2011 Chevrolet Cruze
General Motors still has the power to surprise.
The eye-opener is the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze, the company’s new entry into the crowded compact sedan auditorium.
The last time Chevrolet ventured there was with the 2005 Cobalt. It was touted as a “premium small car” to replace the venerable Cavalier, which had been Chevrolet’s mainstay compact for two decades.Problem was the Cobalt wasn’t all that much different from the Cavalier, though it had fresh styling. So car aficionados could be forgiven for expecting the new Cruze to be little more than a warmed over Cobalt.
Well, as the song says, “It ain’t necessarily so.” In fact, the Cruze is a giant step away from the old Cobalt/Cavalier—a grown-up car intended to over-deliver in all the details, in the words of designer Michael Simcoe.
It does that and gives Chevrolet a credible competitor to the likes of the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Kia Forte, Mazda 3, Volkswagen Jetta and other compacts.
Right off, you notice that the Cruze has a classy look about it, both inside and out. The wheels are out at the corners, giving it the look of a sports sedan. It is not, but nobody minds that sort of deception. Inside, the surroundings have a quality look augmented by dashboard inserts that match the overall interior décor.
At 15 feet 1 inch, the new Cruze is the same length as the old Cobalt. But it has 95 cubic feet of passenger space, which is seven cubic feet more than the Cobalt. With a trunk of 15 cubic feet, its total interior volume puts it right on the cusp between a compact and mid-size sedan.
That translates into an interior that is roomy and comfortable up front, with a back seat that is a bit tight but can handle most average-sized humans. Scoops in the front seatbacks augment the knee room. The standard upholstery is a durable-looking textured cloth, available in different color combinations.The Cruze is a global car that ultimately will be sold in much the same form around the world. It had its genesis in the Opel Astra from GM of Germany, which was sold here as a Saturn, and it carries some of the innards from that car.
The base Cruze LS model, for example, uses the 136-horsepower, 1.8-liter four-cylinder Astra engine linked to a six-speed manual gearbox or six-speed automatic transmission. It has a city/highway fuel economy rating of 26/36 miles to the gallon with the standard six-speed manual gearbox and 22/35 with the optional six-speed automatic.
From there, you step up to a smaller engine that is slightly more powerful but delivers better fuel economy. That engine is Chevrolet’s turbocharged 1.4-liter four, rated at 138 horsepower. With the automatic on the tested LT2 model, it had a city/highway rating of 24/36 miles to the gallon. A stick-shift Eco model, not available at introduction, was expected to do better.
There are five Cruze variants: the base LS, the only one with the 1.8-liter engine, and the LT1, LT2, Eco and the top-of-the-line LTZ. All but the base car are available with the $695 RS package, which includes fog lights, rocker-panel moldings and other exterior and interior appearance items. The $18,895 Eco model has low rolling-resistance tires for maximum fuel economy.
Even the base model comes with full safety equipment, including 10 air bags with knee bags for the driver and front passenger, stability and traction control, antilock brakes and GM’s OnStar communications system. Also standard are XM satellite radio, air conditioning, remote locking and power windows.
The LTZ comes closest to being a sports sedan. It has a tighter suspension system and quicker handling but also a choppier ride. With the RS package and 18-inch alloy wheels, it is the style leader of the bunch.
Tested here is the LT1, which Chevrolet expects will account for about four of every 10 Cruze sales. The test car had a base sticker price of $19,680. It had optional $395 16-inch alloy wheels, the $695 RS package and a $525 package that included cruise control and Bluetooth communications. The total came to $21,295.Though it didn’t have quite as snazzy a profile as the LTZ, the LT1 with that equipment could easily have been mistaken for a performance sedan on looks alone. With its softer suspension system, it had a more compliant ride and the handling was competent on curving roads as long as it was not pushed too hard.
The turbocharged 1.4-liter Ecotec engine, biased as it is toward economy, won’t win many drag races. The zero to 60 miles an hour acceleration time, according to Chevrolet tests, is just shy of 10 seconds. That keeps it in the running with the competition.
In years past, GM was faulted for squeezing every last dime out of a car to maximize profits. The new Cruze, for the most part, flies in the face of that attitude, though it lingers. The driver’s side sun visor slides on its support rod to block sunshine from the side. The passenger side visor does not.