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.
Does any manufacturer’s infotainment screen use modern iconography without horrible bevels, gradients, and shadows? And good god, that typeface is atrocious! The kerning makes it unreadable.
Does anyone do this correctly or is the entire industry disused WinAmp skins from 1998 from top to bottom?
Yes – Volkswagen. At least on our 2015 Golf, the black on white graphics are crisp and clean.
I agree, the one in the 2016-2018 Cruze looks bad. It’s starting to fall by the wayside, as manufacturers design new infotainment systems.
GM themselves released a redesigned version of their mainstream infotainment system for most of the 2019 cars, with separate UI suites for the Buick, Chevrolet, and GMC brands. It features crisp, flat graphics.
Ditto for FCA, who redid theirs for 2018.
Lincoln has a good thing going with the new Navigator, Aviator, and upcoming Corsair.
And of course there’s Tesla, especially with the Model 3. What’s better, if you buy a Tesla, you won’t be stuck to a contemporary look, because they can–and will–remote-update the whole system, just like a computer or phone OS.
But even the gradients and bevels don’t look bad if done right. BMW is particularly good at this with iDrive, because everything is so detailed and high-quality. The iDrive 7 system in the latest cars looks top-notch, but even the iDrive “CIC” from ten years ago (it debuted in the 2009 7 Series and 2009 3 Series) still looks impressively modern.
Having spent many dismal miles in rental Cavaliers during government TDYs, I always thought Chevy and GM finally upped their small car game with the Cruze. Too bad they couldn’t keep it around for one more generation – they might have excised all the old Cavalier demons.
It would have taken longer than that for Chevrolet to expunge the Cobalt stigma.
And with a more competitive and exceptionally well-built and reliable car.
A friend of mine had a 1st generation Cruse and I considered buying one, they are great looking small cars. But he strongly cautioned me against the idea, as his Cruse was always in the shop for something. A look on CarComplaints.Com shows the 2nd generation is better, but still has problems that appear at 35K miles.
Typical GM, they engineered it to _just_ make it past the warranty period. Get the extended warranty with these, which adds to your purchase cost and takes away the pricing advantage compared to the used Civic, Corolla and Mazda3s out there.
It is to GM’s credit that they could build a small, inexpensive sedan (albeit a highly trimmed version of one) that could be reasonably satisfying to a guy who has spent time in a BMW and a Lincoln.
The sad part, however, is that the car did not endear you to it. A car like this that would have made you enjoy the fun, zippy driving experience might have done better. Or maybe this is just my inner Honda-guy voice talking.
In summer of 2017, I had to Uber it to work for a week while in between cars. One day in the 6am darkness, I hopped into the Uber guy’s dark colored sedan without really noticing what kind of car it was. I was struck by the refined silence at highway speed, and the velvety ride. Asked the guy “Is this a new Camry?” I was shocked when he said it was a new Chevy Cruze! I was impressed. Thought gee, GM’s getting the Toyota/Honda formula down pat. Sorry to hear of its demise. I did hear though, that reliability wise, the Cruze doesn’t age very well.
That is a nice color and saves the car from being completely bland. The upper trim levels like yours are the only ones that seem to represent the original design idea, the lower trims all just seem very decontented as compared to the first generation Cruze which seemed to look confident and strong(ish) in all levels. This one somehow manages to look smaller than it actually is. The other standout Cruze is the hatchback in that burnt orange hue, again quite sharp in the upper trims.
I still can’t really wrap my head around that steering wheel design that IS very common in most Chevys as you noted in one form or another; those rubbery button panels always have me concerned that they will wear out and seem as cheap as they likely are as opposed to separate physical buttons as per every other manufacturer. Actually now that I think about it, I realize that while everyone is complaining that their dashboards have too few buttons anymore, it really seems more like all of them just migrated to the modern steering wheel.
Someone here leased an orange Cruze hatchback and did a COAL article on it; I can’t remember who it was.
I believe it was MDLaughlin (?). It looked good, but if parked side by side with yours I think I’d be looking around for the Broncos to kick off…
It’s sad GM gave up on this segment, and both generations of Cruze drive very nicely when new. They are the heaviest, quietest, and smoothest compacts of the 2010s, bar none. The Jetta comes close, but GM literally made these things weigh well over 3,000lbs to obtain their absurdly impressive NVH levels. They really do drive like a Camry! The first generation has classy, clean styling and very nice interiors. This one was honestly kind of bland, but still handsome in the right color. They are VERY popular in Michigan, especially among people in their 20s/30s. Four of my coworkers, and one ex, have owned or currently own a Chevy Cruze. I’ve driven the automatics, manuals, low trims, high trims, Gen1, and Gen2.
