By Costa Mouzouris, Driving.ca - The Chevrolet Cruze is GM's best-selling car in Canada, despite stiff competition in the compact segment. In fact, the Cruze is good enough to entice many owners of other brands to switch teams; GM claims that more than half of Cruze owners are new to the brand.
This is Chevy's bread-winning car, available in more than 75 countries worldwide. It has sold more than four million units around the world since its introduction in 2008, and more than 170,000 units in Canada since arriving here in 2010, though those numbers pale in comparison to the Honda Civic, which sells twice as many units.
Chevrolet has given this next-generation Cruze a complete makeover for 2016, and it features much more than just a more aggressive new look. The windshield and back glass are at shallower angles for a more streamlined, Euro coupe-like roofline, and the car now has an almost fastback silhouette.
Built at GM's Lordstown, Ohio plant, the Cruze has gained 1.5 centimetres of wheelbase (now at 270 cm), is 6.8 cm longer, and the roof is 2.5 cm lower. The extra length contributes to additional interior space, especially for rear passengers. Taller passengers will find headroom a bit cramped, a drawback of the lowered roof.
An all-new 1.4-litre, direct-injection turbocharged four-cylinder is the only available engine, replacing the outgoing model's 1.4-L turbocharged and the 1.8-L naturally aspirated engines. As before, it is mated to either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission.
This new, lighter engine produces 153 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque, up from the former turbo's 138 horses and 148 lb-ft. The new engine's claimed combined fuel consumption is 6.8 L/100 km when coupled to the automatic transmission with the standard start/stop function, and a best of 5.6 L/100 km on the highway. That's about a litre better than the former 1.4-L engine. After an 80-mile ride in an automatic LT, the trip computer displayed an average consumption of 41 mpg U.S., or 5.7 L/100 km.
If you prefer forfeiting sparkplugs in the interest of even better fuel economy, you can wait until 2017 when GM will reintroduce the diesel version.
Four trim levels are available, from the $15,995US L model ($180 less than the 2015 model) to the $23,995US Premier. The enticing entry price won't get you basic conveniences such as cruise control, a rear-view camera or air conditioning, but you do get Bluetooth connectivity with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, and available LTE Wi-Fi. You can add the RS package to the LT for $695US, which adds fog lamps, a sporty front fascia and rear spoiler, or to the Premier for a $995US premium, which also adds 18-inch wheels (16-, 16-, and 17-inch wheels are available on various trims). Heated front seats are standard from the LT model upward.
A new chassis is 24 kilograms lighter and boasts a 27 per cent increase in rigidity. The lighter engine and chassis, as well as other weight-saving measures, combine to drop about 113 kg from the curb weight. From the driver's seat, this translates to a ride that feels taut, with bumps and road noise well isolated from the interior.
The L, LS and LT models feature a torsion-beam rear axle, while the Premier is equipped with a Watts Z-link. Despite this relatively modest suspension design (front struts; rear torsion beam), GM engineers have tuned it to feel much more sophisticated. At low speeds it feels firm, yet lacks any harshness, even over a series of moderately sized bumps. If pushed through tight turns at higher speeds, though, it becomes evident that the suspension is tuned for comfort, returning modest body roll.
Steering effort is light and feedback is somewhat muted, in contrast to the 2016 Civic our hosts made available for comparison. The Cruze, however, is smoother and quieter, especially from the engine compartment. While not quite as serene as the Buick Verano, even the lower-end LS model is above par in its class.
The manual transmission has moderate lever travel and requires a light touch, but it's not best suited for the engine's powerband. Pushing the gas pedal down results in a very lethargic climb of the tach needle until the revs pick up, after which the turbocharged four lights up considerably.
The automatic transmission downshifts more obediently than a lazy hand on the manual stick, therefore it feels much livelier. This keeps the engine in the strong part of its powerband more effectively, while transferring less engine vibration and returning a smoother ride than the manual transmission. Whether equipped with two or three pedals, the brake pedal seems unusually high.
The Cruze's interior has been refreshed with more soft-touch and textured materials, and it has a slightly upscale look and feel. It might fall short when compared to luxury offerings in the segment, but it is finer than most cars in its price range. A seven-inch colour touch screen is standard, and an eight-inch screen is optional. The instrument cluster is similar to the outgoing model, though there's now a 4.2-inch high-definition screen between the gauges. The shift lever has also moved to the left side of the centre console, closer to the driver.
Ten airbags are standard, and there are many driver aids available. A rear-view camera is standard from the LS model up, and park assist and rear cross-traffic alert are available on the LT. If you must have all the driver aids, including lane-departure warning, lane-keep assist, collision alert and a following-distance warning, they're available only on the Premier model.
The 2016 Chevrolet Cruze is available now, and it appears to be popular with second-time buyers: about 58 per cent of Cruze buyers already own one. Chevrolet aims to entice at least some drivers away from the Civic, so a five-door hatchback Cruze will be available later this year. But even without the fifth door, this lighter, larger and more dynamic Cruze will probably attract many more converts.