Compact cars are usually more pragmatic than pleasurable, but the 2013 Chevrolet Cruze Eco is an exception to the rule.
Yes, even on family-car duty for a week, and again for an additional week while my family was on vacation, we were quite comfortable in the Cruze Eco, a high-mileage trim that uses lightweight wheels with low-rolling-resistance tires, different gearing and aerodynamic treatments to achieve higher gas mileage than the other Cruze trims. Its great gas mileage made all of my errand-running a lot less painful when it was time to fill up at the gas pump; this car stayed true to the fuel-economy numbers on the sticker. The trunk handled our stroller and kid gear just as well as it handled our luggage on vacation, and with a spacious cabin (for its class), the three of us were a happy family in the Cruze.
The thing I usually dread most about driving a compact car is the tin-can feeling. However, the Cruze doesn't feel that way at all. I was pleasantly surprised by the smooth ride it delivered, and with my test car's turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine, I had plenty of power to accelerate and keep up with traffic on the freeway. I found its handling and responsiveness to be another pleasant surprise. It delivered one of the best driving experiences I've had in this segment.
The more I drove the Cruze, the more I liked it. Smaller families shouldn't let its compact status deter them; it's a great option.
The 2013 Chevrolet Cruze starts at $17,940, including an $810 destination charge. My higher-trim Cruze Eco test car with a six-speed manual transmission and a 7-inch touch-screen with the MyLink multimedia system and a navigation system cost $23,085.
There's plenty to rave about with the 2013 Cruze, but its exterior looks aren't one of them. They're not offensive; the Cruze Eco looks like a typical compact car with styling that's not particularly eye-catching. However, it's a huge improvement over its predecessor, the Chevrolet Cobalt. The Cruze Eco isn't a book to be judged by its cover.
Aside from looks, the Cruze scores points on ease of use when loading and unloading the trunk, and adults and children should enter and exit the car without problems. I was especially pleased that I didn't bump my head on the roofline when leaning in to get my daughter strapped into her child-safety seat.
When my family of three drove a Cruze on vacation as our rental car, we hauled two rolling suitcases, a portable crib, a diaper bag, a stroller and a gaggle of toddler toys for a week. Almost everything fit in the trunk, but our portable crib had to be stowed on the second row's floor until we reached our destination. If we had two children in the car and less stuff, the Cruze could have accommodated us as well. At 15.4 cubic feet, the trunk is large for its class, and I was amazed at all we fit inside it throughout the week. Access is easy; loading it up is painless, and if you need more room, there is a 60/40-split folding backseat.
Possibly one of the most family-friendly features about the Chevy Cruze is its fantastic fuel economy, especially on the Eco trim. During a weekend filled with driving around Los Angeles, I averaged 42 mpg, which my husband and I deemed a hybrid-worthy number.
The Cruze Eco has a 138-horsepower, turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine, and with a six-speed manual transmission, it gets an EPA-estimated 28/42 mpg city/highway and uses regular unleaded gas. The Cruze Eco with a six-speed automatic transmission gets 26/39 mpg. A Cruze 1LT with the same turbo four-cylinder and a six-speed manual gets 26/38 mpg.
SENSE AND STYLE
Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): More Than Fair/Less Than Great
Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Some
The Cruze's interior made me forget it was a compact car; it had details normally not found in the hard-plastic-lined competitors in its class. Fabric trim on the door panels extends onto the dash, which also has brushed metal-looking finishes. The interior bucks all budget-friendly vehicle stereotypes.
The Cruze is a five-seater, but it only seats four adults comfortably. The backseat easily accommodated my daughter's rear-facing convertible car seat. Of course, the front passenger didn't have a lot of legroom with the car seat behind him. Compare that to when I tested the Toyota Corolla, my adult passenger preferred sitting in the second row behind the driver's seat rather than in the front passenger seat with the safety seat behind her.
Although the interior is somewhat roomy for a compact car, the Cruze's storage is limited. There are two cupholders in the front row with a small center console that housed a USB input, but there are no cubbies or bins under the center stack for quickly stashing sunglasses or loose change. All the doors have bottleholders, which was fortunate because the backseat doesn't have any cupholders on the Eco trim. There's only one seatback pocket, too. It wasn't a problem for my family, but if storage cubbies are your thing, you might find the Cruze lacking.
If tech is a top priority for your family, the Cruze will be exciting. It has a color 7-inch touch-screen and the Chevy MyLink multimedia system, which I found intuitive and easy to use. Bluetooth streaming audio and an available navigation system ($795) kept things from feeling "cheap" inside such a practical car.
IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT
Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Fair
Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample
The 2013 Chevrolet Cruze received an overall safety rating of five stars of five from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. It earned five stars in the frontal and side crash tests and four stars in the rollover test. It's also been named a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The Cruze received the top score of Good in frontal, side, rear and rollover tests.
The Cruze has standard front-wheel drive, an electronic stability system, traction control, a subscription to OnStar and 10 airbags, including side curtains for both rows and rear side-impact airbags. Antilock brakes with brake assist also are standard, though it should be noted that the Eco trim has front disc and rear drum brakes.
What I really liked most was the optional Enhanced Safety Package ($790) on my test car. It has a blind spot warning system, rear parking sensors and rear cross-traffic alert, which was most handy. One of the strip malls I frequent has a hairy parking situation with lots of traffic behind the parking spots. Backing out into the moving traffic is tricky, especially if there's larger, longer vehicles parked beside you. When I was in the Cruze Eco, I'd back out slightly at first and the backup camera and rear cross-traffic alert would give me a view and visual warnings on each side if there was a car approaching from either direction. It was an invaluable feature to have.
Our daughter's rear-facing convertible fared well in the Cruze. Months later when we drove a Cruze with her in a forward-facing convertible, it fit even better. The front passenger had much more legroom. The two sets of lower Latch anchors are a bit buried under the seat bight, where the back and bottom cushions meet, but I was able to access them without a struggle.