1st Place – 2012 Chevrolet Cruze LT Turbo

Wait… a compact car from General Motors just won a comparison test? Did that just happen?!? Yes. Forget everything you remember about vehicles named Cobalt, Cavalier, Sunbird, Skylark, and Cimarron; the Cruze is the real deal.

Going into this comparison test Senior Editor Jonathan Yarkony kept referring to this Chevrolet Cruze as the “dark horse” of the competition and we kept referring to Jonathan as “crazy”. [What??? You were? What the… -Ed.] Sure, we all like the Cruze well enough and think it is a competitive vehicle, but is it really good enough to win the whole shebang? Well, as it turns out, yes, yes it is. [Told ya’ so! And why are you so surprised, it won AJAC’s Canadian Car of the Year just last year. -Ed.]

Compact car comparo
Compact car comparo
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The secret to the Cruze’s win lies in the fact that it does nothing poorly and many things brilliantly. Take the chassis and drivetrain: although the little 1.4L turbocharged inline-four develops a mere 138 hp, the 148 lb-ft of torque developed at 1,850 rpm is its trump card. The engine is a little torque monster that behaves more like a diesel than a gasoline engine, right up to its 4,900 rpm power peak. Admiration for the engine was equally matched by admiration for the smooth shifting six-speed automatic transmission that always seemed to intuitively know which gear you wanted to be in. Where the Elantra’s gearbox was at times slow to react, the Cruze’s just knew which gear to select.

Then there is the chassis. Phrases like “rock solid”, “a huge positive” and “out-Germans the Jetta” were bandied about with general agreement. What Chevrolet has done is found a perfect balance between ride and comfort with the Cruze that offers a driving experience far more sophisticated than a compact car should be. It wasn’t rough like the Mazda3, nor was it floaty like the Sentra. Some found the steering to be a little too precise and darty while others appreciated its responsiveness in combination with optional 18-inch low profile tires. Part of the chassis refinement can be attributed to the Cruze’s curb weight of 1,427 kg, heaviest in the group. Despite this portliness, the Cruze managed a respectable 8.3 L/100 km observed fuel economy during our testing.

Inside, the Cruze features a mature looking dash that does not feature the same amount of soft-touch plastics as others in this test, but pulled off an elegant look as opposed to the confused Civic or plain-Jane Impreza. The one area that is “soft touch” in the Cruze’s cabin, the upholstered dash, did not attract many fans. We found it to be out of place, tacky, and even a bit cheesy. That said, in solid black it blends in better than the red and black fabric option. Many loved the expensive feel of the switchgear as well. One interior feature missing in the Cruze was heated seats, which require a financial leap to the LTZ package.

On the outside the Cruze is a sharp-looking vehicle thanks in part to the optional RS package that really sets the vehicle off. The subtle spoiler, 18-inch wheels and minor skirt package make this Chevrolet look sporty yet mature. Even equipped with the LT trim and RS package, the Cruze came in at reasonable $23,205 after destination.

There were a few more minor complaints with the Cruze, such as the upper driver’s seatback that seems to push your shoulders forward into a hunched position, a B pillar that blocks your view in lane changing maneuvers, and a brake pedal that is a bit too squishy.

But overall there were few quibbles in a car that has set the bar for the compact class and has a large enough trunk (425 L) to carry all of the accolades we can throw at it. But rest well, Mr. Cruze, as the Dart is on the horizon, and new versions of the Sentra and Corolla can’t be far off.

Pricing: 2012 Chevrolet Cruze LT Turbo Sedan
Base price: $18,755
Options: 1SB Package ($980), RS Appearance Package ($1,875)
A/C tax: $100
Freight: $1,495
Price as tested: $23,205

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