2014 Chevrolet Cruze RS Turbo
2014 Chevrolet Cruze RS Turbo
2014 Chevrolet Cruze RS Turbo
2014 Chevrolet Cruze RS Turbo. Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by Jeff Wilson

Like it or not, life is full of What If… moments.  If you’re lucky, your What Ifs consist of “What if I hadn’t bought that Apple stock when it was $22 per share?” or “What if I hadn’t been born with exceptional brilliance and stunning good looks?”  Of course if either of these apply to you, chances are you wouldn’t be reading a review of an affordable compact car.

For us at Autos.ca, our most recent What If moment stems from a decision to toss Chevrolet’s new Cruze Diesel into the fray with ten outstanding competitors in our recent Compact Car Comparison Test.  After all, just a year ago the Cruze LT Turbo impressed our team enough to earn it the Crown of Compacts.  So how is it then that this year’s more powerful, more efficient Cruze slipped all the way down to 9th place?  Are we a bunch of diesel-haters here?

Not at all.  What’s more, we quite liked Chevy’s 2.0L oil-burner, especially due to its calm highway cruising demeanour and lusty torque.

But the Cruze’s diesel engine is bigger and heavier than the near microscopic 1.4L turbocharged inline-four gas engine found in last year’s competition winner and in this review’s test car.

So with this year’s result fresh in our mind, let’s revisit last year’s winning car and reconsider its possible placement in our test.  What If we had asked for this car instead?

With the RS appearance package on our fire-engine-red test car, the Cruze maintains its handsome good looks, enhanced over the diesel’s comparatively dowdy appearance thanks to the subtle side skirts, spoiler and attractive 18-inch wheels.  However, in the fickle reality of compact cars, the Cruze is another year older and therefore more familiar.  Plus, with impressive new designs for the Corolla and Mazda3, the Cruze is looking a little more tired; not quite past its Best Before date, but not as fresh as it once was.

Inside the same is true.  The interior uses mostly high quality materials (the leather on the seats has a nice pebbled texture reminiscent of BMW’s “Dakota” hides) and the layout is sensible.  Two-tone red and black or light beige are also offered and unlike last year’s LT-trimmed car, this one has heated seats.  The strange fishnet stocking texture applied to the doors and dashboard is abrasive enough to double as an emery board, and some of the panels between door and dash don’t line up perfectly.

Chevrolet’s MyLink infotainment system features a 7-inch touchscreen with large, clear “buttons” enabling straightforward operation.  Our test car was not fitted with GPS, but it can be added for $795 – pleasingly affordable in an age when most luxury car manufacturers require purchase of a multi-thousand-dollar option to get the same service.  Sound from the stock stereo’s six-speaker system is decent but audiophiles can also specify a more powerful unit.

2014 Chevrolet Cruze RS Turbo2014 Chevrolet Cruze RS Turbo2014 Chevrolet Cruze RS Turbo
2014 Chevrolet Cruze RS Turbo. Click image to enlarge

Price played no small part in this year’s Cruze’s 9th place position, with our diesel entry tallying over $26,000.  This test car also rang in north of 26-grand, but by scrapping all the options except the RS package, one could have a really handsome and well-equipped car for a whisker over $25,000, positioning it in our 11-car test behind only the stripper Sentra and Mazda3.

Plus, at that price level, a driver could enjoy the nippy little 1.4L engine’s power band by rowing his or her own gears, emphasizing the nearly-sport-sedan levels of fun provided by the Cruze in this trim.  It’s guaranteed this value would have regained the Chevy at least a few points back in the standings.

The frisky turbo engine in this Cruze (and last year’s winner) punches above its weight class (and its unremarkable 138 horsepower) thanks to 148 lb-ft of torque at only 1,850 rpm.  This makes the Cruze lively around town and away from a stop with minimal turbo lag.  And while it isn’t the smoothest engine, its noise is reasonably separate from the cabin meaning it shouldn’t offend when motoring along on the highway for hours.

If you’re bound to an automatic transmission, the Chevy’s six-speed is well matched to the engine’s power delivery and enables the driver to select his or her own cogs when desired via the manual-shift feature.

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