Chevrolet revealed the 2016 Chevrolet Cruze to a crowd of journalists in Detroit yesterday. Immediately after the unveiling, I rushed the stage to have a seat in the car, and to chat with chief engineer Martin Hayes, who shed some light on the Cruze’s packaging, suspension design, and projected fuel economy.
I was curious about how his team managed to lower the roof 0.7 inch and maintain quite comfortable interior dimensions. Headroom is actually down by 0.4 inch in front, 0.6 in back, but legroom actually increases by 0.7 inch in the rear. That’s because the extended body and wheelbase length largely allowed the seats to arc back and down, spreading the front and rear seats slightly farther apart. (Trunk volume hasn’t been released yet, but the space looks wide, deep, easily accessible and usefully cubic.) Additional packaging gains came simply from smarter design of higher-strength steels, which in some cases enabled thinner-section, less-intrusive structural members capable of delivering equivalent or greater strength.
I also asked him to elaborate on the suspension design, which continues in its basic layout — MacPherson struts in front, with an H-shaped trailing-arm twist-beam setup in the rear, upgraded on top “Premier” trim models with Chevy’s patented riff on the Watt’s link, which pins the central, vertical pivoting arm to the body and extends the lateral links out to meet the rear edge of the trailing arms on either side. These links provide a very rigid resistance to lateral motion when cornering, freeing up the bushings at the front of the trailing arms, which must be stiff enough to resist these forces on lesser trim models without the Z-link. The upshot is that ride quality is much improved with softer bushings there, while handling is sharpened significantly. Revisions and refinements for 2016 increase the efficiency and effectiveness of this setup.
Finally, Hayes confirmed that there is no plan at this point to offer an Eco model, but rather that he expected all but perhaps the heaviest gas-powered Premier models to achieve 40 mpg highway fuel economy or better without the pricey add-on bits like active grille shutters, thanks to the extensive aerodynamic tuning, friction reduction, ultra-low-drag brakes, more efficient transmissions, weight reductions, etc.
The enthusiasts’ choice: Sad to say, but you’ll probably get the most satisfying driving experience from the priciest Cruze, a full-boat Premier model with the RS package. You’ll definitely want the Z-link suspension, and the fatter tires will also probably generate the best grip. Stay tuned for first drives happening late this year.