2012 Cruze New Car Test Drive
The Chevrolet Cruze is an excellent choice among compact sedans. It's the best small car GM has offered in North America in decades. More important, it's among the best cars in its class.
Fuel economy is improved for 2012, and the list of standard equipment has grown longer, especially in the mid-range LT level. Otherwise, the 2012 Chevrolet Cruze is unchanged from 2011.
Launched as a 2011 model, the Cruze replaced the sturdy but boring Cobalt, and represented a great leap forward in technology, features and appeal. The Cruze was developed jointly by GM tech centers in Asia, Europe and the United States to battle compact competitors such as the Hyundai Elantra and Kia Forte, the best Volkswagen Jetta in years, and perennial leaders like the Honda Civic, Mazda 3, and Toyota Corolla. The Cruze holds its own with all of them, and surpasses many in key areas.
Cruze is conservatively styled, to be sure, but in our opinion it's a well designed, handsome car. Its interior is one of the roomiest in its class, with acceptable space for four adults, and it's also one of the nicest. By the quality of materials, fit or function, it surpasses nearly all its competitors. Its trunk is also one of the largest in a compact sedan.
The 2012 Cruze is offered with a choice of two adequately powered engines: a 1.8-liter four-cylinder and 1.4-liter four-cylinder with a turbocharger. As with most cars in this class, the Cruze is front-wheel drive. Both the manual and automatic are 6-speed-transmissions, which is rare in this class. The automatic offers some high-tech features that help conserve fuel.
Fuel economy for the 2012 Chevrolet Cruze is an EPA-rated 26/38 mpg City/Highway with the 1.4-liter engine with manual or automatic transmission. With the 1.8-liter engine the government rates it 25/36 mpg with the manual, 22/35 mpg with the automatic. The 2012 Chevrolet Cruze Eco rates 28/42 mpg with the manual, 26/39 mpg with the automatic.
The Chevrolet Cruze might be the smoothest, quietest compact offered in the United States. Ride quality is outstanding, yet the car is nimble, balanced and handles exceptionally well. Its steering is powered by electricity to save fuel. Underway, the steering feels sharp, with decent feel. The Cruze comes standard with a long list of safety features, including advanced electronic stability control, anti-lock brakes, and a full complement of 10 airbags. There are knee-protection airbags for front passengers, side-impact airbags for rear passengers, and head-protection curtains with rollover deployment. Every Cruze comes with GM's OnStar telematics system, including a six-month subscription for automatic accident response and other services, a great safety feature.
Among the 2012 Cruze models, the Cruze Eco delivers the best fuel economy. Its aerodynamic features, including grille vanes that close at highway speeds, help it slip through the air more easily, and it weighs more than 200 pounds less than other models. To achieve its superb fuel economy, however, the Cruze Eco sacrifices performance, resulting in slower acceleration, longer stopping distances, and poorer handling than the other Cruze models.
The Cruze LTZ comes swathed in leather and loaded with technology. The Cruze LTZ is available with a full-feature navigation system, rear park assist, concierge services, premium Pioneer audio and remote starting. A loaded LTZ will crack the $26,000 barrier, however, at which point the Cruze makes less sense for many buyers, unless they seek a smaller, fuel-efficient car loaded with the latest features. For that kind of money, the alternatives include larger, very nicely equipped midsize sedans such as the Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata or Nissan Altima. We think the midrange Cruze LT hits the sweet spot in this class.
In short, the Cruze deserves to be on the list for anyone shopping for a fuel-efficient economy car.
The 2012 Chevrolet Cruze is available in four model levels, with a choice of four-cylinder engines and either a 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic transmission.
Cruze LS ($16,720) is powered by 1.8-liter inline four delivering 138 horsepower and 125 pound-feet of torque, with a standard 6-speed manual. Cruze LS comes with air conditioning, power windows, power door locks with remote keyless entry, floor mats, and six-speaker audio with single CD, an auxiliary jack and XM satellite radio. The standard wheels are 16-inch steel.
Cruze Eco ($19,245) is optimized for fuel economy. It's powered by a smaller, 1.4-liter turbocharged engine that delivers the same 138 hp as the base engine, with an increase in torque to 148 lb-ft. It's lighter than other Cruze models, with aerodynamic aids that make in slipperier through the air, and low-rolling-resistance tires on 17-inch alloy wheels. The 2012 Cruze Eco comes with Bluetooth phone connectivity, USB port, steering wheel-mounted audio controls, cruise control, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob.
Cruise LT ($18,475) is powered by the same frugal turbocharged engine plus body-color power side mirrors and all the new goodies that have been added to the Cruze Eco. Sixteen-inch machined-face alloy wheels are standard on 2012 Cruze LT models. The 2012 Cruze LT is available with a revised 2LT option package ($2,130) with leather seating surfaces, a six-way power driver seat, heated seats, remote vehicle start, a sport-tuned suspension (new for 2012) with 17-inch five-spoke alloy wheels, and four-wheel-disc brakes.
Cruze LTZ ($23,110) comes standard with the automatic transmission and the contents of the 2LT package plus automatic climate control, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, ultrasonic rear-parking assist, and 18-inch alloy wheels. The 2012 Cruze LTZ also comes standard with fog lights, keyless entry and keyless start.
Cruze RS is an LTZ with an RS Appearance package ($595), which includes unique bumpers, rocker moldings, and a rear spoiler. A similar package for the LT2 ($695) adds all that plus fog lights and racier instruments. Navigation ($995) is available for LT2, LTZ, and Eco. Other options include a 250-watt Pioneer audio system with nine speakers ($445), a power sunroof ($900). LT2 buyers can also choose keyless access ($300). The Eco and LT1 can be spruced up with a Driver Convenience Package ($495) that includes a six-way power driver's seat, rear park assist, and remote start. (All prices are Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Prices, which do not include destination charge and may change at any time without notice.)
Safety features include front, side-impact and knee-protection airbags for front passengers, rear side-impact airbags and full cabin head-protection curtains with rollover deployment. GM's OnStar telematics are standard, with Automatic Crash Response and other services free for six months. Other standard safety features include Stabiltrack electronic stability control, anti-lock brakes (ABS), front seatbelt pretensioners, daytime running lights (DRLs) and the federally mandated tire-pressure monitor.