Unfortunately, these cars do not hold up well past about 5 years/60k miles. This is the reason GM lost this segment in the first place. Are they better than the toilet-paper quality Cavalier and Cobalt? Sure. But that’s hardly saying anything. I test drove THREE of the Gen1 models early this year when I was looking for a budget commuter car in the $6k-$8k range. One 2012 and two 2014 models. They had 94k, 102k, and 85k on the odometer. I was convinced I would buy one, because I loved the way they drove and looked from my experience with friends’ cars, rentals, etc. The Cruze was the nicest, newest model of compact I could find for well under $10k, and there were hundreds to pick from in mid-Michigan and metro Detroit. What a steal!
Every single one of them had something wrong with them. They ALL were leaking oil around the front of the engine around this one specific gasket, to the point where I could smell it through the vents when I turned on the blower in the 2012. All of the front suspensions were shot, clunking and clanking loudly over potholes. They had various idiot lights illuminated for the Traction Control, ABS, Check Engine, and other things. I test drove plenty of other 2012-2014 models with around 80k-100k miles that had no leaks, no clunks, and no dashboard lights. As far as I’m concerned a modern car should pretty much drive like new at this age and mileage with even average car, and a lot of them do. If it’s already leaking oil that badly at 80k, then how will the car hold up to 150k?
When I checked the reliability ratings online, it seemed to reflect what I had found. And it explained instantly why 2012-2014 Corollas and Civics with the same mileage cost $4k to $5K more. Some Honda Civics were listed for almost double the price of comparable Cruzes! It’s sad, really, because the car had such potential to be great, if GM had invested as much in the actual components and not just the initial test drive for car magazines and new car buyers.
That’s just it. The first-generation Cruze had the solidity of a midsize car, but with smaller dimensions. I didn’t feel the same about my 2nd-gen. The doors felt kind of cheap and tinny, and the panels felt cost-cut. New features or not, the second-generation Cruze felt built to a price in the way that its predecessor did not.
Have to agree with you on that. I own a 2014. The 1st gen looks much better too. They tried to make it look like a mini Impala & it just doesn’t look right.
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.
I had an epiphany some years ago, when I suddenly realized that sometimes good-enough is good-enough. Would a Civic or Corolla have served you any better in these circumstances? I think not. There IS the question of total-cost-of-ownership; while the Japanese kids cost more to buy, they return some of that cost at resale time. However, there’s the stubborn fact that you have more money tied up in those cars while owning them and hence unavailable.
Additionally, I am going to argue “unmemorable” is a compliment.
So this sounds like a pretty decent car to me, based on your experience. I do note Howard Kerr’s “problems started at 35,000 miles” comment with some trepidation though.
EDIT: And now Max P’s comments as well (!).
It’s really sad that GM poisoned their reputation so deeply. I tend to believe GM would have sold a lot more of these if nobody knew they were made by GM. Still, I am no GM fan; the last GM car I owned was a 1969 Camaro in 1973. For what it’s worth, I had problems with that car (the infamous GM breaking motor mounts and a broken rear single leaf spring). At age 65 now, I doubt if I will ever even consider one of their cars. However, that’s based on my personal circumstances of the moment.
I guess my question for Kyree is this: knowing what you know after owning one, if you were in the same circumstances as you were at the time you bought your Cruze, would you be content to buy another one on the same terms, or would you keep shopping?
To be fair, all of the leaks/clunks/lights in the used Cruzes I drove couldn’t cost more than $1500 to $2000 to repair in total (at worst), which still does make them a better deal than similar Civics and Corollas, initially. The cars still drove generally fine, had solid bodies, and shiny paint. I’m sure they would start, drive, and technically run for a few years longer, most likely, even if you continued ignoring the issues. For the non-discerning used car buyer who just wants a disposable little appliance to get to their low-wage job for three years @ $150/month and doesn’t mind topping off the oil, clunking over potholes, and placing a little strip of black electrical tape over the check engine light before they apathetically toss it in the junkyard at age 10 or 11, a Cruze might be fine in the same way Cavaliers always have been fine. I’m sure the dealerships sold all three quickly.
The hesitation I had was that a car of that age should simply not be having those niggling problems so early its life. It indicates a poorly built product with poorly sourced components. Will it have more things fall apart between 100k and 150k while the (overpriced) Corollas and Civics truck along towards 200k with no little to no maintenance? Maybe, maybe not. But the fact that all three of the Chevies seemed to have the same problems at such a low age/mileage made me just wary enough of their longevity to take a hard pass on committing to a used one, even at dirt cheap prices, and the cars just reeked of “costs cut” in the same way older GMs have.
The COAL in this article was too new to be making these calculations, as it was either under warranty (or barely out of it), and sold quickly before anything started falling apart or the resale had plummeted. In that situation, he probably got a much better deal and certainly a vastly better trim level than a comparable Corolla/Civic. But long term, high mileage reliability is truly what built Toyota’s reputation and killed GM over the decades, despite how little some OEMs still seem to care about it when designing and selling a new model.
