Pros: Solid, well-connected ride; spirited turbo; 40-mpg highway fuel economy; refined interior; abundant cargo space; good list of features.
Cons: Bland styling compared with that of some foreign competitors; poor seat positioning; relatively pricey at the top end.
What's New: Standard MyLink infotainment; available technology package; two available convenience feature packages; available safety package.
The Cruze has a cool-sounding name, and that's just the beginning. The 2013 Chevrolet Cruze is so refined and well put together that many believe it transcends its status as a compact car. Along with the Ford Focus, it inspires confidence that American automotive brands can make an efficient, well-built, smooth-driving car for the masses.
From a quality standpoint, the Cruze is on par with popular offerings from Honda and Hyundai, two brands that consumers tend to trust most. It offers a wide range of models to fit just about anyone shopping in the compact category. And it's a standout thanks to its turbo engine and Eco model, which each help to make the Cruze a distinctive offering in its segment.
The Cruze isn't the most stylish car, especially next to rivals like the Mazda3 or the Hyundai Elantra. For that reason, it draws a slightly more mature buyer. Also, at the top end, the Cruze is a little pricey--definitely a turnoff for cash-strapped younger buyers. Still, it offers a rich roster of amenities and, for 2013, some new options packages.
For 2013, the Cruze receives a handful of changes including standard Chevrolet MyLink infotainment, a technology package, two available convenience feature packages and a safety package. The technology package includes a color touchscreen display for the audio system and a backup camera. The 1LT Driver Convenience Package gets a power driver's seat, an auto-dimming inside rearview mirror, heated and power-adjustable side mirrors and remote start for some models. The 2LT Driver Convenience Package includes some of those items plus a backup camera. Finally, the Enhanced Safety Package includes parking sensors, blind spot warning and rear cross-traffic warning.
Overall, the Cruze is a very competent offering from Chevrolet, and buyers are beginning to take notice. Perhaps small-car leaders such as Honda and Toyota are catching on to the success of the Cruze, too.
Comfort & Utility
It's hard to find much wrong with the Cruze's 5-passenger cabin. It's relatively spacious, high quality and well configured throughout. The gauges and controls within its unique twin-cockpit design exude refinement, interior materials feel solid to the touch, and the optional 2-tone color schemes are downright upscale in appearance. It's hard to believe this is a Chevy.
Although the seats are well padded and supportive, there's an issue with positioning. They're slightly lower than they should be, which hurts forward visibility a little. The back seats are worse than the front in this respect.
Passenger space is abundant in both rows. There's plenty of legroom up front and an adequate amount in the rear. The back seat is ideal for two adults but can certainly fit three in a pinch. Fitting three kids in the backseat is no problem at all.
In the same way, cargo space is phenomenally abundant. If vehicle classification were based on the size of a trunk, the Cruze would definitely be a mid-size car.
The Cruze is available in four primary trims: LS, Eco, LT and LTZ. Notable standard convenience features for the LS and Eco models include power mirrors, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, Chevrolet MyLink infotainment and a 6-speaker stereo. The LT1 and LT2 models add such features as cruise control, leather upholstery, seat heat and power adjustments for the driver. The range-topping LTZ brings automatic climate control and push-button start. New for 2013, Eco, 2LT and LTZ 7-inch color touchscreen. Key options include a sunroof and a premium audio system.
The Cruze aptly delivers a comfortable, well-appointed space for both driver and passengers, making it a solid choice as a small family car.
For a compact car, the Cruze's technology is surprisingly premium. The roster includes Bluetooth connectivity, a USB interface, a navigation system and rear parking sensors to offer assistance with backing into tight spots. Standard Chevrolet MyLink and the newly available display audio system offer further the list of tech extras.
Performance & Fuel Economy
The Cruze offers a choice of two engines. The base engine is a 1.8-liter inline-4 producing 138 horsepower and 125 lb-ft of torque. Output is managed by either a standard 6-speed manual transmission or an optional 6-speed automatic. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 25 mpg city/36 mpg highway with the manual and 22/35 mpg with the automatic.
The more intriguing powerplant is the 1.4-liter turbocharged inline-4, mated to the same two gearboxes. Output is still 138 hp, but torque is up to 138 lb-ft, and peak output is across a broader range of engine speeds. Fuel economy is an impressive 26/38 mpg with either transmission choice.
The Cruze Eco model is propelled solely by the 1.4 turbo but also adds a series of aero upgrades and low-rolling-resistance tires to optimize efficiency. Its fuel economy tops that of virtually all subcompact cars and even some hybrids. It's rated at 28/42 mpg with the manual and 26/39 mpg with the automatic transmission.
The Cruze stands alone in the compact-car segment by assuring occupant protection with a barrage of 10 standard airbags. Aside from front, side and head curtain bags, the Cruze puts airbags at the knees of the driver and front passenger and adds two side bags for the rear outboard positions. The Cruze also has ABS and stability control.
The new optional safety package adds some features usually found on pricier models like parking sensors, blind spot warning and rear cross-traffic warning.
The Cruze offers a driving experience evenly balanced between a smooth ride and sharp handling. On one hand, it offers a solid and comfortable feel that's ideal for virtually any type of driving. Road noise is almost nonexistent, thanks to a deliberate effort to buffer the cabin with advanced sound-deadening materials.
On the handling front, the Cruze is confident in corners, showing off a decidedly sporting character when pushed to its upper limits. Calling it nimble might be going too far, but the Cruze is definitely well composed through fast turns.
Both engines are adequate for normal driving, but the 1.4-liter turbo has a more spirited feel.
Other Cars to Consider
Ford Focus - The Focus is the Cruze's most direct competitor. Both vehicles represent a turnaround for their respective carmakers. The Focus is a slightly better handler and offers more youthful styling.
Hyundai Elantra - The Elantra beats the Cruze with a more stylish exterior and a richer equipment list, but the Cruze is more fun to drive.
Honda Civic - The Civic and the Cruze are comparable in fuel economy and road manners, but the Cruze actually feels more solid inside and out. Believe it or not, the Chevy beats the Honda in the refinement test.
We think the best 2013 Chevrolet Cruze for cruising is the Eco model with a manual transmission to manage its 1.4-liter turbo. This combination makes the Cruze truly fun to drive, while offering class-leading highway fuel economy. As a bonus, it's on the lower end of the Cruze's price range, affordable both to buy and to drive. The Cruze Eco is solid, smooth, quick-footed, well equipped and efficient. With credentials like those, it's no wonder if its competitors are starting to feel a little uneasy.