By Shari Prymak

2017 Chevrolet Cruze Sedan - The compact car segment is one that General Motors has not been terribly successful with in the past. Previous efforts such as the Chevrolet Cobalt and Cavalier were both examples of cheapness at its finest. With subpar build quality and a lackluster driving experience, they were like one of those $9 a day rental car deals that you reluctantly take in order to save every penny. They were certainly not serious efforts at a Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla rival.

The Chevrolet Cruze, however, is on a completely different planet. It’s proof that GM can build a quality, substantial-feeling, compact car when it really tries. For 2017, it has been given a full makeover and is now available in both sedan and hatchback body styles. Both are fairly generic looking, but a few subtle details like the available LED lighting are enough to jazz up the appearance. Personally I’d go with the hatchback for its nicer overall look and added level of practicality.

On the inside, the Cruze comes off as fairly upscale-looking and surprisingly spacious. There’s enough room in both the front and back seats to question the decision to go with the larger Malibu midsize sedan. Same goes for the huge trunk, which is a useful shape in the sedan and better still in the hatchback. The instrument panel is dominated by an easy-to-use MyLink touchscreen that sits overtop nicely-damped buttons and knobs. The system is compatible with both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, and 4G LTE Wifi is available as well, along with countless other doo-dads.

Chevrolet Cruze

The driving experience is one area where few compacts cars are able to leave an impression and standout from the crowd. The Cruze, however, manages to differentiate itself from its competitors with a surprisingly smooth ride. The suspension is supple and absorbs most road imperfections without fuss. By comparison, the handling, steering, and braking are less impressive, but the refined ride is an acceptable trade-off. It’s an ideal car for those who have to deal with poorly-paved city streets or long highway drives on a regular basis which, let’s face it, is probably most of us.

Power comes from a 1.4L turbocharged 4-cylinder engine paired to either a standard 6-speed manual or available 6-speed automatic transmission. With 153 horsepower and 177lb-ft of torque, the engine has plenty of shove, but the automatic’s eagerness to always shift to a higher gear in pursuit of fuel economy make it feel less sprightly than it really is. At least the automatic seems to be doing its job. My test car returned a reasonable 8.0L/100km over a week of mostly city driving. Hyper milers might want to wait for the 1.6L diesel model which should do even better.

Prices for the Cruze sedan start at $15,995 for a bare-bones L model and climb to $23,895 for a well-equipped Premier model before extras. That’s about average for the segment, but given Chevrolet’s common use of sales incentives, it certainly has the potential to be a value buy. Included in the base price is an impressive 5 year/160,000km powertrain warranty and roadside assistance, free oil changes for 2 years/48,000km, and 5 years of OnStar service.

Consumers have a lot of excellent options when it comes to compact cars. A few top picks include the sporty Mazda 3, value-packed Hyundai Elantra, reliable Toyota Corolla, and the best-selling Honda Civic. The Cruze mostly stands out for its above-average refinement and large-car space in a small-car body. As appealing as it is, without the right sales incentives in place, it isn’t likely to upset the current establishment. Still, for anyone with space and comfort as high priorities, it is certainly worth putting on the test drive list.