Long-term Update: 29,000 Miles in the Luxurious 2018 Chevrolet Cruze L - Your CPO Lot Prepper

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems

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?

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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]

Steph Willems
Steph Willems

More by Steph Willems

Join the conversation
2 of 53 comments
  • Johnds Johnds on Apr 29, 2020

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

  • DweezilSFV DweezilSFV on Apr 29, 2020

    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.

  • RobbyG $100k+...for a Jeep. Are they selling these in fantasy land?Twin turbo inline 6 paired to an 8-speed transmission. Yet still only gets 14mpg.Whatever money you think you would save over a V-8 will be spent 2-3x amount fixing these things when they blow up.
  • Alan Well the manufacturers are catching up with stocks. This means shortages of parts is reducing. Stocks are building around the world even Australia and last year had the most vehicles ever sold here.
  • Larry You neglected to mention that the 2024 Atlas has a US Government 5-Star Safety Rating.
  • Alan Why is it that Toyota and Nissan beat their large SUVs (Patrol/300 Series) with an ugly stick and say they are upmarket? Whilst they are beating the vehicles with an ugly stick they reduce the off road ability rather than improve it.As I've stated in previous comments you are far better off waiting for the Patrol to arrive than buy an overpriced vehicle.
  • Alan How many people do you see with a 4x4 running mud tyres? How many people do you see with a 4x4 running massive rims and low profile tyres? How many people have oversize mirrors for towing once in a blue moon? How many 4x4s do you see lifted? How many people care what tyres they run to save fuel? The most comfortable tyres are more or less the most economical.