension (something that can make cars of this type jittery and prone to bounce in the rear), the Cruze’s ride is nearly flawless. It absorbed mid-winter potholes with the aplomb of a luxury sedan, without a lot of bounce-rebound-bounce, or anything close to mushiness or float. In total, this compact leads the pack in ride quality, but it isn’t sluggish. Cruze models fitted with the sport suspension have a firmer quality, but are still comfortable.

In wintry weather we found the Cruze more than able, even with its standard all-season tires. Its lithe, balanced quality helps the Cruze on slippery roads, because if the driver is reasonably smooth, there won’t be any body swaying that can shift weight, upset traction and make the car harder to manage, as if there were a giant bowling ball rolling around in its shell. Traction control and electronic stability control further help the driver stay safe and planted.

Electric power steering on the Cruze is reasonably well sorted. It requires almost no effort to turn at low speeds, but resistance builds somewhat as speeds increase. The steering is also fairly quick, to the point that a driver might have to correct and re-adjust the car’s trajectory through a curve, because the wheel was initially turned too much.

The new Cruze diesel is fitted with a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder and the 6-speed automatic, as well as the same sport suspension found on 1LT models and above. The chassis, steering and brakes feel the same as on other Cruze models. Although it can seem sluggish off the line, there’s plenty of pep around town once the turbocharger spools up. With 264 lb.-ft. of torque, the Cruze diesel has considerably more low-end thrust than other Cruze models, yet it doesn’t feel overly torquey like some small diesel engines. At idle and at slow speeds, there is a moderate amount of noise and vibration characteristic of a diesel engine, especially when the engine is cold. But on the freeway, the diesel’s grumblings are imperceptible.

Fuel economy estimates for the 2014 Chevrolet Cruze diesel are an excellent 27/46 mpg City/Highway, but, like all fuel economy ratings, they will vary depending on drive style. On a 250-mile drive using mostly freeways, with little regard to fuel economy, we ended up with an average of 34.4 mpg. At one point, we achieved a high of 35 mpg, but most of the time, it hovered around the 34 mpg mark. Although that’s not anywhere near the estimated 46 mpg highway, that’s still above the EPA-estimated combined estimate of 33 mpg. Range was also notable, as we were able to go the first 200 miles on only a quarter of a tank of gas.

Cruze Eco models are fitted with additional aerodynamic enhancements and low-rolling-resistance tires, and are lighter than other Cruze models, which all help to achieve an EPA-estimated 28/42 mpg City/Highway with the manual transmission, and 26/39 mpg with the automatic. The Cruze Eco’s outstanding mileage ratings will no doubt appeal to many compact drivers, but Eco’s low-rolling-resistance tires will be harder and offer less grip than those on other models, which tends to adversely affect both ride and handling. For those who rack up lots of freeway mileage, the superior range and fuel economy of the diesel engine could be worth the extra investment.

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