Chevrolet Cruze drive and technology review: Power, style take centrestage

By Souvik Das | Published on 27 Dec 2016
Chevrolet Cruze drive and technology review: Power, style take centrestage

The 2016 Chevrolet Cruze is among the most powerful premium sedans in the market right now. Quite unsurprisingly, it rides and feels like one.

The Chevrolet Cruze has been a head-turner ever since it was introduced in India. With one of the most powerful engines in its class, a host of features inside and aggressive styling, the Cruze was regularly hailed as one of the best sedans in the erstwhile D segment. However, with the likes of Toyota and Hyundai launching upgrades to their premium sedans, the Corolla and Elantra, the Cruze somewhat lost some of its shine and appeal in the long run.

Enter, the 2016 Chevrolet Cruze. The new car comes with a fresh facelift, a 7-inch touchscreen infotainment unit powered by Chevrolet’s very own MyLink system and improved front seats, while retaining the entirety of the drive characteristics. The Cruze has always been called out for its heavy, powerful drive, and the new 2016 Cruze seems to have the essentials to improve on it.

After two weeks with it, though, I have not just liked the Cruze for its power-driven ride, but for multiple elements that contribute to making you feel important and special while driving it. The in-car technology is central to making the Cruze a wholesome experience, and this is what we will talk about in our review of the 2016 Chevrolet Cruze.

Technology is the pivot
Much of the top-of-the-line Chevrolet Cruze is electrically driven and controlled. You get daytime running lights, fog lamps and headlights that are all controlled from the inside via electric toggles, and the same holds for outside rear-view mirrors with LED indicators. You also get an electric steering wheel (more on this later), and an electric-controlled driver seat. The MyLink infotainment setup sits inside a recessed chamber at the top of the central pillar, offering control to multiple settings within the car.

For instance, you get AC circulation controls that can be accessed from within the MyLink interface. You can do the same for the DRLs and fog lamps, and the car’s internal lighting as well. The present Chevrolet MyLink unit also has a number of convenient tricks up its sleeve - with an integrated voice receptor that allows you to make handsfree calls while driving. This gets activated as soon as you pair your smartphone to the central console, and is compatible with both iOS and Android platforms. You get steering-mounted voice control to activate the voice control while driving, and audio reception from the integrated microphones is quite good, too.

The Chevrolet MyLink interface is simple, neat and easy to navigate, both by touch input or the buttons on the central console. You get Stitcher Internet Radio integrated in the setup, along with music, AM/FM and folder access for USB drives. Apart from Bluetooth, you can also connect your smartphone to the system via aux, and if you have an iPhone, connecting it via USB makes MyLink read your phone as an iPod. Unfortunately, there’s no USB playback support for Android devices. For audio control of the 6-speaker setup, you also get preset equalisers and manual controls for bass, mids and treble to adjust audio output as per choice.

The audio quality of the default speakers is quite impressive. Although Chevrolet does not really advertise or co-brand its audio system with any noteworthy audio maker, the speakers deliver clean, crunchy and well-knit sound that complements the overall mis-en-scene of the car. There’s ample warmth and panache in the low frequencies, along with good instrumental detail and smooth, flowing vocal balance. This creates good in-car ambience, and the overall arrangement makes the audio sound well-spaced to give a notion of luxurious and plush furnishings, enveloping you in smooth, warm ambience that we quite like.

It is this that the Chevrolet Cruze does wonderfully well. Coupled with vast front seats wrapped in smooth, double-stitched leather, a neatly designed dash, sporty instrument cluster and a dual-level sunroof, you feel comfortable and well-pampered, and the audio quality enhances this further. The only gaping absence from the infotainment unit is a navigation unit - somewhat surprising, seeing that even less expensive cars (the Tata Tiago, for instance) nowadays include navigation systems in their infotainment console. Chevrolet will hopefully include a navigation unit to the system in the near future, which will make it more complete.

While the Chevrolet MyLink setup lists message read-out and transcription as one of the features of the infotainment unit, this did not seem to work for us. The speech-to-call setup does falter a bit, but eventually gets the name of the person you are trying to call. The integrated voice assistant is not entirely tuned to recognise Indian accents, another issue that should be recognised in the upcoming 2017 Chevrolet Cruze. The display works efficiently for rear viewing, and I seldom needed to look outside for parking guidance. The four-rail parking guide is efficient and alert, stopping you within ample range of the next car. The sunshade aids in using it further.

Apart from that, though, the electrical and technological wizardry expands to give you almost every single control of the car to your fingertips. You get automatic climate control, electric-operated sunroof, electrically adjustable ORVMs, adjustable headlamps, outside temperature and date/time display on the central console, and a multi-information display at the centre of the instrument cluster with integrated tripmeter, kilometres driven, instant and overall mileage readings, and electric alerts for door ajar, low fuel, seat belt, handbrake and quick start. You also get cruise control with steering-mounted buttons, and a six-way adjustable electric-controlled driving seat. It is quite convenient to adjust, and the vast cabin aids your driving stance with that of the car.

I, for instance, found a perfectly convenient driving position, with lock and window control within my reach. While the recessed housing for the 7-inch touch display helps shelter it from sunlight, it is a bit too distant to reach when you are driving, and I ended up using the physical buttons to navigate through the options more often. The touchscreen itself, while being much better in terms of resolution than many other in-car infotainment units out there, is still not very responsive. You will still encounter 3 out of 10 missed touches on overall terms, which is not really bad, but has consequences and rare annoyances.

