Sleeker, smaller, snappier...and slower-selling?

The Chevrolet Cruze was not hurting for fans. As its first generation neared the end of its run in 2014, Cruze sales reached their high point, with more than 273,000 copies sold. Curious, then, that the Cruze suffered a setback in sales when it was redesigned in 2016 for the 2017 model year. Having spent a week with it recently, I can say that confuses me. The Cruze got sexy new sheet metal, a more-efficient powertrain, a new hatchback model, and improved ride and handling when it was redesigned. Yet, it sold fewer than 200,000 copies for the first time ever in 2016, if you don’t count its late introduction in 2010 when it was on sale for just three months. So, what gives?

Continue reading to learn more about the 2017 Chevrolet Cruze RS.

  • 2017 Chevrolet Cruze RS - Driven
  • Year:
    2017
  • Make:
  • Model:
  • Engine:
    inline-4
  • Horsepower @ RPM:
    153 @ 5600
  • Torque @ RPM:
    177 @ 2000
  • Displacement:
    1.4 L
  • 0-60 time:
    7.7 sec.
  • Top Speed:
    130 mph
  • Price:
    17850
  • Price:
  • car segment:
  • size:
  • Purpose:
  • body style:
  • Overall:
    8.5/10

Exterior

2017 Chevrolet Cruze RS - Driven Exterior High Resolution
- image 714699
The Cruze may be somewhat more generic-looking compared to its competition now.

The redesign of the Chevrolet Cruze may have turned off some fans of the first-generation car.

The Cruze may be somewhat more generic-looking compared to its competition now. The first-gen Cruze had the kind of handsome good looks most in the compact sedan segment could only dream of in 2011, but time has allowed those competitive models to brush up on their own designs.

Now the Cruze is all swoopy and not as easily identifiable as a Chevrolet. One person asked me if it was a new Honda. Presumably, that person hasn’t been to a Honda dealership in a while, but I could forgive them for not seeing the bowtie from 50 feet away.

2017 Chevrolet Cruze RS - Driven Exterior High Resolution
- image 714700
2017 Chevrolet Cruze RS - Driven Exterior High Resolution
- image 714695
2017 Chevrolet Cruze RS - Driven Exterior High Resolution
- image 714701
2017 Chevrolet Cruze RS - Driven Exterior High Resolution
- image 714697
My 2017 Chevrolet Cruze RS Premium tester had the model’s sportiest available design cues.

My 2017 Chevrolet Cruze RS Premium tester had the model’s sportiest available design cues. From the front, it has a low, lean look with twin grille openings. Headlights appear to turn up at their outside borders if you look at them head-on, giving the front of the car an almost mischievous persona. The test car had fog lights below, with a chin spoiler tying the design together and giving it a dose of sportiness.

From the side, the headlights wrap around and reach toward the front axle line. The hood is short and dramatically sloping. The greenhouse is relatively small for the segment, giving the car a “faster” look than some competitors. A nearly fastback roofline gives way to a small trunk lid. The RS I tested had ground effects along the bottom of the side sills. Eighteen-inch machined-face aluminum wheels from the RS package rounded out the sporty appearance.

At the rear, the Cruze RS has a subtle trunk lid spoiler. The taillights wrap around the rear fenders, but are less aggressive than the headlights. The rear bumper fascia turns upward at its outer edges. Red reflectors are integrated into the rear bumper in cutouts that mirror the foglight nacelles at the front of the car.

Exterior Dimensions

Wheelbase (Inches) 106.3
Overall Length (Inches) 183.7
Overall Width (Inches) 70.5
Overall Height (Inches) 57.4
Track front/rear (Inches) 60.1/61.1

Interior

2017 Chevrolet Cruze RS - Driven Interior High Resolution
- image 714717
Inside, the Chevrolet Cruze RS Premium I drove had an attractive dashboard with stitching and lots of soft-touch surfaces.

Inside, the Chevrolet Cruze RS Premium I drove had an attractive dashboard with stitching and lots of soft-touch surfaces. There was a no-nonsense gauge cluster that had an easy-to-read TFT display between its speedometer and tachometer. Meanwhile, the center portion of the dash was occupied by the eight-inch MyLink touchscreen.

The front bucket seats in my tester were leather and heated. Rear seats were tight for adults when adjusted to fit six-foot-tall me in the front row. Overall, the seats in the new Cruze seemed to sit lower than some competitors, such as the Nissan Sentra. That probably helps the Cruze offer a sporty-looking profile compared to the relatively frumpy, tall design of the Sentra.

Interior comfort was among the best in this class, for those who don’t mind climbing up out of the car when the ride is over. Like other Chevrolet sedans, I felt like the Cruze was among the quietest in its segment. Just don’t expect Buick levels of quietness.

