Test Drive: Chevrolet Cruze

Atlanta ? After spending time in the Chevrolet Cruze locally, we thought it might be a good car for a road trip we planned from Atlanta to Myrtle Beach on the South Carolina coast.? Often small cars are not comfortable for extended trips, but the Cruze is a nice comfortable size, very economical and has all the conveniences that make extended time in the car more pleasant.

A week and nearly one-thousand miles later, we were fans of the mid-size sedan.? Obviously, we aren?t the only ones, either.? Worldwide the Cruze has become the best-selling Chevrolet car.

From first glance, the Cruze gets high marks for styling; fronted by the signature split Chevy family grille with the gold bowtie logo.? We like that look, which Chevy designers have integrated nicely on all but the specialty performance cars in the lineup.? From the side, Cruze styling is simple and clean with a slight wedge, simple wheel arches all topped by a smooth sweeping roofline.

The interior is business like but with a bit of flare, especially on upper level models with the optional two-tone seating and the textured aluminum-look accents.? The dash flows contiguously to the door panels giving it a clean attractive cockpit style surround.? The center console of our car was topped by the seven-inch screen of the highly desirable navigation system?s touch screen.? The screen also displays audio functions, but we like the traditional preset buttons and knobs that make changing stations easier.

The seats are comfortable and supportive, easily capable of a comfortable full day?s drive.? The heated front seats are a nice touch that Barbara always appreciates.? We also like the easy to read instrument cluster, which has two large pods on the sides and the screen for the driver information screen in the center.? The new style steering wheel-mounted controls are simple and convenient, and we especially like that the cruise controls are now off the turn signal stock.

Cruze is available with a pair of 138-hp engines.? The base 1.8-liter DOHC four-cylinder engine is only used in the LS while all other models come with the 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder.? The more economical and more powerful turbocharged engine has 25- lb.ft. of torque more than the 1.8.? A six-speed manual transmission is standard equipment on most models, with an optional six-speed automatic.

We drove the more economical turbocharged engine on our trip with an automatic transmission and were rewarded with numbers that were better than the EPA ratings of 26 mpg city and 38 mpg highway.?? We actually averaged 38.4 mpg driving mostly at or slightly over the posted speed limits.

The idea of a three-thousand pound car powered by a little a 1.4-liter engine made us think of lethargic passing power and pedal to the metal hills, but the turbocharger does a good job of supplying reasonable passing power and acceleration.? Zero to 60 mph comes in 9.3 seconds, which is perfectly acceptable for this type of car.? Fuel economy ranges from 25 mpg city/ 36 mpg highway for the LS to 28/42 for the ECO model.

Safety conscious consumers will love the 10 standard airbags, the most in this class, and the overall five-star rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

There are four Cruze trim levels (LS, 1LT, 2LT and LTZ) and a high efficiency Eco model. ?All models have an extensive selection of standard equipment like StabiliTrak? stability control with traction control, OnStar? communications system with directions, Sirius XM radio, Bluetooth?, air conditioning plus power windows and locks.? Upper level models other premium features that can give the Cruze a much more sophisticated demeanor.

Pricing starts at $17,550 including the destination charge for the LS and tops out at $23,940 for the LTZ.? The fuel-efficient ECO model is $20,075.

We enjoyed traveling in the Cruze.? It?s a nice size — not too small and not too large so it wasn?t uncomfortable in a tight parking building.? It was also roomy inside with plenty of drink holders and storage space, plus a spacious 15.4 cubic foot trunk.

A little more power would be nice, but the Cruze performance is based more on MPG than MPH. ?The ride and handling is very good and it?s an enjoyable car to drive.

More from Our Auto Expert