Driving a Chevy with a manual transmission takes me back to my high school days in the 909 (back when it was still part of the 714), while driving a Chevy powered by diesel fuel takes me back to … well … never.
So it would be the stick shift that would win the day during my test-drive period with a 2018 Chevrolet Cruze LT Diesel Manual Hatch, which included a trip up Memory Lane (a.k.a. Highway 18) to Crestline.
Now, if I really wanted to go old school, I would have pulled off 18 and onto Old Waterman Canyon Road, a twisty path above San Bernardino that my driving instructor required I descend without pumping my brakes. I never really figured out the point of that, since everyone–including my instructor, who also had brake pedals on his side of driver ed car–brakes heading into downhill curves. The trick is to, of course, limit your foot time on the pedal to spare your brake pads.
Since these were not my Duralife four-wheel disc brakes I’d possibly have smoking, but instead a major automaker’s, I avoided Old Waterman but did make my destination a place we used to hang out called the castle. Either someone had started and stopped building an actual castle on a Crestline ridge overlooking the valley below or a castle had been destroyed, leaving behind its footprint, a turret and some crumbling walls.
Whichever way the castle wound up there, it would draw us young flatlanders up the hill so that we may … ahem … fortify ourselves under the stars. It still beats the hell out of me how we all made it down safely without going over the side of Hwy. 18, slamming into a hill or instigating a head-on. Perhaps that driving instructor deserves more credit than I thought.
Anyway, with that sense of nostalgia, I drove the Cruze up to Crestline, around Lake Gregory and up and down side streets until things started looking familiar and I finally found the castle. It hasn’t changed a bit, although there is now a chain-length fence and “keep out” signs around it. You still can’t beat that view.
The Cruze took mountain roads like a champ, with its four-cylinder, 1.6-liter turbo diesel engine pushing out adequate power and the six-speed, manual transmission shifting so effortlessly that a passenger of a similar age said she did not remember sticks from back in the day riding as smoothly.
The tires wrapped around the 18-inch aluminum wheels, which come standard, gripped the road nicely, no doubt aided by the Stabiltrak stability control system with traction control.
It had been a comfortable ride all the way from OC thanks to the Cruze test vehicle’s optional leather package, which at $1,125 had leather surfaces on all seats; the steering wheel wrapped in leather and, for cold days, heated; and four-way manual adjustments for the front passenger seat.
The ride was also nice on the wallet, since the Cruze diesel gets 29 miles to the gallon in the city and 48 mpg (!) on the highway for a combined 35 mpg, according to government ratings that have owners paying $1,150 in annual fuel costs and saving $1,000 for gas over five years when comparing the Chevy to the average new car.
It kind of splits the baby when it comes to other EPA ratings, with a terrific 8 on a 1-10 scale (10 being best) for mpg, a respectable 7 for greenhouse gas emissions and a not-so-swell 3 for smog.
The Cruze looks small on the outside, but I found it roomy enough in the driver’s eight-way adjustable and powered seat, which is standard, as was everything else not already mentioned on the test car. That includes the sport body kit, the rear spoiler, the front fog lamps, bright beltline molding and RS lettering ornamentation.
Standard also applies to the keyless opener/starter, heated front seats, rear-vision camera, tire pressure monitoring, remote panic alarm, power and heated dual outside mirrors, a USB port with an auxiliary jack and various controls on the steering wheel.
The navigation/entertainment console utilizes a seven-inch diagonal color touchscreen for controlling Bluetooth streaming and the six-speaker, Chevy MyLink audio system with satellite radio (that includes a three-month SiriusXM subscription for new buyers) and OnStar (that includes the basic plan for five years and an option to renew subscriptions for guidance, navigation, automatic crash response and a 4G LTE hot spot).
There is ample room under the hatch with the back seats up, but since they are 60-40 split fold you can create an even larger cargo area if need be. That would make the Cruze a great car to take skiing, since it will hold all the gear and, as the Crestline jaunt showed, it takes the mountain with no issues.
The size means parking also would not be an issue, and with the hatch up you even have a place to sit while slipping into your ski boots.
As for safety up the hill, my Cruze tester had 10 air bags, including frontal, knee, side impact and head curtain for front passengers and at the side and in front of those in the rear.
Chevy offers a five-year or 60,000 miles (whichever comes first) powertrain limited warranty, three years or 36,000 miles bumper-to-bumper, roadside assistance, two maintenance visits with oil and filter changes, 27-point inspections and four-wheel tire rotations as well as courtesy transportation from the authorized service center.
The base manufacturer’s suggested retail price for my test ride was $25,435. With the optional leather package and an $875 destination charge, the MSRP rose to $27,435.
That’s a bargain compared to similar vehicles reviewed in Ride Me with the same bells and whistles but also with MSRPs in the $34,000s.
Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the paper’s first calendar editor. He went on to be managing editor, executive editor and is now senior staff writer.