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2014 Chevrolet Cruze Test Drive Review
In the city and suburbs, the Cruze Clean Turbo Diesel’s ride quality is forgiving, the handling is nimble, the steering feels natural, and the brake pedal proves responsive.
Although it's aging, the 2014 Chevrolet Cruze remains a strong competitor in the popular compact class. Stylish, safe and affordable, the 2014 Cruze adds yet another appealing attribute in the form of class-leading fuel economy, thanks to its newly optional turbodiesel engine. As we discover, though, the 2014 Cruze Diesel trim’s appeal is directly related to the price difference between regular unleaded and diesel fuel.
Look and Feel
Out of 10
Now 4 years old, the Chevy Cruze is aging gracefully and continues as the most refined small sedan Chevrolet has ever built. There is no shortage of Cruze trims from which to choose; the lineup includes the LS, 1LT, 2LT, LTZ, Eco and Diesel. Prices start at $18,905 for the Cruze LS, including a destination charge of $825, and if you can’t operate the standard 6-speed manual gearbox, plan to add $1,185 for a 6-speed automatic transmission.
Choosing the Cruze 1LT ($20,640) swaps the LS trim’s standard 138-horsepower, 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine for a turbocharged, 1.4-liter 4-cylinder engine. Like the Cruze LS’s engine, the Cruze 1LT’s turbo engine makes 138 horsepower, but at lower rpm where it is more accessible. Plus, the turbo engine generates lots more torque lower in the rev range, resulting in more energetic acceleration and response. Additionally, the Cruze 1LT includes power mirrors, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, cruise control, a dash-top storage bin and 16-inch aluminum wheels.
The Cruze Eco ($20,760) is designed to maximize fuel economy on a budget. It is equipped like the Cruze 1LT but includes aerodynamic enhancements, powertrain alterations designed to improve gas mileage and lightweight polished 17-inch wheels wrapped in ultra-low-rolling-resistance tires. A Chevrolet MyLink touchscreen radio with Bluetooth music streaming capability is also standard for the Cruze Eco.
Upgrade from the Cruze 1LT to the 2LT ($22,120) for leather seats, heated front seats, a power driver’s seat, remote engine start and Chevrolet MyLink. The 2LT model also includes a sport suspension, rear disc brakes and larger 17-inch aluminum wheels.
The Cruze LTZ ($24,630) is the best-equipped version of the car, adding a standard automatic transmission, a reversing camera, automatic climate control, keyless passive entry with push-button start, heated outside mirrors, fog lights, 18-inch aluminum wheels and more.
My test car was the Cruze Clean Turbo Diesel ($25,810), the most expensive trim. The Diesel is equipped like the Cruze 2LT but with a turbodiesel engine, an automatic transmission, a beefed-up electrical system, an auxiliary heater, aerodynamic enhancements and a unique 17-inch wheel design. The Cruze Diesel also includes free scheduled maintenance for the first 2 years or 24,000 miles of ownership, and instead of a spare tire, it’s got a tire-sealant-and-inflator kit.
Options for my test car included Crystal Red Tintcoat paint ($325) and a Convenience Package ($395—reversing camera, illuminated visor vanity mirrors, auto-dimming interior mirror, heated exterior mirrors), bringing the price to $26,530. Options missing from my test car included the Enhanced Safety Package ($795 – rear parking assist sensors, Rear Cross-Traffic Alert, Side Blind Zone Alert), a power sunroof ($900), a navigation system ($795) and a premium audio system ($445).
Generally, I like the Chevy Cruze’s styling. Like most cars, it looks better with larger wheels than it does with smaller ones, and the RS Package represents a remarkably restrained way to add some visual flair to the car. My least favorite aspects of the exterior design are the enormous, oversized taillights.
Most Cruze models feature a tastefully rendered 2-tone interior treatment. The exception is when you order the black interior, which allows the metallic cabin trim to stand out in stark, stylish relief. Regardless of interior color choice, the upper dashboard and door panels are darker in color in order to reduce glare on the windows. Spiffy Sport Red cloth or Brick Red leather inserts are available in all but the LS and Diesel trims.