2017 Chevrolet Cruze RS - Driven Interior High Resolution
- image 714719
2017 Chevrolet Cruze RS - Driven Interior High Resolution
- image 714720
2017 Chevrolet Cruze RS - Driven Interior High Resolution
- image 714714
2017 Chevrolet Cruze RS - Driven Interior High Resolution
- image 714716
Interior comfort was among the best in this class, for those who don’t mind climbing up out of the car when the ride is over.

The revised Chevrolet MyLink proved as easy to use as ever. It included Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity. Tactile buttons in the center stack have been reduced in number, so more functions require a press of an on-screen icon or use of steering wheel controls. Thankfully, there are still two dials.

As for that steering wheel, it felt pleasingly chunky in my hands, with sport grips at 10 and 2. But I didn’t like the rubberized button covers. This is the same style of button covering used in many GM vehicles. It probably has its benefits, such as keeping dust and crud out of the cruise control buttons. But from a tactile perspective, I’m not a fan.

An interesting note for rear seat passengers: There were no HVAC vents back there. But where one would expect two vents in the back wall of the center console, there were seat heater buttons for outboard rear seats.

Interior Dimensions

Headroom front/rear (Inches) 38.9/37.3
Legroom front/rear (Inches) 42/36.1
Shoulder Room front/rear (Inches) 54.8/53.7
Hip Room front/rear (Inches) 53.1/51.9

Driving

2017 Chevrolet Cruze RS - Driven Interior High Resolution
- image 714718

The 2017 Chevrolet Cruze RS Premium I drove was deceptively quick on country two-lane roads. Steering was light and camouflaged road imperfections, and the relative quietness of the interior made it easy to find myself speeding along in excess of the speed limit without realizing I was doing so.

Taken around the bends with quickness, the Cruze RS proved itself as adept as one might hope from a front-wheel drive compact sedan in its price range. It was not wallowy, though its suspension did not punish passengers too much over potholes or expansion joints. Something like a Hyundai Elantra Sport rides much harder over bumpy pavement and doesn’t handle appreciably better at speeds that won’t land you in jail, should a cop spy your antics.

Throttle tuning was quicker than I’m accustomed to feeling in GM cars. Also, the six-speed automatic transmission was quick-shifting and more satisfying in daily driving than a CVT (Nissan Sentra) or most dual-clutch automatics (Hyundai Elantra Sport).

2017 Chevrolet Cruze RS - Driven Drivetrain High Resolution
- image 714713

Also of note, the Cruze has one of the best-integrated engine start-stop systems I’ve seen in a non-luxury car. It was not intrusive in everyday use, could be disabled with a button on the dash, and helped save fuel when driving in the city.

After more than 300 miles of typical auto journalist lead-footed driving, the plucky little Cruze RS was still averaging just shy of 31 MPG. That’s not mind-blowing, but not bad, either.

EPA says the most fuel-efficient Cruze is the Diesel, which has a nine-speed autobox that helps it achieve 47 mpg highway, 31 mpg city, 37 mpg combined. The best fuel economy you can expect from an automatic-equipped Cruze gasser is 40 mpg highway, 30 mpg city, 34 mpg combined. Premier trim takes a slight hit – presumably because of added weight – and will average 29/39/33, according to EPA.

Engine 1.4L DOHC I-4 VVT DI Turbocharged
Horsepower 153 HP @ 5,600 RPM
Torque 177 LB-FT @ 2,000-4,000 RPM
Transmission M32 six-speed manual or Hydra-Matic 6T35 six-speed automatic

Comparison

Compact sedans are quite popular. Like their midsize counterparts, most manufacturers constantly try to one-up each other. There’s no shortage of competition for the 2017 Chevrolet Cruze. Here, we’ll take a look at three competitors from different parts of the globe:

Nissan Sentra

2016 Nissan Sentra High Resolution Exterior
- image 656181
Nissan Sentra
2016 Nissan Sentra High Resolution Exterior
- image 656185

The Sentra has better interior space, but as outlined above, a more frumpy exterior design. Inside, the passenger room is keeping it relevant while the interior design and especially infotainment options are aging quickly.

The biggest difference between Sentra and Cruze is the powertrain. Most Sentras get a 1.8-liter, naturally aspirated gasoline engine good for 124 horsepower. That engine is almost always mated to a CVT. It’s nobody’s idea of “sporty,” that’s for sure. By comparison, the Cruze RS we drove with its 153-horse, 1.4-liter turbocharged engine is actually capable of generating a little fun, even paired with the six-speed automatic.

Nissan tried to address this concern by dropping the Nissan Juke’s 1.6-liter turbo engine in some Sentras this year. Sentra SR Turbo and the Sentra NISMO now have that engine. The NISMO is the sportiest of the pair, with revised suspension, steering, and a limited-slip differential that make the car handle a lot better than one would expect. The 188-horse Juke engine is still fun in the larger Sentra, but lacks oomph when paired with the CVT.

