Chevy Cruze delivers big with a small price tag
Chevrolet and General Motors have succeeded in making an inexpensive car that doesn’t look or feel inexpensive with its new Cruze.
GM and Chevy have struggled for years to create a high-quality small car, starting with the pathetic Vega in the 1970s and continuing through the Cavalier and Cobalt of recent years.That struggle ends this year with the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze, a well-built, well-equipped compact with pleasant styling and above average performance.
My dark blue test car was the entry-level LS with a base price of $16,275 and delivery fee of $720, allowing it to squeak in at just under $17,000. That’s an amazing price for such a good car.
The LS comes standard with traction and stability control, anti-lock brakes, a rear window defogger, power windows and locks, a tilt/telescope steering wheel, split folding rear seats, driver info center, air conditioning, six stereo speakers, OnStar and XM radio, although those last two are features you get for a few months before a monthly fee kicks in.
The Cruze handles well with precise steering and a responsive feel unlike any small or midsize Chevy in the past 30 years. Credit that to rack-mounted electric power steering that Chevy says not only helps its responsiveness, but is more fuel efficient.
Better yet, the Cruze delivers a pleasant ride, not soft and bouncy or so stiff that you feel every frost heave and pavement crack. You could drive this cross country in comfort. That’s due to its 105.7-inch wheelbase – lengthy, for a compact – MacPherson-like struts up front and a Z-link rear suspension.
Powerful engineThe base Cruze’s 1.8-liter VVT I4 provides good power, kicking out 136 horsepower. That’s sufficient for most needs and earns the car a 22 mpg city and 35 mpg highway rating. I managed 27.4 mpg in about 60% city driving.
Several Cruze models now offer a 1.4-liter turbocharged I4 engine that delivers a couple more horsepower, and considerably more torque. The turbo generates 148 pound-feet of torque as opposed to 123 for the 1.8-liter base engine. It also gets slightly better gas mileage.
The Cruze LS comes with a six-speed manual transmission, but the test car added a six-speed automatic for $925. I had this car during a major cold spell, with several nights below zero. That caused the automatic to shift abruptly, holding the low gears for an eternity and then suddenly upshifting. It was unpleasant, but only lasted until I’d driven for about 10 minutes. Stick with the manual shifter, unless you park in a heated garage.
On days with temps in the 10- to 20-degree range, the shifting was much smoother. And you can shift the automatic manually, which I did during the cold weather to smooth out the operation.
Braking was fine from the front disc/rear drum arrangement.
Quiet, solid feelI was impressed with the Cruze’s quiet interior and solid feel. It doesn’t feel like an inexpensive compact. Road noise is muffled and the doors and trunk close with a solid feel and sound.
Chevy has done a great job of designing an attractive and functional interior, with two-tone dash and well executed control layout. The test car’s dash was black, with gray facing and a silver/gray trim on the console and center stack. Trim on the air vents and door releases resembles chrome. Overall this is a modern and youthful look.
The Cruze’s seats are well contoured, comfortable and easy to adjust with a pump handle on the side to raise and lower the seat height. The test car featured gray cloth with black trim, again giving it a more upscale look than the price would imply. We had four adults, including one 6-foot teenager, in the car and all were comfortable. That and a big 15 cubic foot trunk make this a good value-oriented family car.
Keeping with that value theme, there is no push-button start. Cruze uses a switchblade style key, which is fine. There is no dual-heat system, and it isn’t automatic. You have to set it and turn the fan to the speed you want. None of this is hard. It’s what we’ve done for years, and Chevy gives you large knobs and buttons to accomplish the tasks.
The test car added a few inexpensive options, including a connectivity package with USB audio interface, Bluetooth for the phone and steering wheel controls for $275, and a compact spare tire for $100 and carpeted mats for $80, bringing the price to $18,375, still well within value-oriented compact car borders.
One thing the test car did not have was cruise control, an option at this level, but standard on the 2LT model and higher.
You can get the car equipped about any way you want and at trim levels going up to the LTZ at $22,695.
If you’re looking for a great drive at low cost, or even moderate cost, the Cruze deserves a serious look. This is an extremely good car at a great price.