Out of 10
The new 2014 Chevrolet Cruze Clean Turbo Diesel is powered by a turbocharged, 2.0-liter 4-cylinder clean diesel engine that makes 151 horsepower at 4,000 rpm and 264 lb-ft of torque at 2,600 rpm. A 6-speed automatic transmission is standard, powering the car’s front wheels. The EPA says the Cruze Diesel will return 27 mpg in the city, 46 mpg on the highway, and 33 mpg in combined driving. I averaged 33.4 mpg with about 65% of my driving conducted on the highway. The engine is compatible with B20 biodiesel.
Not surprisingly, the Cruze Diesel is best used for its intended purpose as a city commuter and a highway cruiser. It weighs 298 pounds more than the Cruze 2LT upon which it is based, with most of that extra weight sitting over the front wheels. Imagine how your car might drive with me sitting on the hood and a trunk full of goodies from Target, and that’s the overall effect of the turbodiesel powertrain’s extra weight on the Cruze Diesel’s handling.
Although equipped with what Chevrolet calls a sport-tuned suspension, the Cruze Diesel exhibits excessive body motion on undulating pavement. Big bumps and potholes are dealt with sharply. On twisty 2-lane roads, the Cruze Diesel’s talents decline in direct proportion to increases in speed. The car scoots up hillsides with ease thanks to its prodigious torque. Coming downhill, understeer is a constant companion, and the low rolling resistance tires scrub and squeal early, limiting both grip and driver confidence.
But let’s be honest. Most Cruze Diesel drivers aren’t choosing this car as a sport sedan. On the freeway, the cabin is surprisingly quiet. The engine turns at low rpm, and wind noise is impressively suppressed. The greater the amount of road texture, the greater the amount of road noise, but it never gets deafening.
In the city and suburbs, the ride quality is forgiving, the handling is nimble, the steering feels natural, and the brake pedal proves communicative and responsive. Turbo lag exists, so be sure to leave extra room when turning left across traffic or when accelerating to merge with traffic. Once the engine is spinning at 1,750 rpm, peak torque is flowing and available until 3,000 rpm, helping to deliver lively acceleration. There shall be no excuses for not keeping up with traffic in this car, and the Cruze Diesel effortlessly conquered the Camarillo Grade in California’s Ventura County, powering up the incline at a steady 75 mph with plenty of reserve.
Form and Function
Out of 10
When the Chevy Cruze arrived in 2011, its cabin represented a massive improvement over that of the Cobalt model it replaced and was easily a class leader for design, tone and texture. Today, as more and more consumers are realizing that buying a small car no longer requires compromise in terms of style, materials and equipment, competitors have caught up and even surpassed the Cruze. Now, rather than calling the Cruze’s cabin class-leading, I’d say it is competitive.
Although there is evidence of cost-cutting inside of the Cruze, there are also numerous examples of unexpected quality. Examples include the turn signal and wiper stalks that operate with refinement and solidity, the symmetrical center control panel that offers buttons and knobs that look and feel class-above, and the Chevrolet MyLink touchscreen infotainment system that is graphically appealing and easy to use. Plus, the Cruze’s interior components are securely affixed to the vehicle, with little to no wiggle or flex.
The interior’s layout, as appealing as it may be, also reduces space for storage spots because it flows toward and down between the seats. Making matters worse, the parking brake, the transmission selector with its manual shift gate and a couple of sizable cupholders are located between the seats. This means the center console bin is very small and that there’s no convenient space to place keys, phones, etc. Chevy tries to make up for the lack of storage space with a covered bin atop the dash, and the glovebox is really huge. Plus, the door panel pulls serve double duty as small bins.
As far as driver and passenger accommodations are concerned, the Cruze’s front seats are supportive, and both the door armrests and the small, sliding center console armrest are padded for comfort. Unfortunately, the upper portions of the door panels are hard plastic and unkind to elbows. The leather-wrapped steering wheel is pleasing to grip for extended drives.
Rear seat legroom is cramped, but Chevrolet thoughtfully pads the entirety of the front seat backs, so full knee and shin contact is not as uncomfortable as it might otherwise be. The bottom cushion is comfortable and angled to deliver decent thigh support, and there is plenty of space under the front seats for feet.
Because there isn’t much horizontal distance between the rear seatbacks and the front seatbacks, I’d say that the Cruze is not a good car for transporting children who require a reverse-facing or forward-facing child seat, especially if taller adults are riding in front. There simply isn’t enough clearance, and when I put my kids into the Cruze, they both complained about a lack of space for their legs and feet.
