New Chevy Cruze grows larger and roomier with sleeker looks, more power and better gas mileage

IndustriesAssociated Press

Five years ago, General Motors revealed an all-new compact car in the U.S. that was designed to enter a market that GM ignored for decades.

The Chevrolet Cruze accomplished its mission. It helped lead GM out of bankruptcy and solidified a place in the global market, racking up 3.5 million sales.

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But five years is a long time in this business, and the pedestrian-looking Cruze was lapped by competitors.

Enter the 2016 Cruze, due in showrooms next spring. The new one appears to address the faults of the old one: Noisy, underpowered engine, cramped back seat even for kids and somewhat bland looks.

Chevrolet says the new Cruze is sleeker and more aerodynamic looking, and longer yet lighter. It's as many as 250 pounds lighter, although the weight wasn't released. Gone is an ancient base engine. A standard new turbocharged motor is more powerful, quieter and more efficient.

"We retained all the attributes that made the original Cruze a hit around the globe and built on them to make this car more sophisticated, more fun," said Alan Batey, GM's North American president.

The Cruze comes out in the spring when gasoline prices are still projected to be low. That's putting a hurt on compact-car sales at the moment. The segment is down 2 percent through May while total auto sales are up 4.5 percent. Cruze sales through May are down 12 percent compared with a year ago. People now are choosing small and large SUVs over cars.

Still, GM knows that someday gas prices will go back up and the market will shift. And the new Cruze will help the company be ready.

Here are the highlights of the 2016 version:

INSIDE: More space so people can sit comfortably in the back seat. Two inches more of rear knee room. More luxurious, softer features. Redesigned instrument panel that Chevy says is lean and muscular looking. Chevrolet's MyLink infotainment system is standard with 7-inch touch screen that's compatible with Apple CarPlay and Google's Android Auto. More intuitive cup holder positioning.

OUTSIDE: Sleek design with lower wind drag than current model. Chevy says it resembles the 2016 Malibu and the 2015 Impala. The distance between the wheels is an inch longer than the old model, and the car is 2.7 inches longer. It's also an inch lower. Lighter high-strength steel and use of aluminum, plus a lighter engine, helped the car shed up to 250 pounds.

UNDER THE HOOD: Gone is the old 1.8-liter four-cylinder base engine, replaced by an all-new 153-horsepower 1.4-liter aluminum-block turbo four. Six-speed manual is standard and six-speed automatic is available. Chevy expects a segment-best zero to 60 time of eight seconds. Diesel model coming in 2017.

GAS MILEAGE: GM says the lower weight, stop-start technology that halts the engine at red lights, and a more efficient engine will get the regular Cruze to 40 mpg on the highway. Old base model got only 35 mpg highway, but an Eco version with automatic transmission got 39.

PRICE: Not announced. Old one starts at $16,995.

CHEERS: New looks, more room, more power and better gas mileage.

JEERS: Debuts in a tough market with buyers swooning over SUVs and shunning small cars.