While my WRX is in the shop being repaired after being hit by an inattentive driver, I'm rolling around in a 2014 Chevy Cruze LTZ for the time being.
My WRX is WR Blue and the Cruze is a Silver Ice Metallic. I much prefer the blue over the silver, but its a loaner, so whatever. The Cruze looks more blah than the WRX. I would say it is a safer contemporary design meant to appeal to appeal to most folks. It doesn't look bad. My loaner has the RS appearance package which has unique bumpers, wheels, a rear lip spoiler, and side sills. The Cruze came with 18" 10 spoke wheels that look quite nice. Headlamps are halogen reflectors and mine came with fogs as well. Odd thing about the foglights are they can be toggled on when the low beams are off with a push button switch and don't seem to be able to be tied in with the low beams. Whenever I turn off the car and turn it back on later, the low beams come on, but the fogs default to being off. I suppose fogs are meant to only be used in inclement weather so they really should be left off until needed. Guess I am just used to having my fogs tied in with my low beams on my WRX.
One thing I really did like about the Cruze is the keyless entry and exit. The keyfob can remain in my pocket and I need only touch a button on the door handle to lock or unlock the doors. Very convenient. The trunk lid has an external release latch that I would have liked to see on the WRX. Coming from driving hatchbacks all my life, I still haven't gotten used to pushing a button on the fob to release the trunk.
Initially, my feeling of the Cruze is it feels smaller than the WRX, both internally and externally. I didn't look up any numbers, but just with having my kids in the back seat in either carseats, I noticed their legroom is less in the Cruze. Externally, the Cruze appears to be shorter than the WRX as evidenced by parking in the same spot in my garage. The car just seems to occupy less space lengthwise. Parking is a breeze with the slightly smaller car and the bumpers sit higher up, leading to reduced risk of scraping curbs and parking dividers.
Leather covers the supportive seats in the top-shelf LTZ Cruze. The seats do not feel as well bolstered as the WRX seats, but that is just as well since this isn't a sports sedan and it packs about 1/2 the power of the WRX. The center console is busier with a large display and numerous buttons below it. I miss the simpler interface the WXR has with the big touchscreen and handful of buttons below it. Odd thing is, the Cruze's display is also touchscreen so having the physical buttons is rather redundant. However, in a driving situation, I did like having a physical button shortcut to enter the command I desired, rather than having to navigate through various menus and take my eyes off the road numerous times.
My loaner is a push-button start which I found to be really nice and convenient. I know the WRX has this as an option, but I don't have it. Now that I've used it, I think I would probably look to get it on my future WRX. I love not having to fish out my keys from my coat pocket. Just plop your foot on the brake and push the button. The car also has a retractable moonroof and auto lights, and a few other things. One thing that it does lack is navigation. In its place up on the dash is a covered storage compartment. I really don't miss navigation since I prefer to just use Google Maps on my phone and pipe the directions into the car speakers via bluetooth.
Gauges are chrome trimmed and neat and legible. Indicies are blue on black background and there is a dot matrix LCD display in the middle, also backlit blue. The Cruze lacks the usual stalk by the gauges for scrolling through the trip meters and instead, puts those controls on the turn signal stalk. A button on the end allows you to reset the trip and twisting a ring on the stalk allows you to cycle through options like mileage, Trip A and B, oil life, driving time, and simply turning it off. Unfortunately, there is no boost gauge option.
I was fully expecting a small NA 4-cylinder engine under the hood of the Cruze and was perplexed by the labyrinthine piping of the intact tract when I took a look. Surprisingly, the little 1.4L engine is turbocharged and generated 138HP @ 4900 and 148tq @ 1850. What looked like a rather complicated exhaust manifold is actually GM's own creation of an integrated turbo-manifold one-piece unit, designed to save space and allow the engine to fit in smaller spaces. This engine is also used in the Sonic Turbo as well as the Buick Encore and Chevy Trax.
