Chevrolet Cruze: Success or Failure?

Steven Lang
by Steven Lang
chevrolet cruze success or failure

There was a time when the word ‘cockroach’ was the best way to describe any old Chevy compact.

The Cobalts and Cavaliers of recent times were essentially neutered, cost-cutting exercises designed to help General Motors sell as many high dollar pickups and SUVs as possible. To this day, it’s hard for me to think of two other modern cars of the last 10 years with a cheaper assemblage of foam, fabric, plastic and parts-bin rubbish than GM’s two big C’s of the compact car world.

Yet they sold exceptionally well. Or to put it another way, they sold far better than any human being could ever assume would be the case. I’m sure that rental car companies, generous rebates and jaw dropping incentives all helped each of these cars limp through the final years of their model runs. But the reliability of the Cavalier and Cobalt were actually quite decent for their time. In fact, like a lot of GM vehicles, the Cavalier and Cobalt were pretty well screwed together by the end of their model runs.

Now about the Chevy Cruze!

When the Cruze was released back in 2011, a lot of the writers here had a ton of praise for the then new model. Michael Karesh offered a striking take on the ECO version. I provided a longer test drive for the LT model and, several years later, Jack Baruth provided some healthy insights to what had become a worthy contender to the top names in the compact car segment.

However, the last two years are starting to cultivate a bit of a fracture between the Cruze models. I remember Mark Baruth and Caroline Ellis contacting me about whether I would recommend the Chevy Sonic, which has the same 1.8-liter engine as the overwhelming majority of the Cruzes sold in North America. The short answer was, “Absolutely!” Everything about the 1.8 liter was worthy of a long-term investment.

However, I had mixed feelings about the 1.4-liter engine from the very beginning. It runs hotter (220 to 230 degrees), has a turbo thrown into the mix (which has no track record of long-term reliability) and didn’t provide that much more oomph than the 1.8. The anthem dished out by the Chevrolet PR circus was More powah!, but everyone from Jalopnik to Consumer Reports dissed the 1.4 turbo as a mostly pointless endeavor.

Consumer Reports hit the nail on the Cruze’s cylinder heads:

Our base Cruze had the 1.8-liter four-cylinder; our higher-end 1LT version came with the 1.4-liter turbo four cylinder. While the 1.4-liter feels marginally more powerful in daily driving, it was barely faster to 60 mph, and it got the same fuel economy as the larger engine—26 mpg overall.

The marketplace responded in kind with the easy-breathing 1.8 becoming the engine of choice for the Cruze and even the far sportier Sonic. The 1.4 turbo would also wind up with more troubles than the 1.8. Water pump failures, overheating engines, and having to resort to trial-and-error fixes made many 1.4 owners rue the day they chose the smaller engine over the larger one.

Yet you can’t argue with the sales success of the Cruze. Is it outstanding? No. But it’s most definitely the most stable GM offering in this market segment since the Clinton Era. The basic architecture that powers the Cruze has also found a healthy home in millions of other GM vehicles throughout the world — from the Verano, to the Volt, to models that arguably should have never been produced.

The one thing I’m wondering about at this point is whether the Chevy Cruze has enough staying power to become a worthy offering in the used car market. The average car on the road in the USA is now 11.5 years old and over the next few years the Cruze will be drifting ever closer to that national average.

Would you recommend one? How about the 1.4? Do you think GM is going to solve the issues for that model and make it a long-term hauler? Or is the General going to blaze the same path of denial that often results in the used car owner holding the 3,300 pound bag well after the vehicle leaves the spotlight?

In GM’s defense, they have arranged for recalls related to the water pump issue, but a recall and a genuine fix for the damage caused by the problem are two highly divergent realities when it comes to engine life. Should GM extend the warranty for those engines that overheated before the initial warranty period went out?

Author’s Note: I am leaving the Cruze diesel engine completely out of the conversation since like 99.99% of humanity, I have absolutely no firsthand experiences with them. But if you have, feel free to leave your input below.

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  • Dwight Dwight on Jan 07, 2016

    I once test drove a Cruze 1.8 with manual transmission. Loved the drive and responsiveness. Hated the seats. No sale.

  • Rudolph Rudolph on May 11, 2016

    ▼ Speaking of GM & Cruze ▼ Wed 03 Feb 2016 @ 10:50 ▲ • Diesel engine coming for 2017 ▲ Returning may be a better word than coming • GM apparently realized the error of the mid→late 1970s with its “conversion” of the 350in³ gasoline engine to diesel • As I understand , GM spent many $ & € to do it right when introducing the Cruze diesel • To me it is amazing that GM did not crawl into bed with the major car rental companies and offer them a sweet ♥ deal to get as many diesels on the road as possible • Prospective buyers could rent one for a weekend or week or two „ and if error , they are not married to the car with its initial off the lot crucifying depreciation •

    • Drzhivago138 Drzhivago138 on May 11, 2016

      Who are you, and why are you commenting on 7-month-old articles?

  • Duane Baldinger Ya my cupcake Mailman will love it!
  • Duane Baldinger Where can I send the cash? It's a surprise BDAY present for my cupcake Mailman. D Duane
  • Art Vandelay Pour one out for the Motors Liquidation Corporation
  • Bill Wade Norm, while true I'll leave you with this. My 2023 RAM is running Android 8 released in 2017.My wife's navigation on her GM truck is a 2021 release, I believe the latest. Android Auto seems to update very week or two. Now, which would you rather have? Anybody with a car a couple of years old NEVER sees any updates. Heck, if your TV is a few years old it's dead on updates. At least cell phones are rapidly updated. If your old phone won't update, buy another $200 phone. If your GM vehicle doesn't update do what, buy another $50,000 GM vehicle?
  • Lou_BC Once again, Mustang is the last pony car standing. Camaro RIP, Challenger RIP.