With global sales exceeding four million since its introduction in 2008, the Cruze has become Chevrolet's most popular car. And there are reasons to believe this compact sedan and hatchback will be asked to waltz even more often on its native dance floor.
Indeed, in a U.S. compact market long dominated by imports, the Cruze seems poised to take a bigger bite of the Tastykake. For one thing, the redesigned Cruze is nicely executed. It is an attractive, well-engineered car that drives adeptly and proves quiet, comfortable, and roomy.
There is also reason to believe it will take a licking and keep on ticking. Consumer Reports put the Cruze on its "10 Most Reliable Cars" list for 2016 — a list that did not include any of its compact competitors, such as the Honda Civic and the Toyota Corolla.
The fact that a hatchback was added to the Cruze stable for 2017 and a 52-mpg diesel model followed earlier this year should also help sales.
I've already tested the Cruze in both sedan and hatchback attire. But in both cases, it was the upmarket Premier model — the most costly of the four Cruze trim levels. (The sedan starts at $23,475, the hatch at $23,945.) So, I decided to go down-market and see what life was like for people of my class.
The Cruze sedan starts at $16,975 for the reasonably equipped base L model with a six-speed manual gearbox. I opted for the LS model ($18,525), which is one step up and includes niceties like a tilt/telescopic steering wheel, Bluetooth/USB integration, OnStar (free for the first three months), WiFi, Android Auto, and Apple CarPlay capability, a rear camera, a seven-inch touchscreen, remote locking, a remote trunk opener, power mirrors, and stylish cloth seats. It did not include a new option called Teen Driver, which allows parents to spy on their kid's driving. (George Orwell would have called it Big Mother.)
Like the posh Premier, the LS is powered by a 1.4-liter, direct-injected turbo that extracts 153 horsepower and 177 pound feet of torque from regular gas. That torque-rich four-banger gets the Cruze from a standing start to 60 in a follicle under eight seconds. That's not going to embarrass your affluent uncle's Mercedes AMG, but it will best most of its competitors. It will also do that without the buzzyness that attends most small fours when you crack the whip over them.
Good fuel economy also attends the party. The tester, fitted with a smooth-shifting six-speed manual, had fine EPA mileage ratings of 28 city and 39 highway. But they were not quite as fine as the Cruze with the six-speed automatic, which is rated at 29 and 39.
While the Cruze boasts crisp, competent handling, it's not quite as sporty in the corners as, say, a Civic or Mazda 3. Where it shines is in the way its suspension balances good handling with a supple ride that takes the jar out of jarring bumps.
That good ride and handling, as well as the cabin quietude and improved crash protection, owes something to the fact that structural rigidity was enhanced through the increased use of high-strength steel.
The tester was roomy and comfortable, with a generous 15-cubic-foot trunk.
While it wasn't as hedonistic as its more upscale brethren, and lacked the optional electronic safety devices often found on them, the LS proved satisfying business from both an aesthetic and kinetic standpoint. I liked the way it was styled and screwed together, as well as its comfort and road manners.