Driving around, I could not hear any hint of turbo spool, even if I got on it. There was not much lag. Once you got up to about 2000rpm, it pretty much took off. Only problem was the stupid automatic gearbox that tried to ruin the fun by keeping RPMs as low as possible by always keeping you in a higher gear. As I understand, the turbo is designed to provide its power gains at lower RPMs for daily driving and according to forums, it provides about 16PSI boost. I wasn't at all surprised at the decent following the Cruze has online with people talking about tunes, mods, etc. Some folks are getting about 200HP at the wheels with CAI, TBE, and a good tune. I've read some claims of 250HP from some forum posters, but not sure how well the little 1.4L would hold up with those power numbers. Despite being turbocharged, the Cruze is rather anemic in acceleration and the engine seems to only make louder noises with little gain in speed. As much as I wouldn't mind trying, I'm not going to tune a rental car, at least not on my dime.
Being the LTZ and a rental, the Cruze is an automatic gearbox and has 6 speeds and a manual mode. I really dislike the gearbox on the Cruze. It is sluggish and seems to be programmed to keep the car in the highest gear possible for what I assume to be the best fuel economy. The car bogs down immediately on any kind of slight incline and I have to mash the pedal to coax it to downshift and it does so begrudgingly. Rather than drop a gear and smoothly accelerate, the Cruze goes into drag racing mode - it drops down to something like 2nd and revs up like it is trying to fly, all just to climb a mild incline. In response to the sudden engine surge, I let up on the pedal and both engine and gearbox think I have vanquished the challenge, only to find myself back in 5th gear and below 2000rpm mid way up the hill. I really really miss my WRX...
Passing is a near-impossible chore in traffic as you have to be clairvoyant and predict when an opening will occur, since by the time you see it, put your foot down and have the car respond, a fully loaded semi tractor-trailer will have accelerated from a dead stop and filled that void. I now just drive the Cruze in manual mode to save myself the frustration. In manual mode, the transmission will not upshift until you nudge the shifter forwards, but it will downshift to the appropriate gear as the car slows down. I made the mistake of jerking the car in hard braking when my left foot instinctively went for the clutch when I down shifted for a turn onto a residential road. That was not the clutch pedal.... Honestly, I would have preferred the rental company had gotten the barebones version with the 6-speed manual. I actually asked if they had a manual gearbox car available to which the clerk chuckled and said I was the first person to ask her that in years. The only benefit of the automatic is driving in heavy traffic.
Overall, I would have to say the driving experience of the Cruze was pretty good. The suspension was softer than the WRX, which makes sense. This is a non-sporty passenger sedan designed for economy transportation. It didn't like being pushed hard in turns like on on-ramps and off-ramps and would exhibit noticeable body roll whereas the WRX stayed nice and level and felt planted. For general daily cruising, I would say the suspension was firm enough to allow you to feel the ground, but not so soft to isolate you. Going over potholes wasn't nearly as jarring as with the WRX, but it wasn't as soft as my old RAV4, either. I liked that it was able to go up and down my rather steep driveway without teetering on 3 wheels.
Technology was decent and everything seemed to work as it should. The MyLink system worked well enough with my phone and could Bluetooth calls and playlists without cutting in and out like the stock audio system did on my WRX. The sound system in the Cruze sounded nicer than the WRX, but that may be due to this rental being a LTZ and simply having a better sound system. I am a pretty lousy critic of sound systems since I am boring and listen mostly to NPR new radio. Perhaps I became that way due to the crappy sound systems all my cars have had and decided to just stop listening to music altogether... Road noise seems about the same between the Cruze and WRX.
For a rental, I sure could have done worse. If the car was exactly the way it is now, but with a 6-spd manual, I think it would have been a much more fun drive. The shop has a Ford Escape in the rental pool, but unfortunately, it was out when I brought in my WRX. I would have appreciated additional rear legroom and overall carrying capacity for my two kids. I hope the driver that hit me learned a lesson or two about looking before attempting to make a turn and that trying to make a left turn onto a side street from the right lane is not an advisable move.