The 2014 Chevrolet Cruze remains an attractive player among compact sedans, though its interior reveals the car is now a few years into its first generation, and the new diesel option is disappointing.
The Cruze is in a car class packed with many very attractive options. Every year that passes makes unchanged models seem noticeably outdated. The Honda Civic, Nissan Sentra and Kia Forte are a few of the models that have enjoyed complete redesigns since the Cruze replaced the Chevrolet Cobalt. The Dodge Dart is a new addition entirely. While some compact sedans also come as hatchbacks, such as the Ford Focus, Hyundai Elantra and Subaru Impreza, the Cruze is only a sedan.
The main change for 2014 is the addition of an efficient clean-diesel engine in a trim level Chevy officially calls the Cruze Clean Turbo Diesel, but labels simply with a trunk-lid badge that reads 2.0 TD. (We'll just call it the Diesel). With EPA-rated mileage of 27/46/33 mpg city/highway/combined, it's more efficient than the Cruze powered by either of the two available gasoline four-cylinders, including the highest-rated version with an automatic transmission, the Cruze Eco at 26/39/31 mpg.
We tested the 2014 Diesel and earlier gasoline versions, which are unchanged for 2013 (see them compared).
How It Drives
Though the base Cruze LS is equipped with an uninspiring 1.8-liter, four-cylinder gasoline engine, the other gas trim levels have a turbocharged 1.4-liter that provides better acceleration after initial hesitation from a standing start. Despite its greater oomph, this engine also provides better mileage, which is becoming common in the market. When it comes to mileage, when you pay more, you now often get more. The same is true of the Eco trim level, which tops the regular 1.4-liter Cruze automatic by 1 mpg combined. The Eco is even more efficient with a six-speed manual transmission, though, getting an estimated 33 mpg combined. Both Eco models sacrifice some quickness in the pursuit of efficiency. The LS and LT trim levels also offer manual transmissions.
Though I like diesels, the Cruze Diesel disappoints. I called out the balky transmission in my Quick Drive of the 2.0 TD, and the car's acceleration characteristics haven't grown on me. It's actually worse than I originally thought. The estimated zero-to-60-mph time is 8.6 seconds — not bad — but what I object to is the character of the acceleration. In addition to the transmission's hesitation once in motion, the car is downright poky from a standing start: Step on the accelerator, and the car responds immediately but accelerates very, very slowly. You're close to 20 mph before it really gets moving. I understand needing to limit the prodigious diesel torque to prevent wheelspin, but this goes overboard. It's worse than the gas-powered Cruze. This is no small shortfall for a diesel. Its two major benefits are supposed to be stout acceleration and efficiency. First one's a strike.
As for the mileage, the Cruze Diesel truly did hit mid-to-high-40 miles per gallon on the highway, though it drops precipitously at lower speeds and in the city — but it's still in the mid- to high-20s there. This performance is as estimated, and nothing to complain about, but there's no question this car's mileage in mixed driving is closer to the city figure than the highway one.
Standing outside a running CCTD, you know it's diesel. Though it's not necessarily loud, it's louder than its main competitor, the clean-diesel Jetta TDI, and it has the distinctive chugga-chugga diesel sound, which you also hear from inside. Thankfully, you don't feel it. Hydraulic engine mounts isolate the shuddering 2.0-liter four-cylinder from the cabin. You don't even feel it when you turn the Cruze's engine off. Such high-compression diesels tend to jolt the car a bit when you shut them down. It's a bit noticeable in the Jetta.
Whether you have the gas engine or the new diesel, which required some suspension changes, the Cruze has a very comfortable ride. I'd characterize its handling as capable, even refined, but not as sporty as you'll find in the Ford Focus, Mazda3 or Honda Civic.
The Cruze's strengths include a comfortable, quiet interior and exceptionally long driver's seat travel, meaning tall people can fit in front, albeit at the possible expense of backseat legroom.
The Cruze has been an unlikely canvas for more daring uses of color and nontraditional textures, and to my eyes it still plays well. But there's no mistaking the shortcomings, which include some hard surfaces where you really notice them, such as door panels and even the backseat armrests. Some editors objected to the silver plastic on the center console and steering wheel.
Power locks are standard, but there's no excuse for not having power buttons on the front doors. There's just one on the center control panel — a cost-cutting measure that turns off everyone who notices it.
Compared with competitors, the Cruze's 95 cubic feet of cabin volume is on the high side, matching the Civic, trailing the new Sentra by 1 cubic foot and beating the Focus by 4 cubic feet. The Cruze's backseat is midpack, with less legroom than the Civic and Sentra but more than the Focus. See these models' specs compared here.
Ergonomics & Electronics
With the exception of the single power-door-lock switch mentioned above, the Cruze's controls are pretty simply laid out and ergonomic. The optional touch-screen is among the simpler systems we've used.
One shortcoming is the reflective glass over the gauges. In spite of the deep gauge hoods, reflected daylight sometimes makes the faces harder to see.
Cargo & Storage
With a trunk volume of 15 cubic feet, the Cruze is on the generous side for the compact sedan class. The standard 60/40-split folding rear seat extends the cargo area into the cabin when needed.
The trunk reveals a compromise specific to the Cruze Diesel. This engine requires an exhaust treatment system that relies on a urea solution called diesel exhaust fluid (it gives pollutants in the exhaust a chemical to react with to turn them into less harmful emissions). It must be refilled roughly every 10,000 miles — a minor issue that gets blown out of proportion. But its 4.5-gallon tank occupies the space meant for a spare tire, so Cruze Diesel owners are stuck with a sometimes-worthless sealant system instead. Note that current comparable Volkswagen cars don't require this system or the fluid.
The 2014 Cruze hasn't been crash-tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, but because the gas-powered car is unchanged, the 2013 results are almost certain to apply. IIHS gave the Cruze its top rating of Good in frontal, side, rear and roof-strength tests. As such, it matches 34 of the other 35 models in the organization's Small Cars category. Fortunately, a new test that gauges a car's performance in smaller-overlap frontal collisions now distinguishes better among the test subjects.
Here the Cruze performed less well, with a rating of Marginal. Of the 12 models subjected to this test so far, two scored Good, four scored Acceptable, three scored Marginal and three scored Poor.
In National Highway Traffic Safety Administration testing, the Cruze scored five stars overall out of five.
The Cruze's optional safety features include rear park assist with cross-traffic alert, a backup camera and a blind spot warning system. See the standard safety features here.
Value in its Class
Typically, the longer a car model goes without a redesign, the better deals you'll find on it. While modest rebates might be available, the Cruze has been selling very well — enough for the company to forgo a planned one-week production shutdown in August 2013 to keep up with demand. As always, comparison shopping is your best strategy.
The higher cost of more efficient Cruze trim levels might be a turnoff to some shoppers, but it's becoming the norm, as more expensive technology delivers the efficiency gains seen in the Eco and Diesel.
But there's no denying the Cruze Clean Turbo Diesel is pricey, starting at nearly $26,000 (all prices cited include destination charges). It's closest in features and appointments to the gas-powered Cruze 2LT, which costs around $23,500 with an automatic transmission, but it's more than $3,800 more than the automatic Cruze Eco and about $6,500 more than the base LS automatic.
Perhaps more relevant, it's about $600 more than the Jetta TDI automatic (and around $1,700 more than the manual), which is rated 30/42/34 mpg with either transmission. That's lower than the Cruze Diesel on the highway but higher in the city and combined.
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