The re-engineered 2016 Chevrolet Cruze begs the statement “why not” rather than “why bother.” Why not offer an economy sedan that has a list of sophisticated options and refined interior features?
Manufacturers are now making what were once uplevel packages and accessories available on the modest models. It’s all possible at a price, but is it just a marketing plan to upsell and make these low-margin cars worth the effort?
Compact, five-passenger sedans are getting larger, leaner and lighter. That means motorists can now be content with a roomier footprint without having to go bigger with a midsize car.
Chevrolet has elevated its re-engineered 2016 Cruze lineup with a new Premier trim level, known last year as the LTZ. The Cruise is a front-wheel-drive compact that is now sold in L, LS, LT and Premier trims, which all include a new 153-horsepower, direct-injection, turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine. A six-speed manual transmission is offered for the L, LS and LT trims. Six-speed automatic, which is standard on the Premier, is also an option.
Pricing starts at $17,495 for the thrifty stick shift L model. Move up to an automatic in the LS for about $20,000. The Premier starts at about $24,000, including the $875 freight charge from Lordstown, Ohio.
The Premier tester cost $28,640, including four option packages of entry-luxury extras. Among them was the Driver Confidence package ($790), mostly comprised of safety technologies. It includes IntelliBeam headlights (with automatic high-beam dimming), rear park assist, following distance indicator, rear cross traffic alert, lane-keep assist with lane-departure warning and lane-change alert with side blind-zone alert.
This package is a confidence builder for those with an unforgiving work commute. And Premier upgrades will make owners proud to drive what was once just a humble vehicle.
The 2016 Cruze reflects a full makeover. It is longer, leaner and lower with a wider stance and head-turning style. The car is 2.7 inches longer and nearly an inch lower in height. Rear legroom is a tick over 36 inches, including 2 more inches of knee room.
By using more aluminum and high-strength steel, the new body is 250 pounds lighter and also more aerodynamic — with a low 0.28 coefficient of drag.
The lighter weight allows for a smaller motor with better fuel economy. The new engine, with automatic stop-start at idle, has mileage ratings of 34 mpg city, 40 highway and 34 mpg combined on 87 octane. I averaged 32.1 mpg, which still seemed fair considering the vehicle was loaded up with Premier leather and other conveniences. It weighs 2,932 pounds.
But the turbocharged 1.4-liter engine and automatic transmission seemed calibrated to maximize fuel economy. Performance was adequate, but there were times when I would have preferred a slightly larger engine to boost acceleration for merging across highways or just to keep pace in the queue of commuting. The six-speed transmission handily doled out shifts to maximize power, but there’s only so much power to work with.
The chassis feels rigid and secure. It supports the suspension and gives refined feedback. Cornering is confident, and braking feels European-absolute because of the four-wheel disc brakes (with 10.8-inch vented front rotors and 10.4-inch solid rotors rear).
But while the ride quality feels snug at lower speeds, at 65 mph it feels harsh and there is noticeable wind noise. The glass in the side windows seems thin, and soundproofing in the doors may have been trimmed. I kept checking to be sure the windows were closed because the noise of passing traffic was so prevalent.
The Cruze is an Opel transplant for GM (the global small-car platform), but it is smartly Americanized. Chevy’s Detroit planners know its car gets used. Among the handy features are a center-console design for North America with a repositioned shifter, more intuitive positioning of the cup holders and enhanced storage. There are more soft-touch surfaces and premium fabrics with French stitching, and even contrasting stitching colors in the Premier’s leather.
The driver area is well-staged for the daily commute, with such handy designs as secure cup holders, a charging e-bin ahead of the shifter, a phone slot, door storage and a big glove box. Premier extras include heated front seats, heated rear seats and a heated, leather-wrapped steering wheel.
Sightlines are unobstructed over the shoulder, and the tidy turning circle of 34.4 feet is ideal for high-density housing developments.
With the launch of the new Cruze, Chevrolet has seen an increase in demand for the Premier model over the LTZ trim level it replaced. Chevrolet product planner Emily Moran says customers want more content, and not just at the Premium trim level. “But they still want the impressive fuel economy and price point the Cruze offers,” she says.
Mark Maynard is online at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find photo galleries and more news at Facebook.com/MaynardsGarage