2013 Chevrolet Cruze

Changes are modest in the compact sedan's third season, but a diesel-powered Cruze is coming

Compact and subcompact cars have had their ups and downs in the American market, but General Motors has high hopes for the 2013 Chevrolet Cruze. All too often, buyers have shunned American-made small cars, instead favoring import brands. But not so long after the Cruze first reached U.S. dealerships, in September 2009, it became the top-selling Chevrolet car. GM hopes to continue that success with the refreshed 2013 Cruze.

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An International Chevrolet

Made in Lordstown, Ohio, the Chevrolet Cruze is sold in more than 60 countries. American buyers get only four-door sedans, but hatchbacks and wagons are offered elsewhere. Design work is credited to South Korea, while German engineers (with American input) developed the powertrain. Modifications to the original design, for U.S. sale, focused on the powertrain, interior details, and acoustics.

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Cruze Models

LS, LT, and LTZ trim levels are offered, plus a thrifty Eco edition that gets a 42-mpg highway estimate-28 mpg in city driving-from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), if equipped with manual shift. LT models are split into 1LT and 2LT editions, according to their level of standard equipment. Alloy 16-inch wheels became standard on the 1LT model; 17-inch wheels, along with all-disc brakes, are standard on the 2LT. Foglamps became standard on LTZ. A sporty RS appearance package available for LT and LTZ models included unique fascias, rocker moldings, a rear spoiler, and foglamps.

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Two four-cylinder engines have been offered. The basic 1.8-liter Ecotec engine in LS models develops 138 horsepower and 123 pound-feet of torque. A turbocharged 1.4-liter (borrowed from the European Opel Astra) goes into LT, LTZ, and Eco models, issuing the same 138 horsepower but 148 pound-feet of torque. GM's StabiliTrak stability enhancement system is standard. A manual gearbox is standard on all models except for the LTZ, which is automatic-only.

Biggest news of all is the impending availability of a diesel-engine model, but that isn't expected until sometime in 2013. When the diesel emerges, Cruze will be GM's first diesel-powered automobile since the ill-fated diesels of the 1980s.

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Design Overview

Chevrolet promotes the Cruze's "global signature face," led by a two-tier grille containing a gold "bowtie" logo. An arching roofline connects the steeply-raked windshield and "fast-sloping" rear pillars, to create what Chevrolet calls a "sporty-coupe-like proportion." Prominent headlamp housings wrap around the front corners and sweep upward into the fenders and hood. Inside is a twin-cockpit layout, featuring grained, soft-touch components and low-gloss trim panels. Instruments are backlit using LED technology.

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Fuel Efficiency

For 2012, the fuel-economy estimate rose to 26/38 mpg for the 1.4-liter turbo-a 2-mpg increase. The EPA estimates 25 /36 mpg for the 1.8-liter engine with six-speed manual shift, or 22/35 mpg with a six-speed automatic transmission. Fuel economy for the Eco sedan with six-speed automatic rose by 2 mpg, to 39 mpg highway.

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Driving Impression

Based on test-drives of 2011 and 2012 models, the Chevrolet Cruze provides rather ordinary excellence. Quiet and generally comfortable, the Cruze is easy to drive and promises ample space. Handling and roadholding score a cut above the norm, too; reasonably agile, though short of athletic. Ride quality is less appealing, because occupants are likely to feel most pavement imperfections. In fact, actual bumps and holes can yield a rather jarring impact.

Acceleration with the turbo model is satisfactory from a standstill, and pleasantly confident overall, but passing response is more leisurely than might be expected. Automatic-transmission shifts are felt in the old-fashioned mode. Gauges are easy enough to read, but a wide B-pillar impedes vision over the driver's left shoulder.

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For 2013, the Chevrolet Cruze adds infotainment and safety technologies, including a MyLink system. Two audio systems, one of which has GPS-enabled navigation and a 7-inch diagonal touchscreen, are new for 2013. An available Enhanced Safety Package combines rear park assist, side blind zone alert, and rear cross-traffic alert.

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Chevrolet claimed more interior space and cargo room than rivals for the initial Cruze, which was billed as a "compact car with an upscale presence." General Motors also claimed credit for the "class-leading" status of the Cruze's 10 standard airbags. Cruze has earned five-star safety ratings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

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Pricing for the 2013 Cruze is not yet available, but the 2012 LS sedan with manual shift started at $17,595 (including destination charge). A 2012 LTZ stickered for $23,985, while the Eco had an MSRP of $20,120. Cruze competitors include the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Hyundai Elantra, and Ford Focus, along with the new-for-2013 Dodge Dart.

For all its merits and moderness, Cruze doesn't quite stand above the competition. Still, for American-car fans, the 2013 Chevrolet Cruze offers quality close to that of the familiar imports-at long last.

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