To recap, in December of 2017, the Lincoln MKS that I’d already planned on trading in came to an sudden end…when I smashed it into the back of a Buick Enclave. That left me without a car. I decided to enjoy the holidays and worry about buying a replacement in the new year, but I still had my eye out.
By this time, an online retailer called Carvana had come across my radar. Carvana was much like CarMax in that they had straightforward, no-haggle pricing…only you could order the car online and have it delivered to your door. From there, they gave you seven days and some miles to make sure you liked it. If you did, great. You got to keep it. If not, they’d pick it back up and refund you your money.
As I was still driving the 40-45 minutes each way, I figured it’d be a good idea to find something more fuel-efficient and smaller than the MKS. Somehow, the Passat came up again. What I knew for sure was that if I were to go for one, I wanted a 2016 or later. These are the facelifted ones with the newer infotainment system and safety technology, and were just generally more upscale. I wanted at least an SE or SEL trim with the LED lights. I scoured Carvana and they had several such Passats, but they were priced higher than the general market, and the general market was still asking $23K and up for such cars. That was more than I wanted to pay for something I knew would depreciate like a rock.
And then I remembered the Cruze again.
Remember way back in 2014, when I said I liked the then-current Cruze for its excellent drivetrain and mature, understated lines? Well, the Cruze had changed a bit in that time. The second-generation Cruze, which debuted for 2016, lost its upright shape and morphed into a more tadpole-like design similar to other contemporary compact cars. But, it got a lot nicer. The underwhelming 1.8-liter naturally-aspirated inline-4 from the old model got axed altogether, and all gasoline models received a new 1.4-liter turbocharged inline-4 with 153 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque. After a while, you were able to get a hatchback and a new diesel engine.
I’d paid attention to the new Cruze since it’s debut, and though I hadn’t driven one, I liked it from afar. So I rented one, just to make sure I liked it. It was a mid-spec LT model. I knew my ideal Cruze would have more equipment, but the important thing was the engine and the transmission, both of which were up to snuff.
I decided to buy a new one at first. GM was offering massive end-of-year incentives on the Cruze and several of its other wares at the time. Because of that, even the most loaded versions were in the $22K-$23K range, which I thought was decent. On New Year’s Eve, I located a brand-new 2018 model at a Chevy dealership a couple of hours west. They had a fully-loaded one on the lot, a Premier sedan with the RS Package. It was white with a camel-colored interior, which I thought was a classy combination. They wanted something like $21,500 for it. I very nearly pulled the trigger.
But, on a whim, I checked out good friend CarMax. I hadn’t done that before. A lot of theirs were lesser-equipped models, or were in colors I hate (tomato red, gold, etc). However, one caught my eye. It was a 2016 model, and was a Premier sedan with the RS Package just like the one at the Chevy dealer.
The Premier came with leather upholstery, the 6-speed automatic as standard, keyless access and start, chrome window surrounds, heated front seats, a heated steering wheel, ambient lighting, remote start, and a power driver’s seat. The RS Package bundled a body kit with revised bumpers and sideskirts, a black mesh grille in place of the standard slatted one, a Z-link rear suspension in place of the standard torsion beam, and RS badges on the front and sides. It also had the Sun and Sound Package with Navigation, which deleted the standard low-end 7-inch touchscreen system in favor of an 8-inch one shared with most of Chevy’s other cars, plus CarPlay, a sunroof, a color instrument-panel LCD, and the aforementioned navigation system. The Enhanced Convenience Package came with an auto-dimming rearview mirror, single-zone automatic climate control, wireless charging, heated rear seats, and an auto up/down driver’s window. Finally, the Driver Assistance II Package included automatic high-beams, rear parking sensors, blind-spot monitoring, a following-distance indicator, lane-departure warning with lane-keep assistance, and forward-collision warning.
All that is to say that this was a very nice Cruze, with literally every option they offered ticked. Best of all, the exterior was a rather fetching color called Kinetic Blue that GM used on all of its advertising for the Cruze. Meanwhile, the interior theme was called Atmosphere, which was an upscale mix of light and dark beige panels and surfaces. It only had 15,000 miles on it, and CarMax wanted just $16,200. It was located in nearby Dallas.
I thought this was a better idea than even the new Cruze, because it was already pre-depreciated, and I knew I would drive the wheels off of it with my commute. Moreover, there were few to no changes between 2016 and 2018, so it’s not like I was missing out. Having learned my lesson about sitting on a good deal and missing out, I checked that there was no damage on the CarFax report, then immediately called the Oklahoma City store and asked if they could place a hold on it, and then let me pick it up in Dallas. They told me that I could buy it at the OKC store, but I’d have to wait for it to be shipped over.
Since Dallas was so close, I called that store and asked them to put a hold on it, then told them I’d purchase it there instead. I had some rewards points stored up, so it would be basically free to fly to Dallas and pick it up. And that’s exactly what I did, one day after work.
The purchase itself was rather uneventful. I booked an Uber to get from Dallas/Fort Worth Airport to the CarMax store, about 30 minutes away. When I got there, at about 8:00, I was the only customer, and they had me out the door with a temporary tag affixed to my new car in short order.
