The 2016 Cruze is More Than a Competent Compact from Chevrolet

Before we get started let me be frank, if the 2016 Chevrolet Cruze wore a badge from the Land of the Rising Sun the assorted automotive media would be falling head over heals for the thing. But it’s a Chevy, and Chevys not named Camaro or Corvette don’t seem to get much respect. And that’s a damn shame.

Because truth be told, the 2016 Chevy Cruze is possibly one of the most advanced cars in the segment.

Its proportions are almost paradoxical, Chevy made it bigger, longer and stronger– while the motor got more powerful, yet, the 2016 Cruze still manages to match segment leaders in terms of fuel economy.

WTF, right?

Wrong. Chevy carved 250 lbs of cellulite from the old car– you cut 250 lbs from anything and it will go faster, stop shorter and change direction better; with less effort.

Now before we go any farther, let me just say General Motors is currently employing some of the very best chassis engineers in the world– you can disagree if you want, but you’ll be wrong.

The all-aluminum F-150 that Ford made all manner of sound and fury about being 600 lbs lighter is STILL 18 lbs heavier than the GMC Sierra (in certain configurations), we’re all familiar with the 400 lb diet they put the 6th Gen Camaro on and that’s before we even get to the OMG Omega chassis which leads all rivals in efficient mass.

So it’s unsurprising the body structure of the 2016 Cruze is the real star of the show; Team Chevy was able to take 100 pounds out versus 2015 through the use of “military grade”, high-strength steal which allowed them to use a thinner gauge.

When rolling with Jim Diamond, chief engineer of the Cruze project, I asked him how much the other teams in the chassis department may have influenced the Delta rider’s diet, Jim simply saying “Oh, they talk.”

Tangibly, what does it all mean though? The wheelbase grew 0.6 of an inch, overall length grew 2.7 inches– which in turn made the rear seat some 2 inches more spacious.

On the efficiency side it aids the car in reaching the upper echelons of the segment with 30 mpg city, 42 mpg hwy (LT Auto). Although I will say that I was able to turn the Cruze into a bit of a pig, being liberal with the throttle I was able to bring observed fuel mileage down to 18.9 mpg on the way out of the city. However on the way home I brought that back up to a respectable 38.8.

While we’re on the topic of efficiency, the Cruze matches the Volt’s 0.28 drag co-efficient which lead designer Stuart Cooper told me was no accident, the two cars coming through GM design concurrently and feeding into one another.

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Motor Mouth

Under the hood you’ll find a clean sheet 1.4-liter turbo 4 and it’s a properly premium engine. Displacement is actually 35cc larger and Chevy managed to cut 44 lbs out of the 1.4T by swapping to a cast aluminium block (which was beefed up to include stop-start) over the old iron block. In fact it’s lighter than the old natural 1.8-liter.

Direct injection helps bump output by 15 hp and 29 lb-ft of torque over the old 1.4T; the 2016 car offering 153 hp, and 177 lb-ft at the beck and call of your right foot. It will sprint to 60 mph in 7.7 seconds, totally class competitive and 1.3 seconds better than the old turbo.

But it’s the character of the motor that has really changed– it’s torque laden and linear compared to the outgoing Cruze. Peak grunt comes on at 2,000 rpm, which the new 6 speed auto ensures you’re always near. Peak power shows up at at 5,600 rpm, with shift points programmed in between 5,500 and 5,700 rpm.

Two Trannys, But Only One You’ll Want

Speaking of the transmission, the new 6-speed auto is some 24 lbs lighter. The six-speed manual is the same unit from the old Cruze and it all but destroys the engines smooth, linear behavior.

The automatic is compliant and intelligent– Jim Diamond telling me that over the first 500 miles the car will learn how you drive and make small adjustments to shift points.

The only time I found the transmission making itself overly noticeable was when coming down from 80 mph on the back roads to a near stop, you can really feel the car stepping down through the cogs– which in fairness isn’t really an issue at all.

Premium Oriented

Chevy focused their efforts making the 2016 Cruze feel premium inside and out instead of an out and out performer. Not that the car can’t perform, all trims get a solid mount front cradle, and a belt-to-rack EPS system similar to Alpha and Omega cars. With the larger 18 and 17 inch wheels Chevy gave it a tighter steering ratio, and when coupled with the upgraded Watts link rear the car can certainly corner.

Really though, this car is about how the feels. Ingress and egress is satisfying– the doors have noticeable weight to them, the stepped hinges are crisp and the doors close with a resounding thud once reserved for premium cars.

Chevy spent a good chunk of change focusing on quieting the interior, with thicker glass and improved sound insulation. Only when riding on 18s does road noise become apparent.

The quiet cabin contributes to an excellent audio experience, as I wrote the other day, the Bose speaker system is more than enough for all but the biggest audio savants.

The seats are actually extremely comfortable, the leather is supple and the lower seat does well to support your knees. Even after over an hour of driving I didn’t find my legs screaming for a stretch like normal.

Speaking of leather, Kathy Servio and her interior team did a knockout job on color selection. The Kalahari leather being my head and shoulder favorite, although with the right exterior paint I did like it trimmed in Atmosphere Grey. The Jet Black leather is exactly that, black, and it somewhat takes away the airy feeling of the cabin.

Top Of the Line Technology

The premium packed experience carries into the software, both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto come standard with Chevy’s MyLink system, as does wireless phone charging. I actually preferred the native nav over Google Maps from my Galaxy S6.

4G LTE and Wi-Fi hotspot are standard on all models, which includes a segment leading 24 gigs over 24 month trial subscription- blowing the 3 gig over 3 month industry average away.

Adaptive safety features are made available as well, including Blind Spot Alert, Rear Cross Traffic Alerts, Lane Keep and Forward Collision Alert.

Both Rear Cross Traffic and Alert and Blind Spot Monitoring are valuable as it’s aero focused high rear deck can compromise sight lines in certain situations.

I can see Lane Keep being useful over a long marathon drive when the exhaustion starts to set in, however during our drive through rural Tennessee it was mainly used for a giggle as the car ping-ponged between lines at highway speeds.

All trims with auto-boxes come equipped with standard stop-start technology; at times the system can confuse itself. Several times when coming to a near stop with my foot on the brake the engine would briefly sputter, almost in anticipation of me coming to a complete stop.

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So Should I Get One? 

Probably. With class-leading connectivity, whisper quiet cabin and improved rear leg-room the compact Chevy lays claim to the best interior in class.

Even if you loaded a top-shelf Premier with all the candy on the option list you’d still come in shy of $30,000.

What Chevy has done here is create a car that offers a little something for everyone. It handles well, comes packed with content, comfort and class leading features; which it does without really sacrificing in one area for another.

Chevrolet has built a car that they should be proud of and one that will certainly continue the trend of conquests that GM has been enjoying lately.

With the Cruze Hatch hitting stores late 2016 and the diesel joining the ranks in 2017 Chevy will continue to offer a bit of something for everyone. Now if we could jet get them to build an SS model…

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