In the past, compact cars were the vehicle of choice for owners of freshly minted driver's licenses and the exceedingly frugal. But in recent year automakers have entered into something of an arms race for premium features at a not-so-premium cost. Take examples like adaptive cruise control in the Honda Civic, or a heated and cooled driver's seat in the Hyundai Elantra. Ahead of our first drive in the 2016 Chevrolet Cruze, we spent some time in the cabin and poring over the option list to see how it stacks up to the competition.

In the Cruze, Chevy's latest step toward a compact-car doomsday weapon is the center stack. The seven-inch, MyLink touchscreen is standard across the range, and it's excellent. It's pretty and quick to respond, but pairing it with a smartphone is key to its appeal. Compatible with both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, your phone connects quickly and easily via a USB port. Using navigation via your phone means the basic MyLink has all the same functionality as the Premier's optional, nav-equipped touchscreen - only without the $1,995 premium. But it's also more intuitive and easier to manage than the system in Chevy's other models which use an eight-inch touchscreen.

Like the exterior, the Cruze’s interior – and the instrument panel in particular – features lean, muscular and layered surfaces built around the Chevrolet-signature dual-cockpit theme.

As far as we can tell, this is a unique approach in the compact space. For the most part, "display audio systems" – I hate that term – are hollow band aids offered to cover up the fact that a car buyer was too cheap to order the full-tilt navigation system. Offering MyLink as standard is a democratization of a popular feature and we expect Chevy to tout this heavily when the Cruze's ad campaign kicks off.

Chevy's excellent approach to infotainment is offset by a frustrating take on safety systems. Automakers, keen on attracting the praise of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, have been pushing hard on active safety systems in all segments. Honda's approach, branded Sensing Suite, spreads features like collision mitigation braking, forward collision warning, and road departure mitigation across the Civic line. Whether you're buying a base LX or a top-of-the-line Touring model, you can get these high-end safety systems.

The new Cruze is 2.7 inches (68 mm) longer and nearly an inch (25 mm) shorter in height than the current model, giving it a longer and leaner appearance. A faster windshield rake and a faster-sloping rear profile lend a sportier look to the design, while the rear profile culminates in a standard integral rear spoiler that contributes to the car’s aero efficiency.

With the Cruze, Chevrolet hides them in a $790 package that's only available on the Premier trim and requires another $865 package to activate. You can get blind-spot monitoring and a rear-view camera on the LT, sure, but that's about it for electronic nannies. Sorry LS buyers. If you do pick out the Premier with Driver Confidence Package II you'll go without the two most important features available on the Civic, like adaptive cruise control and automatic braking. Which means no IIHS Top Safety Pick + award for this compact.

The safety systems are a shortcoming, but only a mild one based on our quick preview drive. The features available on the Cruze, including a heated rear seat and heated steering wheel, are still the kind that we couldn't imagine being on a compact car even a decade ago.

Check back later this week for our full first drive on the Cruze, where we'll talk about its potentially class-leading ride and its efficient powertrain (the 1.4-liter turbocharged engine helps the Cruze achieve an EPA-rated 42 mpg highway).

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Chevrolet Cruze Information

Chevrolet Cruze

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