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#6

in 2012 Affordable Small Cars

Avg. Price Paid: $12,684 - $14,895
Original MSRP: $16,800 - $23,190
MPG: 25 City / 36 Hwy
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2012 Chevrolet Cruze Performance

This performance review was created when the car was new. Some links may no longer point to an active page.

The automotive industry says the 2012 Chevrolet Cruze is almost as good as it gets. It offers a comfortable, smooth ride with good power and high fuel economy ratings. If you’re looking for something with better performance, however, the industry says you should test the Volkswagen Golf or Mazda3.

The Cruze also has a fuel-efficient option, the Eco trim. Some test drivers say its price jump is a good deal because they got higher averages than what the EPA recorded, while others think the ratings aren’t high enough to justify the price.

  • "Fire it up, and the first thing you notice is what you don't hear. A lot of engine noise. Chevy did a lot of work on NVH, or noise, vibration and halitosis. When it comes to the matter of a quiet ride the Cruze easily tops the Civic, Corolla and Sonata." -- MarketWatch
  • "On the road, the Cruze really scores over its competition in two areas: refinement and ride quality." -- Car and Driver
  • "Peppy yet efficient turbocharged engine." -- Edmunds
  • "This cable shifter offers nice, short throws and decent precision, though it lacks the sublime mechanical snickety-snick sensation of the best Honda sticks." -- Motor Trend
  • "Cruze feels sprightly around town and confidently merges onto the highway, but its passing response is more leisurely." -- Consumer Guide

Acceleration and Power

The 2012 Chevrolet Cruze has two engine options: a base 1.8-liter inline four-cylinder engine and a 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that comes with the 1LT trim and higher. Chevrolet hasn’t released engine specifications for these, but last year, the 1.8-liter engine made 136 horsepower and 123 pound-feet of torque. Before you upgrade to the 1.4-liter turbo because it has more juice, you might want to reconsider. No reviewer jumps out and says it’s significantly more powerful than the base engine. In fact, the turbo makes 138 horsepower, but produces 25 more pound-feet of torque than the base engine. Test drive both to see if the turbo is worth the extra cash.

For 2012, Chevrolet says it managed to squeeze out a few more miles per gallon on trims with the turbo engine and an automatic transmission. The EPA says the Cruze gets up to 26/38 mpg city/highway with the 1.4-liter engine and automatic transmission, and up to 25/36 mpg with the 1.8-liter engine and manual transmission. Eco models get up to 28/42 mpg with the manual transmission. 

  • "You won't mistake Cruze for a Corvette, but the 1.4-liter engine paired with the 6-speed automatic transmission provides more-than-adequate acceleration in most situations." -- Consumer Guide
  • "My tests returned excellent economy, but the mileage is somewhat fragile because you end up flogging the car just to keep pace. Thus whipped, the engine isn’t exactly loud, but it is mildly unpleasant, an effect like a swarm of bees partying inside an oak tree." -- The New York Times
  • "I didn't realize this has a turbo, so that explains the lag I experienced off the line and in getting up to freeway speeds. A bit annoying, but once you are up to speed, on interstates and on neighborhood streets, there's plenty of power to move the Cruze." -- AutoWeek
  • "While power has certainly been sacrificed, the 1.4-liter turbo provides enough punch for most everyday needs. There is some minor turbo lag from a stop, and passing can be labored. Zero to 60 mph takes about nine seconds, which is fair, but not fast.” -- MSN

Fuel Economy

To save money at the pump, consider the Chevrolet Cruze Eco, which is more aerodynamic and has higher fuel economy ratings than it did last year. According to the EPA, the Cruze Eco averages 26/39 mpg city/highway. Those are great ratings, but they’re still lower than the 2012 Hyundai Elantra’s. The Elantra starts at about $16,500, and averages 29/40 mpg city/highway for both manual and automatic transmissions, and you don’t have to upgrade to a higher trim.

  • "That estimate sounds dreamy, but on a drive from Los Angeles to San Diego in a manual-equipped Eco, the (probably optimistic) trip computer showed an average of 43.8 mpg, with most of our cruising done at 80 mph with the air conditioning on and the engine loping along at 2500 rpm (the automatic-equipped Eco’s engine spun at 3000 rpm, which is more common for a small engine at high speed)." -- Car and Driver
  • "So does all this fuel Economy focus pay off? More than we thought it could. Although the EPA rates the Cruze Eco, with the manual gearbox, at 42-mpg highway, we saw noticeably better." -- Popular Mechanics
  • "But, being that this is an ‘Eco’ Cruze, I was expecting a bit better fuel Economy." -- AutoWeek

Handling and Braking

Reviewers don’t say the 2012 Chevrolet Cruze has best-in-class handling or braking capabilities, but they’re still impressed. The Cruze’s brakes are strong, steering is accurate and there’s little body lean or understeer. If you’re considering the Cruze, you’ve probably checked out the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic. Test drivers who have driven these models think the Corolla has the worst handling and braking capabilities of the three. They also say that the Civic isn’t as refined as the Cruze, and that it has more body lean when cornering.

  • "The low-rolling-resistance tires don’t seem to have a similar effect on handling and braking, though; from behind the wheel, the Eco feels nimbler and more responsive than other Cruzes." -- Car and Driver
  • "The accurate steering has good feel and little need for correction. Cruze's overall handling inspires confidence with minimal body lean in turns. Braking is smooth and strong with good pedal feel." -- Consumer Guide
  • "The steering is direct and confident." -- The New York Times
  • "The Cruze's all-new chassis isn't particularly sophisticated as far as Economy cars go, but its design ensures secure handling and an absorbent - but not mushy - ride." -- Edmunds

Next Steps: 2012 Chevrolet Cruze

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Used car average prices are provided by ClearBook™, a TrueCar™ product