I graduated from high school in 2003, and, like most of my classmates, I drove a vehicle from General Motors' J-body family. Blame frugality – the Pontiac Sunfire and Chevrolet Cavalier were exceedingly cheap, even brand-new – and loyalty (GM's Orion Assembly sits three miles from my alma mater). Half the student parking lot was filled with J-bodies. I'm adamant that my white 1998 Pontiac Sunfire was among the worst cars ever made. Five short years into the car's life, rust had started to consume the fenders. There was no CD player. There wasn't even a tape deck. The 2.2-liter four-cylinder was anemic, the four-speed automatic dimwitted, the suspension partially collapsed, and I'm sure Silly String from a long-forgotten prank was all that connected the front axle and steering wheel. I didn't want to drive my GM-built compact, and I'm sure none of my classmates wanted to drive theirs. But we'd have felt differently if our horrible cars were as good as the 2016 Chevrolet Cruze. The second-generation Cruze is both flashy and refined, but it's also busy from certain angles. It all adds up to a far more visually assertive vehicle designed to stand out in a hotly contested segment. The fascia is full of sharp, eye-pleasing angles, especially around the grille and headlights. The way body-colored elements feed into the black plastic foglight inserts – which are tied together by a small chin spoiler – is a neat touch. Chevy got aggressive with the body lines, too. We like the small character line over the front axle and the way the shoulder line gets stronger as it approaches the taillights. The big visual flaw comes from the $995 RS package. It adds black inserts on the rear bumper that look messy and convoluted in contrast to the ho-hum taillights above. GM has come a long way from the dreadful, black-plastic mess of the J-body's interior. Plastic is still the dominant material in the new Cruze, but the soft-touch sections here are great. But what's most surprising is Chevy's work on the materials that aren't in your sight lines. The harder plastics on the doors, lower dash, and transmission tunnel feel solid and are free of sharp edges. It's a huge part of why this cabin feels so upscale. The standard 7-inch and available 8-inch MyLink infotainment systems don't hurt, either. Chevy has upped the safety tech for the 2016 Cruze, but it's not a match for the Civic. Like the last-gen model, blind-spot monitoring, rear parking sensors, and cross-traffic alert are all available (they're actually a no-cost option on the Premier). Chevy has also offered a range of optional, more advanced features for 2016. They include automatic high beams, forward collision alert, and lane departure warning, but you won't get adaptive cruise control or collision mitigation braking like the Honda Civic does. Like we said last week, no IIHS Top Safety Pick + for this Cruze. Chevy dropped the naturally aspirated 1.8-liter four-cylinder for 2016 in favor of …
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|MPG||29 City / 41 Hwy|
|Transmission||6-spd man w/OD|
|Power||153 @ 5600 rpm|
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