There’s no shortage of room in the Cruze’s 15.4-cubic-foot trunk, an amount of space more common in a midsize sedan. With the Diesel trim, a tire-sealant-and-inflator kit replace the spare tire, because the components that make this a clean diesel vehicle, namely the Diesel Exhaust Fluid reservoir and exhaust after-treatment system, are located under the cargo floor.
Out of 10
As a small and affordable car, the Cruze isn’t a tech powerhouse, but Chevy delivers in the ways that matter. A free 6-month subscription to OnStar service is standard for every 2014 Cruze, and all trims except the base LS offer or include Chevrolet MyLink, a reversing camera, Rear Cross-Traffic Alert and Side Blind Zone Alert.
As a part of the OnStar service, the Cruze provides remote door unlocking, horn operation and lighting operation; remote diagnostic checks and reports; stolen vehicle assistance; and turn-by-turn navigation. Several safety features are also included with OnStar and are detailed in the next section.
MyLink includes a 7-inch color touchscreen, a USB port, Internet radio access and Bluetooth connectivity, including music streaming and hands-free texting. Pair an iPhone, and drivers can use Siri Eyes Free technology to ask for directions, compose and send text messages and emails, and make calls. Owners can even configure the MyLink screen to show the most frequently used touch-sensitive icons on the main page.
Generally, I find MyLink graphically pleasing and both easy and intuitive to use. Pairing a phone is easy, and making voice-activated calls is no trouble.
Out of 10
Additional features of the Cruze Clean Turbo Diesel’s standard OnStar system include Automatic Crash Response, Crisis Assist and Emergency Services technology. Using the onboard OnStar button, Cruze occupants can activate the latter two features in order to summon assistance. Automatic Crash Response engages whenever one or more of the car’s 10 standard airbags is deployed, putting occupants in touch with an operator who can send rescuers to the Cruze’s exact location whether or not the people inside are able to respond.
In addition to a wealth of airbags and OnStar, the 2014 Cruze is offered with an optional reversing camera, Rear Cross-Traffic Alert and Side Blind Zone Alert systems.
If a collision does occur, know that the Cruze receives an overall crash-test rating of 5 stars from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the highest possible rating. Also, the Cruze is rated Good in all crash-test assessments conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), except one. In the tough new small overlap frontal impact test, the Cruze is rated Marginal.
Out of 10
A Cruze Diesel commands a significant $2,505 premium over a Cruze 2LT with an automatic transmission, but delivers no better than a 3-mpg improvement in fuel economy for drivers who typically travel in both the city and on the highway. Furthermore, the Cruze Diesel’s cost-effectiveness is largely dependent on the price differential between regular unleaded and diesel fuel. Right now, as this review is written, unleaded is averaging $3.37 per gallon, while diesel is running $3.90.
While diesel prices are usually more stable than those for unleaded, you need not possess a doctorate degree in rocket science to figure out that in the current market, it is going to take a very long time for the Cruze Diesel to pencil as the smarter choice, even if it is the only trim in the lineup to offer free scheduled maintenance for the first 2 years or 24,000 miles of ownership. Maybe the Diesel makes plenty of sense if you pile on the highway miles, since it is rated to get 46 mpg in that situation. Otherwise, carefully consider less-expensive variants of the Cruze.
Generally, according to Kelley Blue Book, all Cruze models are expected to cost less to own and operate for the first 5 years than other models. Chevy dealers are usually ready to sweeten a deal, too, thanks to rebates, low-interest financing and low lease payments. These factors make Cruze ownership appealing. However, if you choose to buy rather than lease, keep in mind that both Consumer Reports and J.D. Power think the Cruze will prove average in terms of reliability and dependability and that ALG says the Cruze does an average job of retaining its value over time.
Christian Wardlaw has nearly two decades of experience reviewing cars, and has served in editorial leadership roles with Edmunds, Autobytel, and J.D. Power and Associates. Chris prefers to focus on the cars people actually buy rather than the cars about which people dream, and emphasizes the importance of fuel economy and safety as much as how much fun a car is to drive. Chris is married to an automotive journalist, is the father of four daughters, and lives in Southern California.