Cruising the North Dakota prairie in a 2014 Chevy Cruze


By Jim Meachen
Editor, MotorwayAmerica

(September 15, 2014) Chevrolet announced a few weeks ago that it had sold its 3 millionth Cruze worldwide including nearly a million in the U.S. since it hit the market in 2011. We can attest to the compact sedan's popularity after spending five days and nearly 1,200 miles in a 2014 Cruze in the wide-open spaces of North Dakota.

It "cruised" the 75 mph interstates at a steady 80+ miles per hour. We rolled over the state blacktops at about 70 mph and covered more than our fare share of gravel roads driving a more sedate 55 to 60 mph. Regardless of road surface or speed, the Cruze rewarded us with a quiet interior with just a minimum of road and wind noise. That's, indeed, an achievement for a car in this price class. 

Flying low at 81 to 82 miles per hour on Interstate 94 from Fargo to Bismarck there was a lot of time for conversation as the 200 miles flew by. Even at that rather inflated speed, wind and road noise were well muted and our voices never had to be raised beyond normal conversational levels.

When it was time for a bit of music or news, the standard edition audio system provided pleasing sounds with decent bass response. It there ever was a stretch of road made for autonomous driving, this is it. The Cruze provided the next best thing. Point the Chevy sedan in a westerly direction and engage cruise control. And later in the day, point it east to Fargo.

The ride proved comfortable for long-distance travel, we found it easy to reach an optimum driving position, and handling was first rate compared to the American, Korean and Japanese competition.

Our Cruze was part of a rental car fleet, not always the best way to obtain a true picture of a nameplate. But the Cruze we drove crushed the old stereotype of the stripped-down bare-bones rental car of the past. There was nothing that spoke "rental" with a nice assortment of features including automatic headlights, power driver's seat, and full power accessories.

It's rare when you can you walk away from a rental and proclaim while sitting in the airport awaiting a flight back to "civilization" that you would not hesitate to purchase a similar vehicle, perhaps with a couple additional options.

After driving and testing three Cruze models since it hit the U.S. market, we can proclaim that it's the best compact car Chevrolet has ever built. That may not be the highest of praise since it is being compared to such entries as the Cavalier and Cobalt. But we also compare it favorably to the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla and Nissan Sentra — without reservation.

The Cruze engine in the base LS trim is a 1.8-liter 138-horsepower 4-cylinder making 125 pound-feet of torque. The other trim levels — with the exception of the diesel — are outfitted with a turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder also making 138 horsepower and 148 foot-pounds of torque. The turbocharged engine offers excellent mileage rated at 26 mpg city and 38 highway on regular gas.

New for 2014 is a very good diesel engine making 151 horsepower and 264 pound-feet of torque. The diesel provides the best of both worlds — great fuel economy measured at 27 mpg city, 46 highway and 33 combined. It's also the most expensive Cruze.

All are mated to a six-speed automatic. A manual transmission is also available for the few who still value shifting for themselves.

The five trim levels are LS, LT, LTZ, Eco and Diesel and our rental car was a LT1 with the turbocharged engine, 16-inch alloy wheels, air conditioning, keyless entry, leather-wrapped steering wheel, rearview camera, cruise control, and the Chevrolet MyLink interface with a seven-inch touchscreen. Retail price for that model is $21,285.

The Cruze has a well-made and very attractive cabin. Fit and finish is as good as it gets in the segment. Textures are pleasing. Knobs are soft to the touch and impart a substantial feel. The glossy black insets, the brushed-aluminum trim and the blue backlit gauges all speak of substance beyond the price point of the car.

We think Chevrolet’s gauge layout is among well done, and we particularly like the digital information screen between the speedometer and tachometer.

Although backseat legroom is slightly tighter than a couple of rivals, the Cruze is spacious enough to to adequately handle a family of four. And it’s a segment leader in trunk size with 15 cubic feet available. Many mid-size cars have less space.

Exterior styling is also on the positive side. Chevrolet designers have taken the safe route and they have done a creditable job in creating an attractive, but conservative stance that is wearing very well four years out. We like it when manufacturers push the design envelope and get away with it (Hyundai Sonata and Elantra, for instance), but there’s something to be said for staying on the safe side, especially when it’s done as well as the Cruze.

Chevrolet has covered safety quite well. All 2014 Chevrolet Cruze comes with stability control, antilock brakes, full-length side curtain airbags, front knee airbags and front and rear side-impact airbags as standard. A front-disc/rear-drum brake setup is standard on all models except the 2LT, LTZ and Diesel, which are upgraded to four-wheel disc brakes. Also standard is OnStar, which includes automatic crash notification, on-demand roadside assistance, remote door unlocking and stolen-vehicle assistance.

A rearview camera, blind-spot monitoring and a rear cross-traffic alert system are optional for all Cruzes except the LS and were included on our rental vehicle.

In government crash testing, the Cruze earned a top five-star rating for overall safety performance, with five stars in the frontal- and side-impact categories. In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety testing, the Cruze received a top score of "Good" in moderate-overlap frontal-offset, side-impact and roof-strength testing. In the small-overlap frontal offset test, however, the Cruze scored a second-lowest "Marginal" rating. The Cruze's seat/head restraint design was rated "Good" for whiplash protection in rear impacts.

If you have shopped Honda, Toyota and Hyundai looking for a compact sedan that fits your needs don't stop there. Take the time to look over the Cruze and take a test drive. We think it will be an enlightening experience.