Choosing a lively, fuel-efficient compact car was once pretty easy. You couldn't miss with a Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla. Or you might dial up a Mazda3 if you desired more driver involvement. But with the debut of the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze, this market segment has been turned upside-down by a quality entry from an iconic American brand that carries a surprisingly affordable price. Sharp looks inside and out, top safety scores andcapable handling are some of the 2013 Chevrolet Cruze's primary advantages in the small car marketplace. It's also one of the most fuel-efficient small sedans you can buy, though this does depend on which model you choose. Base LS models come with a 136-horsepower 1.8-liter four-cylinder, but most versions of the Cruze get a turbocharged 1.4-liter engine. Outputfrom the turbo engine is about the same (138 hp), but significantly more torque helps the Cruze feel quick and responsive in around-town traffic. The turbo also sees duty in the Cruze Eco,and it delivers an impressive 42 mpg on the EPA highway cycle. Chevy isn't the only brand with a greatly improved small car, however. The Hyundai Elantra also looks sharp, claims to achieve 40 mpg on the highway no matter the model and is also an excellent value. You could also look at the Ford Focus for its nicer interior, the Mazda 3 for its fun-to-drive nature or the Volkswagen Jetta if a roomier backseat is important. But considering its main strengths, the Chevy Cruze remains a top contender for an affordable small sedan. Performance & mpg The front-wheel-drive Cruze LS is powered by a 1.8-liter inline-4 that makes 138 hp and 125 pound-feet of torque. The Eco, LT and LTZ are fitted with a turbocharged 1.4-liter inline-4 that generates 138 hp and 148 lb-ft of torque. On the LS, LT and Eco, power flows to the front wheels through a standard six-speed manual transmission. A six-speed automatic is optional on those trims and standard for the LTZ. In Edmunds testing, the turbocharged Cruze with the automatic transmission accelerated from zero to 60 mph in 9.2 seconds, a slightly slower than average time for this class. EPA estimated fuel economy stands at 25 mpg city/36 mpg highway and 29 mpg combined for the Cruze LS with the manual transmission and 22/35/27 mpg with the automatic. The turbocharged engine (LT and LTZ) with either transmission receives 26/38/30 mpg estimates. The fuel-economy-focused Cruze Eco earns a laudable 28/42/33 mpg with the manual transmission and 26/39/31 mpg with the automatic. Safety All 2013 Chevrolet Cruze models come with stability control, antilock brakes, full-length side curtain airbags, front knee airbags and front and rear side impact airbags as standard. All trims except the 2LT and LTZ have a front-disc/rear-drum brake setup; those models are upgraded to four-wheel disc brakes. Also standard is OnStar, which includes automatic crash notification, on-demand roadside assistance, remote door unlocking and stolen vehicle assistance. Blind-spot monitoring and cross-traffic alert are optional for all Cruzes except the LS. In government crash testing, the Cruze earned a top five-star rating for overall safety performance, with five stars in both frontal and side-impact categories. In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety testing, the Cruze received a top score of Good in frontal-offset, side-impact and roof-strength testing. In Edmunds brake testing, a Cruze LTZ stopped from 60 mph in 122 feet, a slightly better-than-average distance for this class of car. Even with its fuel-economy-friendly tires, the Cruze Eco stopped in just about the same distance. Driving The 2013 Chevrolet Cruze deftly combines responsive handling with a comfortable, compliant ride. The sport suspension on the 2LT and LTZ is firmer but still provides an agreeable ride.Most drivers should be satisfied with either of the Cruze's engines. The upscale turbocharged engine is pretty average in terms of outright acceleration, but it's peppier around town thanks to its increased torque. The main issue, however, is the automatic transmission. Programmed for maximum fuel economy, it's reluctant to downshift for quick acceleration and passing unless you really boot the throttle. Interior The interiors of other compact cars often illustrate where the automaker chose to cut costs, but the Cruze's traditional big-car design with two-tone color schemes looks more upscale than many of the car's competition. Sure, there are a lot of hard plastic surfaces and we'd like more padding on the armrests, but the application of cloth or leather-look trim to the dash and doors improves both the look and feel. This year's updated electronics interface is easier to use than last year and also provides additional functionality through the Chevy MyLink system, providing smartphone integration (for apps such as Pandora) and enhanced voice control. Some drivers might find the Cruze's front seats a bit narrow, but they're supportive and comfortable, and they offer plenty of adjustment. A low bottom cushion for the backseat diminishes comfort for longer-limbed riders, as it offers little thigh support. Actual legroom is only average for the segment; you'll find more space in the Honda Civic and Volkswagen Jetta. Considerably above average, however, is the Cruze's large trunk, which accommodates an impressive 15.4 cubic feet.