I liked the second-gen Cruze well enough, but wouldn’t buy another.
I am not in the market for a compact sedan, but if I were to buy one, I’d just get something new. The ones that catch my eye these days are the Civic, Insight, Corolla, and Mazda3.
Then on the other end, you’ve got the Nissan Sentra, Hyundai Elantra, and Kia Forte. With the market shifting so much to CUVs, there just isn’t a big enough small sedan sales pie, anymore, to justify the existance of the low (if any) profit domestics (Dart, 200, Focus, and Cruze). They weren’t good enough to compete with the Japanese, and not cheap enough to compete with the South Koreans.
There seems to be consensus among commenters (me included) that the first -gen Cruze was a handsome car compared to its successor. Why is this such a common trend? At least both were a better car than the Cobalt. Still, a first-gen Cruz with manual trans and a modern turbo engine would have been a stylish, sporty domestic VW alternative. Oh well too late now for GM to fix that.
Funny you mention that, because the first-generation Cruze came to the market for 2011 looking feeling upscale and high-end for what it was. So did the 2012 Focus.
At the same time, two of the longstanding nameplates in quality misjudged the market and debuted new models that felt cheap and cost-cut; these were the 2012 Civic and 2011 Jetta. The Civic got an emergency refresh in 2013, while the Jetta gradually gained most of its content back over the next several years. Both were succeeded by products with a renewed focus toward fit-and-feel and features.
The perpetual GM saga with small cars, which finally is coming to an end, mostly.
I had a hatchback rental in one of my more recent trips to Baltimore, and it drove very nicely indeed. But I’d never buy one or recommend one. Corollas last 20 years with very little issues. My xBox is now 15 years old and has not had one single repair! I’m planning to keep it for another 15.
And that’s the thing. Even when GM, thirty years in, decided to release a car that was reasonably well-screwed-together, the early ones were plagued by longevity issues surrounding the complex turbo engine after about 90K miles. And even if they hadn’t been, there are (hundreds of thousands of) people like you who were served well by Toyota products over the decades. Why should you switch to GM?
That said, the new 1.5-liter and 2.0-liter turbo engines in the Honda products worry me a bit.
Your best bet for longevity and low-cost motoring is likely still a Corolla (or one of its derivatives), especially with the new Corolla Hybrid model. As we all know, electric motors and batteries typically alleviate stress from the engine, and Toyota has an excellent history of hybrid products that go half a million miles or more, in high-stress applications like taxi duty.
Kyree…I agree about the new Honda 1.5 liter and 2.0 turbo engines. I think they are probably fine but growing up in the 70’s and 80’s has made me very wary of small displacement turbo engines.
One of the main reasons I did not replace my 2016 Accord with a 2019 Accord was the new turbo engine.
I guess we shall see.
Handsome car in a colour that works! I’m with you avoiding red and gold, few cars look good in red especially, gold can look very fuddy duddy. You have such Catholic taste in cars, I really can’t predict what you got next. I’m enjoying your pacy writing style!
Kyree, I really enjoy your features on Curbside Classic. Like me, you tire or get bored with your vehicles and trade often. I enjoy your in depth compliments and criticisms of each vehicle you’ve owned, You are much younger than I am, but I could see you surpassing the 44 vehicles I have owned in my lifetime (to date). I long ago started having a full size four door truck in the household. Two 200 pound plus Men and two Yellow Labs (our Kids) won’t fit in anything less! Keep up the good work! And thank you for your help in supporting our great automobile business! We live in the best time ever for great cars and trucks.
Many late models cars are exrentals. Some are leased by rental companies for only 6 months. I have purchased used rentals, but be very careful. Car rental companies self insure the collision coverage, This means there may not be an insurance company involved after a collision, and the collision may not be reported to Carfsx.
As usual, nothing substitutes for a good pre purchase inspection.
(side note: my X5 didn’t have them either, because BMW has never had height-adjustable seatbelts for some reason).
My various E36 and E46 BMW coupes had height adjustable shoulder belts.
This gets another name here, the Korean-made Holden Astra sedan. The hatch is the totally different Holden (imported Opel) Astra, and in my experience of those, a decent car, with better-than-usual-for-a-Euro reliability. The sedan hasn’t been well-reviewed.
We previously got the Gen 1 Cruze, both made locally and imported from Korea, and whatever its virtues as a car, it developed an appalling name. (Personally, I too found them impressively solid but also bland and peaky and gutless and possessed of horribly artificial electric steering and an overall sense of forgettable not-good-quite-enoughness). So in Oz, this Korean car with carryover mechanicals from Gen 1 falls in the Not With A Bargepole category. There really is no reason why you’d bother with a non-leader with likely dreadful long-term reliability.
You’ve got the best use of such a vehicle: depreciated, still in warranty, and, most wisely of all, not for long.