But, the Chevrolet Cruze is evidently a driver’s car, seeing that the rear row gets only an armrest and two cupholders, and the power windows are not auto-roll down here. The rear of the car also doesn’t get personalised AC vents, and in a different turn of arrangement, the USB and aux ports are housed inside the central cubbyhole. It is admittedly easier for the rear passenger(s) to reach and plug their phone in for music/charging, but that is all that you get for rear passenger convenience.

A thoroughly powerful drive
The 2.0-litre VCDi 16V DOHC turbocharged diesel engine has remained the same from the previous edition, delivering 166PS power and 360Nm of torque at its max output. It is this very combination, coupled with an excellent 6-speed CVT transmission, that makes the Cruze an effortlessly powerful sedan to drive. Straight up and right out of the block, the Cruze does have notable turbo lag. You can actually hear the turbocharger’s whine, but beyond the initial lag, the throttle response and acceleration of the Cruze is incredibly delightful.

Hit the highway, and the Cruze literally takes off. The acceleration is quite responsive, and beyond 2000rpm, you can really feel the power seeping through. Transmission is smooth, and you do not really feel the gear shifts. This is particularly pleasant while driving in the city, and at that, the Cruze is good enough to amble around at low speeds. A light electric-controlled steering wheel also means that the Cruze is quite effortless to drive at low speeds or in city traffic, but this also affects somewhat adversely in higher speeds. Handling is slightly compromised if you are more used to heavier steering feedback, but it does take a lot of strain away from the drive in crowded, winding lanes.

While the steering does weigh up at higher speeds and adds more feedback, there is a distinct note of disengagement with the driver - a slight disappointment for such a well-balanced, powerful vehicle. Once you do get used to it, though, the Cruze is an effortless drive that is fun, but slightly lacks in terms of your own involvement - something that enthusiasts may not like. The suspension is tuned to be on the stiffer side. Chevvy has opted for higher stability at high speed rides, and as a result, small bumps relay quite heavily in city rides. On the flipside, however, the main charm of the Cruze lies at higher speeds, and this is where it nails the ride to perfection.

At upward of 2000rpm, as you hit the pedal on an empty stretch of road, you will find the Cruze lunging forward with aggressiveness, something that complements its stance as well. We easily shot up from 40kph to 165kph with near-effortless grace, and even at that, the Cruze remains firm on the ground. In-cabin NVH is quite low, although you do hear the constant growl of the turbocharged diesel engine during your ride. The brakes, meanwhile, are incredibly sharp, which need some getting used-to.

Despite the heavy demeanour, the Chevrolet Cruze is quite agile. It is responsive to light touches for quick acceleration, and the smooth and swift gear shifts also enable quick overtakes on the highway. The 16-inch, 10-spoke alloys look classy and also grip the road with firmness, minimising body roll and giving you more confidence to hit corners at speed. You can really feel the engine torque as you surge ahead, and what’s most impressive is even at above 150kph, you feel comfortable and safe. It is easy to get a nice, comfortable seating position inside the Cruze, and the large windows also help you get a good view of your surroundings.

Mileage, though, takes a hit, and the Cruze returned an average of 9.8kmpl in city, and 14.1kmpl on the highway. The powertrain is a fair trade-off, making the Cruze one of the most powerful sedans for its class.

Build and Comfort
The exterior of the 2016 Cruze gets a bump up, with a taut, bifurcated hexagonal front grille with chrome inlays that lends to its aggressive stance. You also get chrome inlays around the adjustable fog lamps, along with a low-slung chassis and wheelbase of 2685mm. Straight lines flow from the large Follow Me Home headlamps to the rear, with tasteful Chrome inlays on the handle. The car has a heavy, aggressive look at the rear, with the low stance aiding aerodynamics.

On the inside, the Cruze feels plush. It gets an electrically controlled sunroof with an additional board as well. The dash looks premium, with decent quality plastic inlays complementing the generous use of leather inside. The front seats are supremely comfortable, with enough pitch to really support you through long drives. Not for once did I feel fatigued out of sitting at the driver’s seat for too long. The cabin is also quite spacious, although much of the space is dedicated to the front row. Rear seating is quite decent with ample thigh room, although tall people may have slight issues with the headroom.

Another slight indication that the Chevrolet Cruze is a driver’s car is the fact that the rear row gets minimal additional features. The doors, meanwhile, carry good weight, and close with a reassuring ‘thud’. Safety features include ABS, dual-front and side airbags, engine immobilizer, anti-theft alarm and more, along with the added sense of stability and reassurance that the Cruze brings with itself.

The final verdict
To sum up all of it, the 2016 Chevrolet Cruze is a fun, powerful sedan that has plenty of features, but misses out on a few notable ones - navigation control and a heavier steering being the prime factors. The ride is pliant and powerful, and the Cruze makes you feel in charge of the road in front of you. A stunningly dominant horn adds to making you feel, quite literally, like the king of the road.

Technology has played the centerpiece of the Chevrolet Cruze’s engineering, with leaving foundation for Chevrolet to build upon this in the upcoming versions. As of now, though, the Chevrolet Cruze is one of the most powerful D Segment sedans in India right now, and till the next few months.

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