This is my unbiased review of a Chevy Cruze rental from Enterprise Rental Car which I drove for approximately 6 days. This review became possible due to sudden nature of my Golf R’s damage originating in a DC garage. More on that later, but back to my review of the Cruze.
The Cruze is nestled midway in Chevy’s model pantheon; between the Sonic on the subcompact end, and the Malibu at the full size spectrum of the lineup. At the time of this writing the Cruze had been in production nearly 10 years. The entry L trim level w/ 6 spd MT starts at $17.8K while the hatchback starts off at $22K. I would not choose the hatchback option unless you dislike better options from Ford, Toyota, Subaru or Volkswagen. You have a choice of two power plants; a 1.4 liter turbocharged petrol engine (153 horsepower / 177 foot pounds of torque) or a 1.6 liter turbo diesel engine (135 horsepower / 240 foot pounds of torque), although opting for the diesel power plant tacks on an additional $3,300. Which one to go with, right? Diesel, because the petrol version sucks, and without the hope of passing a tortoise using a walker at least you can enjoy more low end torque with the hint of better fuel economy. Trim levels range from L for the most basic all the way to Premier for the uh, well the premier level (+$6,500). A fully dressed Cruze sedan will set you back around $35K.
The Cruze sedan that I picked up from Enterprise was configured in the LT trim which starts at $18.8K, and includes the base 16″ aluminum wheels, power locks and windows, satellite radio (subscription extra), and was finished in Chevy’s Graphite Metallic. But how does this compare to other cars in its class you ask? Great question! On paper, nothing jumps out at you. One of its key competitors, the Hyundai Elantra, which for a comparably equipped trim line (SEL) starts at $18.5K. One nice perc worth mentioning about the Cruze, it had Apple’s CarPlay infortainment system. The Elantra I tested did not, so that’s one to the Cruze. One thing that did stand out to me in the Cruze was the slope of the windshield which is slightly raked providing nearly 3′ of dash space from the steering wheel to the glass. That’s been balanced by an equal amount of rake on the rear deck glass. Similar to that of the Nissan 300 series decks in that it reduces visibility for each degree the deck is sloped. Beyond that, nothing else was remarkable except for the amount of abuse this vehicle had suffered in it’s relatively short time, 30,000 on the odometer, in the Enterprise rental fleet. We can delve into more of that later. The next thing immediately perceptible were the cloth covered seats. Oh joy. I must check my expectations at the door since this is strictly an economy/commuting warrior, not a weekend GT car, hot hatch (And no, not even the Cruze hatch is not a hot hatch) or performance sedan. Not since my first post-college car, which by the way was a Honda Accord, have I dealt with cloth covered seating. I’m sure I’m like most out there who would prefer leather or “pleather” as it’s easier to get in and out of when you’re wearing a suit or dress. After coming to terms with car’s cloth upholstered seating my eye caught sight of what looked like 2 cigarette burns on the driver’s side, and numerous imperfections on the front passenger seat. Now, I was starting to worry a bit.
Behind the wheel two things struck me 1) that windshield has a long slope, like really long, and 2) the steering wheel feels less than substantial. Firing up the Cruze was a breeze, using an old school key inserted into an ignition barrel as opposed to other higher modern vehicles with keyless starting systems that monitor the key fob using a proximity sensor. The transmission is a plain 6 speed syncro-mesh automatic that has economy as the ultimate goal with a 3.14 ratio. Acceleration can be mistaken for a misfire or sputter as nothing resembling strong forward motion is evident with anything less than 3/4 application of the accelerator. You will need to plan passing opportunities with this engine/transmission as you will not be able to pick off any vehicle ahead of you unless they too are in a Cruze, diesel. Here the Elantra has the clear edge. Braking seemed fine in ordinary roll up stops as well as hard stops common in rush hour traffic. Interestingly enough it was the third application of the brakes revealed quite a unique feature, a paring knife stowed under the driver’s seat which suddenly appeared next to my left foot. Presumably from the last user or part of the Cruze’s Swiss Army interior package. Unsure of its origin, I retrieved the knife and placed in the storage bin underneath the center armrest. Now, I don’t recall the Elantra not stopping nor depositing a kitchen knife at my feet after an application of the brakes so this one goes to the Cruze. An upside for the Cruze, trunk space. I had a friend visiting from out of town, and the Cruze’s ample trunk was able to not only swallow up his baggage, but accommodate my camera bag, fully loaded with multiple bodies and lenses (35#). I don’t recall the Elantra having as spacious a trunk, chalk another up for the Cruze. One other thing that takes some getting used to is what people know as “Start-Stop” system whereby the engine cuts off when the vehicle is not moving, presumably in traffic or traffic signal where the idea is to cut the bad fuel economy while idling or generating additional carbon monoxide. If you’re concerned about whether Start-Stop systems are a boon or harmful to your car you can check out an article from Autoweek that covers that very question. Earlier in the year I test drove the new Hyundai Elantra, and I would compare the Cruze to the Elantra as a direct competitor, and in drivability department the tie goes to the Elantra for acceleration and pure power. And until I drove the Cruze I didn’t realize how good the Elantra was or is.
The Chevrolet Cruze does exactly what it’s supposed to do, which is to get you from A to B. It has some bells and whistles to make your time along the way more enjoyable. Steering is adequate, braking sufficient (disable paring knife release feature – check owners manual), passing capability almost non existent (think sloth versus cheetah or tortoise), trunk space is cavernous, visibility out of the rear deck is less than in other vehicles, the controls for the stereo leave a little to be desired (the volume and track selector are behind the wheel where one would expect to find paddle shifters for dual clutch gearbox equipped cars), the touchscreen on the infotainment system is slanted towards the dash meaning your inputs to the system will be made at an awkward angle and some touch strokes may not be read by the system the first time or two. Still it has Apple’s CarPlay, USB and stereo jacks for connectivity and charging options. If you’re deciding between the Chevrolet Cruze and Hyundai Elantra, I’d go with the Elantra. If you draw the Cruze as your rental car, it could be worse, but it’s similar enough to the Elantra that you shouldn’t feel cheated unless of course you get mine complete with paring knife then all bets are off.