This review is part of an eleven-car comparison of compact sedans. The Cruze is ranked in eighth place of eleven.
The Chevrolet Cruze hasn't changed much since a 2011 model won this reviewer's small-sedan comparison. And in some ways, that's fine. Notably, its driving dynamics retain the solid big-car feel that helped the Cruze feel more comfortable and expensive than competing economy cars.
But were its front seats always a little lumpy? Did the rear always lack legroom? Was the fabric interior trim always so rough and scratchy? Did the lower dashboard always have panels that lined up badly? These issues each seem relatively minor, but they can add up, especially as the competition improves.
The 2014 Cruze has also ceased to stand out for safety ratings or fuel economy, slipping from impressive to merely okay in each of those areas.
Discounts have mounted as the car aged, bringing its relatively high sticker price down to appealing levels, and driving dynamics remain a strong point. But the Cruze today is more like a pleasant car in a growing field of pleasant cars than a class standout.
The Cruze's biggest strength is in its ride and handling. Unlike the tautly tuned Ford Focus, this Chevrolet feels like a big solid car rather than light and sporty. There's more isolation in the cabin, yet still a controlled ride and stable, confident handling. The well-weighted steering responds well.
Several competitors will be sharper than the Cruze when they're driven hard, but it feels quite nice in routine, relatively gentle conditions.
Of course, part of the reason that the Cruze feels big and solid is that it is. It's the second-heaviest car in this comparison. Many others have gone on diets to boost fuel efficiency, but the Cruze benefits from greater comfort and refinement.
Most Cruzes have a small 1.4-liter turbocharged engine. Engines of this type are intended to provide the fuel economy of a little engine when they're driven gently while also having extra power available as needed. The Cruze does have good pep, especially right off the line, but gas mileage isn't outstanding with EPA ratings of 30 miles per gallon in mixed driving, lower than a number of competitors with ordinary engines.
Part of fuel efficiency rating is likely due to the Cruze's weight, and part of it due to the Cruze's age. The Cruze was released as a 2011 model and has seen only tiny tweaks since then; only one other car in this comparison has been around that long without a major change. A modest update is due as a 2015 model but a more comprehensive overhaul remains a couple of years off.
Mixed bag inside
Despite its age, the Cruze has mostly stayed up-to-date inside the cabin. The MyLink system has smooth and functional smartphone integration with an attractive display screen, and the overall dashboard design avoids looking too old.
One design quirk that didn't really work out was the introduction of rough, scratchy fabric on the dashboard and door panels. General Motors likely thought it was pioneering a new design trend that others would pick up on, but no one has done so. And an ergonomics foible – due to be corrected for 2015 – places the power door lock control on the instrument panel rather than on the door panels, though at least unlike on the Ford Focus there's also a manual lock on each door.
There are a few interior quality lapses, though. On the side of the instrument panel, three plastic trim pieces meet haphazardly – an assembly issue this reviewer has been observing since the first Cruzes were built four years ago. That really should have been ironed out by now. The glovebox is also clunky to open.
The front seats have supportive bolstering and plenty of room, but the cushion can feel lumpy and not everyone will like the coarse fabric upholstery (it matches the dashboard material). There's a decent view out despite thick roof pillars, but a few competitors are better.
Rear seat room is a weak point in the Cruze. The cushion itself is well-shaped and comfortable, at least for two adults, but legroom can be pretty tight. There's a fair bit of space to negotiate with the front passenger to slide that seat forward, but two relatively tall adults won't be as comfortable behind each other as they would in a number of other cars in this class.
The trunk is quite roomy, at least – a midsize-rivaling 15 cubic feet.
The Cruze has an estimated transaction price of $18,607 when comparably equipped to other cars in this comparison, with an automatic transmission; power windows, locks and mirrors; alloy wheels; Bluetooth connectivity; and an infotainment screen, plus a backup camera. That compares favorably to the competition. And while it's not outstanding, the 30-mpg fuel economy rating is in line with the heart of the market.
If you value the feel of a big car over the interior space of one, the Cruze is a compelling choice, particularly now that it's increasingly competitive on the value front. But against roomier competitors with nicer interiors, better crash-test scores, and superior gas mileage, the Cruze is no longer a true standout.
Overall grade: B
More from this comparison:
- Next review: 2014 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Premium (7th place)
- Previous review: 2014 Ford Focus SE (9th place)
- Rating the eleven compact sedans
- Ranking the eleven compact sedans
- Introduction to this comparison
More about the 2014 Chevrolet Cruze 1LT:
- Photo gallery
- Report card -- how does it compare in different ways, such as comfort, performance, and fuel economy?
- Report card -- how does it stack up for different types of buyers?
Vehicle tested: 2014 Chevrolet Cruze
Vehicle base price (MSRP): $17,520
Version tested: 1LT
Version base price (MSRP): $18,815
Vehicle price as tested (MSRP): $22,850
Vehicle price as comparable (MSRP): $21,285
Estimated transaction price as comparable: $18,607
Test vehicle provided by: Sport Chevrolet; Silver Spring, Md.
Length: 181.0 inches
Width: 70.7 inches
Height: 58.1 inches
Wheelbase: 105.7 inches
Weight: 3,118 pounds
Trunk volume: 15.0 cubic feet
Turning circle: 35.8 feet
Engine (as tested): 1.4-liter I4 with 138 horsepower
Transmission (as tested): 6-speed automatic
EPA city mileage: 26 miles per gallon
EPA highway mileage: 38 miles per gallon
EPA combined mileage: 30 miles per gallon
Assembly location: Ohio
For more information: Chevrolet website
* Prices as comparable reflect vehicles equipped with the same features, when possible: an automatic transmission; power windows, locks and mirrors; alloy wheels; Bluetooth connectivity; and an infotainment screen.
** Estimated transaction prices are based on data from Truecar.com and dealer quotes.