Reviews

2014 Chevrolet Cruze Walk Around

The styling of the Chevrolet Cruze is handsome and nicely proportioned.

The Cruze is large, as compact cars go. Measuring 181.0 inches bumper-to-bumper, on a wheelbase of 105.7 inches, the Cruze is slightly larger than most of its competitors, including the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla and Ford Focus.

Cruze is more angular than other recent Chevrolet sedans, including the popular Malibu. Its front end mimics the Volt plug-in sedan with a prominent Chevrolet Bowtie logo. The headlight housings are large, sweeping upward and around the front edges of the car.

The roofline arcs subtly from its steeply raked windshield through fast-sloping rear pillars, creating a generally sporty profile. Its wheels are pushed out to the corners of the car, with minimal overhang. No, this compact sedan doesn’t break new ground or wow with its curves. But it’s tidy and quite confidant looking, and the package generates a feeling of quality and solidity. Wheels range from 16-inch steel with plastic covers on the base LS to spoked 18-inch alloys with low-profile tires on the loaded LTZ.

The Cruze Eco is a slightly different beast from the other Cruze models, because it’s designed to be Chevrolet’s conventional-engine fuel economy leader. The differences start with 42 steps intended to trim weight, right down the size and location of welds in the body. As a result, the Eco tips the scales at 3009 pounds, or 214 pounds less than the comparably equipped mid-level Cruze LT. Cruze Eco adds a host of aerodynamic tweaks, including some adapted from the Chevrolet Volt. These start with active grille shutters that close at higher speeds, blocking much of the grille surface when the cooling demands of the engine allow it, and smoothing air flow over the front of the car. The Eco also sports a lower front air-dam extension, plastic panels that cover large portions of the underbody and a carefully crafted rear spoiler. It’s finished with low-rolling-resistance tires on specially designed rims. That means a bit less braking performance or grip through the corners, but it also means less friction when the Eco is cruising along for better fuel economy.

Interior

The Chevrolet Cruze is roomy inside, with ample dimensions in most directions. The cabin is finished nicely with quality materials. Sound deadening measures result in quiet operation. Overall, the Cruze cabin delivers an excellent balance of quality, coziness and space to breathe.

Cruze is near the top of the class for the look, fit and feel of the materials inside. The seams join with tighter tolerances than those in many other cars, including some of those a class or two above. The textiles and plastics are rich, appealing and nicely grained, and the metallic trim looks good. The fabric used for the door inserts matches that used on the seat cushions, and it flows from the doors across the bottom of the dash. It’s unique, and visually inviting.

The leather upholstery that’s optional is thick, yet supple, and stretched tightly over the seats. The headliner is form fit with a soft, sturdy knit material, and it’s only the outer layer of five in the roof’s insulation. About the only thing not up to snuff is some hard plastic at the bottom of the door pillars, and while no one will look at it much, it’s stands out as sub-par because everything else is so nice.

The front-seat adjustments in the Cruze allow occupants to find the right spot quickly and easily. The optional power controls for the driver are just as easy to use, and the tilting seat bottom has more range, from steep angle to nearly flat, than one finds in some luxury cars. There’s plenty of fore-aft travel for drivers well over six feet tall, with even more front headroom. If anything comes up short, it’s width. Published figures rank Cruze at the top of the class in front hip room, but the center console is on the wide side. Larger drivers who drive with their legs splayed may find their outer thighs or knees rubbing on the dash or door panel. You can drive better with knees closer together, anyway, a position that’s better for braking and downshifting.

The steering wheel is thick and grippy; with the optional leather, it feels great in the hands. The wheel tilts and telescopes in all models, and we applaud Chevrolet for adding redundant audio controls on its right spoke on all but the base LS. The cruise-control switches on the left spoke are the best in the business. There’s an on/off master switch and a big cancel button, sandwiching a thumbwheel that flicks down to set or add speed, and up to resume or reduce speed.

Gauges are big and crisp, illuminated with ice-blue LED lighting. With the RS appearance package, they’re trimmed with chrome and covered with bezels that make them pop even more in darkness. The tachometer is located on the left and the speedometer on the right, with smaller fuel and temperature gauges in the middle. Underneath the smaller gauges, a digital display shows current gear, direction of travel, and a host of options for vehicle or travel information. It’s easy to cycle through the choices with a toggle on the turn signal stalk, and just as easy to set preferences for automatic vehicle locking and the like. Again, it’s impressive in a compact.

The center stack of switches looks great, though a bit complicated at first blush. In fact, it’s rationally laid out and easy to learn. There are four large, primary knobs for volume, tuning, fan speed and temperature, each ringed with a nice rubber surround. They turn with a satisfying feel that conveys the amount of adjustment just by the amount of movement. Other switches are pushbuttons, with entertainment and information high, between the dash vents and just below a large display screen. Climate controls are at the bottom. There’s a single, large pushbutton to cycle through all the various airflow-direction options.

Cars equipped with navigation have Chevrolet’s MyLink infotainment system, which is compatible with iPhones and Android-powered smartphones. MyLink lets users pair their phones via Bluetooth, or tether with a USB cable. We were pleasantly surprised to find that if we had a destination set via the maps app on our iPhone 5s, and it was plugged in via USB, MyLink would automatically show directions on the Cruze’s navigation screen and pipe directions through the speakers, without having to pair the phone or do anything special. MyLink also immediately recognizes the audio on the iPhone 5s when it’s plugged in.

Storage space inside the Cruze is adequate, if not overwhelming. There’s a handy covered bin in the dash above the center stack. It can keep a phone, wallet or remote stored out of sight, and it’s lined with rubber to minimize sliding. The pockets at the bottom of the front door panels are decently sized, but the hard plastic generates an annoying sound when a CD case slides forward under braking. The glove box is fairly spacious, but the console box is fairly small, with enough room for an MP3 player when it’s plugged into the port inside. There are two cupholders in the center console.

The rear seat isn’t fancy, but it’s roomy and impressively supportive. The cushions for outboard passengers are carved, countered and bolstered almost as much as the front seats in some inexpensive cars. The downside is that the third space in the middle is narrow and flat, and not well suited for anyone past age seven or eight. This is really a four-passenger car. The outside passengers, though, will find plenty of headroom and decent legroom, with enough space under the front seats to easily accommodate large feet.

There’s a power point for rear passengers on the back of the console, but no air vents. Those in back will have to rely on the center dome light, because there are no reading lights, either. The fold-down center rear armrest stops exactly at the height of the armrests on the doors, so elbows can rest evenly. The armrest has decent cupholders for those in back, but storage space is limited to fist-sized bins at the bottom of the doors and map pockets on the front seatbacks.

The trunk offers plenty of space. With 15 cubic feet of volume, the Cruze trunk matches the best in class, with substantially more room than what’s available in the Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla (12.5 and 12.3 cubic feet, respectively). The opening is large, and the trunk lid parks straight up and well out of the way.

The rear seatbacks fold easily to expand truck space, but the bottom cushions are fixed, so the expanded surface is not entirely flat. The height of the pass-through space limits the size of objects that will slide through, and there are no tie-down points to easily secure something that might turn into a weighty projectile in a sudden stop. There are hooks for a cargo/grocery net just inside the trunk opening.

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