So far, Chevrolet has no Cruze that would compete with the power of these two models. But not many real-world buyers will feel an appreciable difference in power between automatic-equipped versions of the Cruze or the Sentra SR Turbo/NISMO. In fact, the Cruze may feel quicker – or at least more satisfying to drive – because of the more traditional automatic transmission.

Learn more about the Nissan Sentra here.

2017 Hyundai Elantra

2017 Hyundai Elantra High Resolution Exterior
- image 656279
2017 Hyundai Elantra High Resolution Exterior
- image 656289

The 2017 Hyundai Elantra is designed more like the Cruze than the Sentra – low, sleek, and in some trims, sporty. Inside, the Hyundai has a more reserved design that I think will age better than the Cruze’s. Hyundai’s infotainment system is as good as or better than the Cruze’s, with easy Android Auto/Apple CarPlay integration and simple-to-use controls.

Hyundai has three different gasoline engines for the Elantra: There’s the standard 2.0-liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder that makes 147 horsepower. There’s also the Elantra Eco, which gets a model-specific 1.4-liter, 128-horsepower engine. Finally, there’s the Sport, which has one of the hottest engines in the segment at 1.6 liters and 201 horsepower thanks to turbocharging and direct gasoline injection.

Once again, Chevrolet doesn’t offer a Cruze that competes with the rorty Elantra Sport. But the Elantra Sport has a sometimes frustrating dual-clutch automatic transmission if you don’t like to shift for yourself. Likewise, Chevy doesn’t offer a Cruze that directly competes with the Elantra Eco, but the Cruze Diesel has the kind of power and fuel economy the Elantra Eco can’t muster.

Find out more about the 2017 Hyundai Elantra here.

2017 Volkswagen Jetta

2016 Volkswagen Jetta GLI High Resolution Exterior Wallpaper quality
- image 633288
2016 Volkswagen Jetta GLI High Resolution Exterior
- image 633287

Volkswagen used to offer a diesel engine in its Jetta compact sedan, but those engines may not return for the U.S. market once the recently recertified 2015 models are sold out.

Instead, the Jetta offers a choice of three turbocharged gassers. They start with a 1.4-liter, 150-horsepower four-cylinder that’s good for an EPA-estimated 40 mpg highway and 28 mpg city. Buyers can step up to either a 1.8-liter (170 horsepower, 35 mpg highway, 25 mpg city) or the sporty 2.0-liter (210 horsepower with premium fuel, 33 mpg highway, 23 mpg city).

Either the 1.4 or 1.8-liter compete well against the Cruze’s 153-horsepower 1.4-liter turbo gasser. The 2.0, like the Elantra Sport’s 1.6, will be much quicker than the Cruze.

VW’s six-speed automatic and available six-speed dual-clutch are among the best of their respective types in this segment. And, like Cruze, a manual remains available for those who like to row their own.

From a design standpoint, the Jetta may be more boring to look at than the Cruze. On the flipside, the design may age more gracefully because of its timeless lines. Inside, I found the Jetta more comfortable than the Cruze for my small family, with more backseat legroom. Interior design mirrors the outside of the car, with conservative lines that probably will look fresh 10 years from now.

Like Hyundai, VW gives up nothing to Chevrolet in infotainment. The latest touchscreen interface in the Jetta is easy to use and offers Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity. Top-spec sound is impressive, as well.

Read our full review on the 2017 Volkswagen Jetta here.

Conclusion

2017 Chevrolet Cruze RS - Driven Exterior High Resolution
- image 714693

Chevrolet gets a lot of things right in the 2017 Cruze. The handling is on-point, the infotainment is good, the cabin is quiet and can be relatively luxurious, and the powertrains are competitive in both economy and power.

My only real knock on the car was its interior size feeling small. The numbers don’t exactly bear this out, so I think it may be mostly related to the amount of daylight entering the cabin – the Cruze’s sharply sloped front and rear glass perhaps playing a visual trick on me. The only interior dimension in which the Cruze falls significantly short compared to the competitors above is its trunk space.

2017 Chevrolet Cruze RS - Driven Exterior High Resolution
- image 714703
2017 Chevrolet Cruze RS - Driven Exterior High Resolution
- image 714708

All of these competitors can be bought well-equipped for around $20,000. At that price point, all offer a lot of bang for the buck. If the design of the 2017 Chevrolet Cruze appeals to you, you’re unlikely to be disappointed by the rest of the package.

Disclosure: Chevrolet provided the vehicle, insurance, and a tank of fuel for this review.

What do you think?
Car Finder: