By on April 28, 2020

Steph Willems/TTAC

Yes, one day this could all be yours. When the last leases signed for this now defunct model run their course, the base Chevy Cruze could be the depreciation special that finds its way into your driveway.

I’ll still be paying mine off.

Of course, you can’t criticize anything you read here today too harshly, as, regardless of what you think of the purchase decision, I spent my own damn money on this unexciting, domestic, high-MPG compact sedan. Yes, a person who types car-related words foolishly spent his meager income on a sensible new vehicle that suits his day-to-day needs, rather than a Peugeot or Porsche project car. I guess it’s now up to General Motors to retain me — again — as a customer.

And that nearly didn’t happen back in May of 2018, until Hyundai gave me plenty of reason to reconsider.

My visit to the local GM store came after the most annoying dealer experience I’ve ever had — one that included a test drive, sans owner, to assess my 2011 Cruze Eco’s trade-in value. Apparently that red, stick-shift car wasn’t worth a dime, especially after the salesman and his, I don’t know — sales manager? Service tech? Brother? — discovered a nasty scrape along the rear driver’s side door.

A scrape that didn’t exist when I got in the car to drive to the dealer.

I should add that I parked with an empty spot on either side of me. What else am I supposed to think here?

Steph Willems/TTAC

Suffice it to say what Hyundai wanted for one of two base Elantra manuals sitting on their lot was at least two grand too dear for this cheapskate, who wasn’t very enamored with the model’s output in the first place (but who was interested in its reliability). Eager to recoup whatever remaining value existed in my ’11 before something calamitous and expensive took place, I drove my now-damaged vehicle to the GM lot, parked, and went inside to ask whether any of the big balloons filling their showroom were ready to pop and shower me with juicy incentives. Turns out, they were! Unsurprisingly, my trade-in was appraised far above what Hyundai was willing to give me.

[Get new and used Chevrolet Cruze pricing here!]

The dealer was also willing to hunt for a profit-bereft manual-transmission base vehicle, none of which existed anywhere near my city. Great. The deal was sealed via text message, as I hate shopping, time was of the essence, and things seemed good enough. I was barely even pushed on an extended warranty by the F&I guy.

So, after a month-long wait to take ownership (caused by a very specific and annoyingly timed recall issued the day before my el-cheapo ride arrived in town), I found myself the owner of a base Cruze L; six-speed manual, 1.4-liter turbo, and black window trim where there should be chrome. What a proud moment. The new-car scent rising from the fairly flat and low-quality looking seats proved an intoxicating elixir, sweeter than any perfume.

Now, let’s fast-forward 29,000 miles.

Steph Willems/TTAC

As the engine found in this trim also found its way into all second-generation, non-diesel Cruzes, listen up: those EPA figures are no fairy tale. Going from the trip computer, the Cruze averaged 39-40 mpg in mixed driving over the course of its first summer, topping estimates. Granted, yours truly was driving on eggshells much of the time. The readout for this past winter and spring comes in at about 34-35 mpg, with cold weather and snow tires part of that figure.

Certainly, the revised 1.4L that appeared for 2016 is just as thrifty as the one that came before, albeit with a merciful torque boost — 177 lb-ft vs the old engine’s 148. My previous Eco also boasted a triple-overdrive gearset that made any type of passing or acceleration in top gear a double-downshift proposition. Now, it’s a single downshift. Cruising at 65 mph at barely 2,000 rpm, the Cruze can even (slowly) add speed without the need for a downshift, but to make sure of that you’ll want to ignore every mention of 87 octane in the owner’s manual. Like its predecessor, this rig barely tolerates the cheap stuff. It’s 89 (minimum) or 91 octane for me.

Drinking high-test, the Cruze also returns noticeably improved fuel economy, so it’s probably about an even trade-off, expense-wise. You’ll still be able to afford those camo pants you’ve been eyeing.

As for the shifter, it’s no Honda unit. Nothing here really is. Meaning, of course, that notchiness will not be off the charts, throttle response will be a little laggy, and there’ll be a soft zone at the top of the clutch pedal’s travel. That said, I’ve driven new Japanese products with a rubberier feel and longer throws (*cough* Corolla).

But back to basics for a bit. The Cruze L offered up a fairly decent 7-inch touchscreen and the usual power accessories, plus rear disc brakes. Forget about heated seats or (*gasp*) A/C, but Bluetooth connectivity is there, as is Android Auto, Apple CarpPlay, a USB port, and, in U.S. models, a backup camera. Another nonexistent item that’s sorely missed is cruise control, as you can see by the shockingly bare steering wheel. A little embarrassing, that.

Speaking of embarrassing, expect to find 15-inch steel wheels shod in skinny 195/65 Continental rubber and adorned with some of the ugliest, cheapest looking wheel covers you’ve ever seen. Mortified at the thought of being seen driving such an appliance, I made sure to toss those vile things in the front closet the second I got home from the dealer. Yes sir, it was Steelie Lyfe for the Cruze’s first summer; aftermarket alloys after that.

Steph Willems/TTAC

And as you can see below, the factory lug nuts loved it! This photo shows a total of 16 months of intermittent usage with equally intermittent oil sprays (they’re now in the trash, but not before fouling my threads with corrosion as a parting gift).

Pay attention to those nuts, guys.

Steph Willems/ttac

One thing about those rear discs. I don’t care what Matthew Guy says; I’ve never spent a cent on drum brakes on my life, and I’ve owned seven cars with ’em. As the below picture demonstrates, “robust,” “beefy,” and “overbuilt” are not fitting adjectives for these units. Deep scoring is also well underway after just under two years.

Steph Willems/TTAC

All that said, at least the Gen 1 Cruze’s surprising corrosion resistance carried over, and, one hopes, its unexpectedly resilient suspension components (nothing seems new on that front, so good, good). One thing not carried over, thus far, is the previous Cruze’s drinking problem. Not fuel, mind you — coolant. Upon taking ownership of my 3-year-old ’11, a heater core leak was already present. The subsequent years saw a jug of Dexcool take up permanent residence in my trunk, and make no mistake — it got used. Is it any wonder I checked out the Hyundai dealer first?

Thankfully, at this point there’s no sign of anything ominous with this revised engine. Fingers crossed…

Back in the cabin, unseen carryovers from the first generation are everywhere. Drivers long of leg will find the same stretch-out front-seat space as before, and rear-seat passengers will discover a few extra inches of much-needed knee room. In base L trim, you’re not going to find the appealing, high quality two-tone fabric that adorned the seats, door panels, and dash in my mid-range Eco, though this model’s depressingly grey and thin-looking upholstery at least hasn’t frayed or torn in any place. Yet. It does, however, show off every last dust speck, grain of sand, or water stain ever bestowed upon it.

Oh well, at least the seats are decently comfortable, with no back quibbles on this driver’s part. A padded, sliding center armrest/console lid is greatly appreciated in this bargain basement ride; it makes long trips far more livable.

While the cabin doesn’t look or feel as quality as the previous generation’s, nothing’s gone haywire in two years. The only gripes I can muster concern the bright-as-the-midday-sun touchscreen, which causes glare at night and refuses to dial down its light output, and the gaping crevasse that surrounds the ignition switch. Wide enough to accept GM’s chunky flip key, it’s done so in the dark on numerous occasions.

My kingdom for the final N-body’s (literally) can’t-miss dash-mounted switch!

Steph Willems/TTAC

Clearly, the Chevy Cruze L won’t make all of your dreams come true, but it will swallow more than 15 cubic feet of cargo in its trunk, though a fancy pass-through or split folding rear seat back is not in the cards. No half measures at this trim level, fella. One oversized item in the boot and you’ll sacrifice all rear seating to accommodate it.

Overall, the Cruze L is a graduate of Good Enough 101. There’s power aplenty marred only by the laggy throttle and the necessary turbo windup, a torsion beam rear that makes up for in simplicity and durability what it lacks in finesse, and steering that, while decently weighted at varying speeds, still retains the tiny bit of on-center dead zone the previous-gen model exhibited on the highway. Add to that its fairly roomy cabin and trunk and pretty boffo gas mileage, and you’re left with an attractive buy… on the pre-owned lot. Because you know this thing’ll undercut that Civic LX enough to make it tempting.

If you won’t miss the extra cash, I say snap up that 2.0L Civic, but don’t expect a penalty box if your finances favor the Cruze.

Someone needs to appreciate the last of Lordstown’s finest.

[Images: Steph Willems/TTAC]

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53 Comments on “Long-term Update: 29,000 Miles in the Luxurious 2018 Chevrolet Cruze L – Your CPO Lot Prepper...”

  • avatar

    I would check the computer MPG number with a piece of paper and a calculator. My last GM and first Honda never matched the estimate that the “computer” made for mpg’s.

    • 0 avatar

      Trip computers lie. Always on the high side by 2-3 mpg.
      Always on the high side.

      Its like the grocery store. How come when ever they make a mistake on pricing at check out, its ALWAYS in their favor????? Watch these Cossacks closely.

    • 0 avatar

      GM calibration with stock MAF and automatic transmission should be very close but with an edge to the computer vs hand calculation. Whether the same would hold true with on and off the throttle with manual trans who knows.

      The Encore 1 4t SIDI guys are seeing close to 50 mpg highway.

      • 0 avatar

        I’ve had a Pontiac G6 for 11 years and ~ 152000 miles. I calculate the fuel mileage every tank (unless my wife fills up and doesn’t tell me) and between the onboard calculator and pencil, I’m never more than 2 MPG off. And usually the onboard calculator will be slightly optomistic, but I’m guessing it rounds up as it gives you one number past the decimal point.

  • avatar

    I am the proud owner of 2 (used to be 3) 2017 Chevy Cruzes. In the “luxurious” LT trim, I do have the niceties of a/c bluetooth, heated seats and chrome! So much chrome. Reflecting the sun into my eyes from any angle chrome. Somehow even the LT trim lacks lumbar adjustment for the driver’s seat, extendable sun visors, or the tint at the top of the windshield. Mine too requires premium gas, and even then it can be laggy and has inconsistent power, but at least the wildly dangerous dead spot under 2800rpms goes away.

    You forgot to mention the occasional freakout, when the car loses touch with the tire pressure sensors, or when the check engine light starts blinking and the car tells you to service the traction control system. Both issues go away on their own in a couple minutes if you just keep driving and ignore them. You also forgot to mention how the car bucks and sputters as you go up long inclines on the highway at 70mph. Oh, and you forgot to mention how oil changes cost $50 because GM spec’s special oil. Who do they think they are, VW?

    My Curse (<– thanks autocorrect for fixing that) and I have coexisted for 101,000 uneasy miles so far. When the stay at home order is lifted, we will resume our relationship. Until then, it sure looks good in the driveway.

    • 0 avatar

      When I had my Caddy, I LOVED the Traction Control light. All sorts of things having nothing to do with ABS or TC can trigger it…MAF sensors/throttle bodies for example..

      I never needed a code reader before my GM experience, and it has stayed in my toolbox since.

  • avatar
    R Henry

    Wow….I did not know a new car could be purchased without A/C, nor did I know GM could make rear disk brakes fail in fewer than 50k miles. A talented bunch those GM bean counters….!

    • 0 avatar

      Because Canada.

      Canadians have been known to be cheap and many don’t feel A/C is necessary in their climate, so some mfgs offer cars w/o A/C that in the US A/C is standard.

      The brakes are due to salt.

      • 0 avatar

        I was going to say a good dose of anti seize on those lug nuts never let me down in south of Lake Erie.

      • 0 avatar
        Tele Vision


        Americans have been known to be utter morons with regard to geography and massive proponents of jingoism. Ever heard of Alaska? How about Maine? New York ring a bell? Michigan, maybe? They all get cold, too, with plenty of salt. Nearly every car sold in Canada has A/C, these days. Educate yourself before writing in public, as fat; drunk; and stupid is no way to go through life. Enjoy your Trumpian nightmare. It’s a great watch from up here.

        • 0 avatar

          @ Tele Vision – I think you’re inferring malice in Scoutdude’s comment that isn’t there. I think he just meant “cheap” in a neutral way, i.e. “frugal” or “thrifty.” And if his impression is mistaken, you can probably blame a Canadian website:

          I get it: Most people are, at best, stir crazy at this point from shelter-in-place, myself included. And that’s a best-case scenario that doesn’t involve illness or unemployment. But it helps not to pick fights when no one else is seeking one.

          Furthermore, Scoutdude’s not wrong in his answer to R Henry’s question:
          – Scoutdude was making a point about Canadian *summer* weather. You responded with a rather inapt comparison to US *winter* weather. Population centers in the US *are* warmer on aggregate than population centers in Canada. If that’s the utter moron’s understanding of things, well, then it’s a case where the utter moron is correct. And no, snowbirds’ homes in Florida don’t count as Canadian territory. The typical Canadian in the typical Canadian climate is going to have less use for a/c than the typical American in the typical American climate. There’s no socioeconomic or political judgment there; it’s just a matter of average temperatures.
          – The point Scoutdude was making more succinctly than I will is this: By and large, there aren’t regional trim levels for cars sold in the States. The manufacturers have decided that even the thrifty buyer in Tampa or Phoenix will demand a/c and that it’s no longer cost-effective to offer a no-a/c US version. As such, the thrifty buyer in Seattle or Traverse City or Montpelier is going to get a/c in his new base-trim car, whether he wants to pay for it or not and even though those places are cooler in the summer than Toronto or Windsor. (This wasn’t always the case. My family used to own a no-a/c vehicle – ’94 model year, originally sold by a dealer in northern New York State. But that’s the most recent one I’ve seen.)
          – Per Steph’s review, the Canadian-market 2018 Cruze L’s didn’t have a/c; US-market 2018 Cruze L’s *did* have a/c. See, p 26. (The wording says “climate control, but “air conditioning” is implied since all five trim levels are indicated as having the same feature.)

          So, fairly reasonable question from R Henry and fairly reasonable answer from Scoutdude, at least in my opinion.

          • 0 avatar

            Thank you, I never said they didn’t use salt in the winter in the US. Like you mentioned there are lots of places in the US w/o salt and relatively few place where they don’t use it in Canada.

            Canadians buying low trim level cars and GM and other mfgs offering unique products for that market goes back decades. They got a 1977 Bel Air, while the Impala became the base model in the US that year. It is also why Pontiac was the other low priced brand with the full size cars riding on Chevy chassis powered by Chevy engines. Pontiac dealers also offered the Acadian, Beaumont and T1000, lightly disguised Chevies, to round out their offerings in the low priced field.

          • 0 avatar
            Art Vandelay

            Tele Vision is just another internet @$$hat trying to stir the pot. Any sane person realizes what was intended…he/she is just looking to be offended by something.

        • 0 avatar

          @Tele Vision
          As a fellow Canadian I salute everything you said.

        • 0 avatar

          Maybe I should have used frugal instead of cheap. Regardless the fact remains that mfgs do offer different equipment levels tailored to the market where the car will be sold. So yeah most cars may have A/C in Canada but GM felt the need to offer this w/o it, in Canada, while it is standard in the US.

        • 0 avatar

          Living in Buffalo I travel to Toronto frequently and it is true…Canadians are frugal and automakers respond to that with lower trim cars and cheaper models that were never sold in the US..The Chevrolet Orlando, Acura CSX (based on a Civic), VW Golf City, a MK 4 sold next to the MK 5, Nissan X Trail….These were all lower end products never sold in the US

      • 0 avatar

        Brakes are due to salt + Chinesium alloy rotors. Pick up a good set of aftermarket rotors and pads, and they will last a LOT longer, even in the salt.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    “Good Enough 101”

    TTAC is that’s what most of us drive – or have driven – and it’s what we remember fondly when Awesome 202 isn’t so reliable.

    • 0 avatar
      el scotto

      @ SCE; Sears used to sell stuff rated: “good, better, best”. For vehicles I believe those three ratings are influenced by where you are in life, how much you can afford, and how much you are willing to spend. Those three factors result with wildly varied outcomes. For a 16yo kid? An eight year old Ford F100 Ranger was good, for a journeyman ironworker a coming off a lease Ranger XLT 4WD extended cab was better, these days a 4wd F150 Platinum would be best. I’m waiting for the Lexus LC convertible.

  • avatar

    Of course it is too late now, but if you would have popped the lug nut covers/wheel cover retainers from the wheel cover and reinstalled them you would have at least minimized the corrosion of the lug nuts and studs. Those nuts and studs weren’t designed to be exposed to the weather.

  • avatar

    I have a LT Cruze 2018 Hatch. Obviously not the same car by several 1000 dollars and options. My screen dims with the dimmer switch for the interior lighting on the left by the lights. It can be turned pretty low, although not off, annoyingly.

    I always run 87, and get around 32 MPG at 75 MPH or so. I wonder if it would be worth the money to try 89.

    I’m glad you have also noticed lots of the little things that make this generation better than the first. I liked the looks of the first better, but this is for and away the superior car, build wise. GM is not near where I want them to be yet for quality, but the strides they have made as a manufacturer over the last 10-12 years are pretty dramatic.

  • avatar

    I liked the article, but this is one of those cars that shouldn’t even exist…

    No Air Conditioning or Cruise Control?!

    Absolutely no way, no how, never going to happen, what were you thinking on this one?

    • 0 avatar

      Since the car (most likely) uses drive by wire throttle, you could buy a steering wheel with cruise control buttons, stick it on there, and that will fool the computer into thinking you have it.

      • 0 avatar
        Art Vandelay

        Not always. At minimum you typically have to reflash to activate it and in some cases (my 2013 Frontier) the base models have a simplified harness where some of the connections are missing. I gave up and put an aftermarket in it, which worked fine, but YMMV.

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t mind no A/C. Why? I’m in Michigan so even though it does get hot, my very first car had NO air, power steering, clock, rear defrost, a 4-speed manual, but it DID have cruise.

  • avatar

    I rented a 2016 Cruze for a week and though I did not drive it much found it to be very claustrophobic inside. It was a nice looking car but I sure did not look forward to driving it. I can think of 50 other cars I would rather have and assuming the reliability is probably about the same a VW Golf would be much more desirable and I could actually see out of the thing.

    To me there is nothing more depressing than a late model GM car like the Cruze…last gasp of a dying dynasty and there is really nothing positive about the experience. If it had bulletproof reliability that might sway me ….but they are quite the opposite. I would rather have a beater Honda Civic or old CR-V. I apologize for my candid comments but I still shudder when I think back to that rental…..

  • avatar

    I don’t know how many times I shook my head reading this article. It’s just so sad how bad domestic automakers are. My wife had a ’16 Trax that we got rid of recently and it, too, had trashed brake rotors. This on a car with only 20000Kms.
    This is why Japanese car makers have been so dominant. I don’t I know why domestic auto makers can’t build a high quality car, whether it’s an econbox or not.
    Is it the auto unions? Do the car makers pay too much for barely skilled labor and cheap out everywhere else?
    It’s really pathetic and I feel for people who waste good money on these products.

    • 0 avatar
      el scotto

      @MeJ, it could depend on how the manufacturer does quality control (qc) on their parts. A factory may, and often will, make parts for Japanese and American manufacturers. The Japanese will qc X number of parts coming off the line; be it 100, 1,000 or 10,000. American manufacturers will qc by time; be it seven days, 30 days or 120 days. Due to just in time (jit) inventory how the parts are packed in their containers (boxes) are also is also subjec to qc. After the right or left side part has been qc’d it gets qc’d again to ensure it went in the correct right/side left box. Making cars isn’t easy. A friend of mine from college owns a company that qc’s auto parts. His company is always busy and always profitable.

      • 0 avatar
        Art Vandelay

        Yeeeeah…because no Japanese car rusts. Not like they were the last to figure out corrosion resistance and Mazdas were still rusting into the new Millennium.

    • 0 avatar

      “Barely skilled labor”?


    • 0 avatar

      Interesting. I’ve owned various cars over 45 years, most of them GM. I’ve never had a problem with brake rotors. I live in an area with snow and salt. Just anecdotal information, but hey, what do I know?

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      RockAuto shows “daily driver” rear rotors and pads kitted for $64.

      So regardless of the cause for this failure – driving habits, salt, bad engineering – they’re cheap to change. Two hours with some hand tools and you’re back in business.

      I don’t need brakes to last forever; I just need them to stop.

    • 0 avatar

      “I don’t I know why domestic auto makers can’t build a high quality car, whether it’s an econbox or not.”

      They apparently build them for die-hard “patriots” who absolutely must have an American-sounding product, even if it’s just a Chevy or Ford or Chrysler/Jeep badge, built in Mexico or elsewhere, and suffering perpetually mediocre reliability ratings. The bar is set pretty low (as in “just good enough”), and has been since the ’70s.

  • avatar


  • avatar

    How dare you own such a horrific example of American sub-mediocrity and call yourself an “car person”!


  • avatar
    Dave M.

    How much more would a base Jetta stick lease have been? Couldn’t have been more than $20 a month….

  • avatar

    This is the type of affordable car GM decided they had to make if they were going to sell cars. They can’t compete with Japanese on reliability, so they sell on price and financing.

  • avatar

    I grew up near Lordstown and live in a GM town in Michigan, but I have never seen an “L” in real life. Plenty of LS and LT models, but… I think those are a lower specification than the “FL” (fleet) cars. I know they are available here in the States, but wow…

    Glad to see she’s holding up well for you. There’s something about buying a low option car these days, but you managed to get a nearly option free car! OTOH, as my dad used to say, less sh!t to break. Stick with the recommended maintenance and it should be a good runner for a long time.

    • 0 avatar

      “Stick with the recommended maintenance and it should be a runner for a long time.”

      FTFY. It might run, but it will never be good. Chevys run bad longer than most cars run. Steph, keep oil and coolant in it and laugh at the other fools with hefty car payments.

  • avatar

    I thought the engine had to be “tuned” to the higher octane fuels to be of any good.

  • avatar

    That presunably US mpg figure translates to 7.0l/100km, something I can understand. Americans and their wacko measurement systems. That’s almost exactly what my friend gets in his manual 2018 Mazda3 2.0 and the 2014 before it. But he’s never put a drop of anything but regular in them, nor needed to. Both leased at just under Cdn$300/month including HST. At least they also came with A/C and heated front seats. I think the complete stripper was $1500 less retail. He’s been delighted with them after almost 20 years and five Golfs. They drive nicely and helped me look at Mazda after Subaru turned into completely forgettable bumbling nonentities.

    Rented a 2015 Cruise out in BC and ended up quite liking it. The steering felt sproingy, like those old coil spring chest expanders, but was accurate enough. The Mazda3, not surprisingly, is in a different league there, but has a far crashier ride on bad pavement. Highway, the Cruze was quieter – it was a heavy 3200 lbs little devil after all, a plump beast. Overall it was a far more remote-feeling drive than the Mazda, a small big car if you will, but not disastrous at all.

    Interesting you find the new Cruze better than the old, because car magazines generally did not, particularly in terms of the feeling of solidity. I’ll bow to your experience; I simply don’t know myself, but I much preferred the original style – this car is completely anonymous.

    Those 195/65 -15 tires are the same exact size as the 1988 Mercedes 300E. That car didn’t exactly flop about all over the road! My current experience with 55 series tires after 12 years on 45’s show me that there’s nothing much to be gained by the skinnier ones in normal driving.

    I’d be hard put to not have A/C though, even here in Nova Scotia. The Turkish bath steam heat of Toronto in summer would be almost unbearable. Americans know nothing of geography and assume the cold switch is somehow thrown by nature at the border. My favourite scene was the complaining by Americans waiting to get in the Bucky Ball US exhibit at Expo67 in Montreal, when I was but a young lad. 65 miles from the US border, all they did was complain about the heat and observe that wasn’t Canada supposed to be cool. Sure. We never have summer.

    You seem to like your Cruze, so good on you. I also like the tongue-in-cheek way you write these days.

    • 0 avatar

      “Americans know nothing of geography” Not quite. I have watched enough Trailer Park Boys to know that one can go shirtless in Nova Scotia year ’round.

  • avatar

    I am shocked you gave that dealer your business. It sounds like they ran all over you. No dignity.

  • avatar

    Nice even handed summary.

    Delta2XX, not an N Body.

    And why would you pay money for black wheels that look almost as bad as black steelies and make a car look equally trashy ?

    Same reasons people buy Escalades instead of Tahoes ? The Cimarron of SUVs ?

    You’ll need to leave your cheapskate card at the door Steph. Nice upscale plastic wheel covers are as close as your nearest Pep Boys
    [Canadian Tire ? ]. Standard 15″ tires are cheaper when you go to replace them.

    Eh…. if it made you happy that’s all that matters.

    Enjoyed the report. I hate the styling of this version of Cruze with that horse’s a** before the cart front end so I never gave it much consideration.

    Keep on Terraplaning.

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