On the drive back home, I appreciated the Cruze’s qualities. The controls were easy to use and felt familiar at once. It kept most of the road noise out. While not fast, the 1.4-liter turbo was a willing partner and let me get out of my way without much lag and at low RPMs. Like my Golf SportWagen, the Cruze had little fixed window-ettes on the doors, where there would normally be a black triangle and a mirror mount. The mirrors themselves were mounted on stalks on the door panel. This gave you a lot more visibility around the A-pillar than you would otherwise get, and I was pleased about that.
I will say that I tested the lane-keep assist feature, and thought it was fairly useless. All it really did was nudge you back into your lane. More-advanced lane-tracing systems can actually follow the lines and the car in front of you to truly guide you along the road, but the Cruze didn’t have that. It also had some sort of torque sensor on the wheel that would chime at you if your hands were removed for an extended period of time. And the stop-start system was pretty smooth, although it would only cut the engine once between stops. If you took your foot off the brake, the engine would fire up and not cut off again until your next stop. This was unlike the behavior of the 2018 Malibu I’d rented a few months prior, which would cut the engine multiple times per stop.
Three days after the purchase, I ran over some debris on the highway. It didn’t do any body damage, but it did rip out the ambient temperature sensor out and cause a check-engine light. CarMax was nice enough to take care of that for me, even though it was technically my fault, and to provide a loaner car while they did it, under their 30-day warranty.
Once I got the Cruze back, I named it Blooregard Q. Kazoo, or Bloo for short. This was the name of the selfish-but-lovable main character in a cartoon I used to watch as a young child, who was the same color as my car. I got a lot of compliments on the color from people who knew nothing about cars. My best friend Austin mentioned that he would have bought his 2017 Volt in that color if he’d have been able to find one. Grandma also took a shine to it.
Fuel economy averaged between 36 to 38 miles per gallon, which was excellent. Bloo severely lowered my commute costs, although the small tank meant I was still at the gas station quite a bit. And even four adults were never really cramped in it. The OnStar app let me warm up Bloo in the winter and cool him down in the summer, and because it worked so quickly, I could lock my keys inside when I was at the gym.
Bloo’s tenure as my daily-driver was during an emotionally trying time for me in my life. I mostly needed something that would get me where I needed to go economically, and without much fuss. And he excelled at that. I don’t remember doing anything particularly interesting with him other than carrying a roll of carpet from Home Depot and driving to Houston for a wedding.
However, and there’s always a however, I did get tired of crawling into a low sedan every day. And some of Bloo’s flaws started to show. The dashboard was kind of crooked. There were lots of hard surfaces. Some features, like height-adjustable front seatbelts, were omitted (side note: my X5 didn’t have them either, because BMW has never had height-adjustable seatbelts for some reason). One particular point of contention was the steering wheel. It was fundamentally the same three-spoke design that Chevy used in many of its other cars, including the Equinox, Volt, Bolt, and Malibu. But they had a thicker, more-padded version of it. Mine was harder and less-padded, had a lower grade of leather/leatherette, and had a weaker heating element. After a while, it hurt my hands. But I didn’t realize this until I borrowed Austin’s Volt.
In July of 2018, I took a new job with a significant pay bump that put my commute down to 8 minutes on a bad day. I was thrilled not to have to spend so much time in the car, and to be able to dash home if I wanted to check on Honey or wait for a package. But it also meant that Bloo’s commute-friendly nature was less useful to me.
My final week with Bloo was a bad one, but not because of Bloo himself. I was leaving a parking lot, and was behind someone in a Ram 1500 EcoDiesel whose tailgate was down, because the driver was carrying long items. Someone tried to pull into the parking lot using the same drive, and motioned for the Ram to back up a bit so that the other car could enter. Because the Ram’s tailgate was down, the driver didn’t see me in his reversing camera and proceeded to back right into me at low speed. This did no major damage, but the Ram’s tailgate slid right over Bloo’s hood, scratching it, and the Ram’s towing receiver punched a neat dent in Bloo’s front tow hook cover.
If I didn’t know I was going to trade in Bloo, I’d have let the other driver off. The damage really wasn’t bad. But since I was, and didn’t need to lose several hundred dollars over it, I called the local non-emergency police hotline, and they took statements and declared the incident the other driver’s fault, so I got booked into a rental car the next day, while the collision shop repaired Bloo’s front end on the other driver’s insurance. Then I traded him in for something a bit larger and higher off the ground just a few days later, with 30,000 miles on the odometer.
A brief eulogy for the Cruze: It’s a decent car that does what it says on the box, and even has some delights, but it’s merely competitive. It isn’t class-leading and doesn’t stand out in any major way. Moreover, it suffers the baggage of a long history of truly terrible compact GM cars that the company had to put massive discounts on in order to move metal. As such, no one—myself included—would ever pay anywhere near MSRP for one, causing GM to continue with generous discounts and sales and cutting into the nameplate’s profitability. Moreover, as the pool of compact-car buyers shrinks, the remaining customers gravitate toward the best players. For content, those are the Corolla, Civic, and Mazda3. For price, it’s the Elantra and Forte. Those two things, I think, were the Cruze’s undoing. After getting a facelift for 2019, GM unceremoniously discontinued the Cruze a few months ago. 2019 is the Cruze’s final model year, and all production has ceased at the model’s Lordstown, Ohio plant.