Back in September I had the opportunity to attend the press drive for the new 2011 Chevrolet Cruze. At the time I was enamored with the fact that Chevrolet might have built a compact car that didn’t suck.
You see in my lifetime (that I can remember), Chevrolet hasn’t had a class leading compact sedan. Heck, not even a really competitive compact sedan. The Cruze is set to change all that. But is it really class leading, and if it is, how long can its reign last?
The exterior of the Cruze is a mix of good and bad. The front is aggressive with swept back headlights and Chevrolet’s dual-port shield grille. The hood has a nice crease that runs down the center and around the sides. This adds to the aggressive look of the swept back headlights.
Below the headlights sit two black blank pieces of plastic. This is where the fog lights would go if you optioned for the RS package. It seems downright silly that even an Cruze LTZ (the highest trim level) wouldn’t have fog lights without an optional RS package. The front is aggressive, but they could have taken it even further.
The sides have a strong character line that sweeps from the front fenders back into the rear taillights. The bottom of the doors also have some sculpting that visually make the Cruze look less slab sided.
Around back is the most disappointing part of the Cruze exterior. Visually it will not offend anyone. The flip side of that is the rear is quite boring. It is like the designers of the front ran out of energy. Maybe they got tired one night and said, just call it good and be done with it. While I’m not sure exactly what happened, at the end of the day it’s bland. The rear blends in with the sea of cars on the road.
At one point I stated that the current generation Malibu might be the tightest screwed together car GM makes. The Cruze definitely is giving the Malibu a run for its money. It also has tight panel gaps and a solid overall feel.
Chevrolet has been bragging about the interior in the new Cruze quite a bit lately, and I must say, they have every right to do so. The materials all feel high quality and look terrific. While there is quite a bit of hard plastic inside the cabin, it all looks nice with low shine and nice graining.
ThefFront seats are very comfortable, and are highly adjustable for being manual seats. It is easy to find a comfortable driving position with the tilt and telescoping steering wheel.
Chevrolet is touting midsize sedan room for the Cruze, even though it is a compact sedan. That extra room is felt in the rear seat. Foot and leg room is more than ample and it also has a decent seating position.
The center stack features black high gloss plastic in the shape of a flux capacitor. The buttons all have a high quality feel to them. I found it notable that the climate control knobs had no wiggle and that they felt solid.
Chevrolet knows that Ford has been touting its Microsoft SYNC system loud lately, so they had to do something. The new Cruze might be one of the most tech savvy cars out of GM in recent years. The Bluetooth system downloaded my phonebook, so every time someone called, the screen showed the callers name. You can also scroll through your contacts on the screen. The USB port will read almost any device that you plug-in – my iPhone 4 worked seamlessly with the sound system.
I found it unique that the dashboard featured cloth that matched the material on the seats. The Cruze I was in featured red cloth both on the seats and on the dash. All models that have leather feature a leather-like material on the dash instead of cloth. If GM had not added this unique touch, the dashboard would be a sea of hard plastic like most of the competition. It is clear that a ton of thought was put into the design and quality of the interior.
Two engines are currently available in the Cruze, but most will be sold with the 1.4-liter turbo inline four-cylinder. This engine produces 138 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque to the front wheels. This powertrain is rated at 24/36 mpg but I averaged 25 mpg in mixed urban suburban driving and a disappointing 29.4 mpg on a holiday highway trip.
Sadly, as it stands the only transmission choice is a six speed automatic. The transmission is fine, but I would’ve liked to have seen a manual option for those that like to row their own gears. Initially, reports flowed out that the transmission was poorly programmed. Chevrolet has since performed a firmware upgrade to the transmission that helps with these issues.
Overall I found transmission to be fine, though it hesitates to downshift. Acceleration is acceptable but don’t go street racing a Cobalt SS at the stoplight. Passing is its one weakness. The power just isn’t there to fling you forward, it builds slowly. Also, that manual shift capability? Don’t bother. It takes about half a second to register before it will perform the shift.
Cruze features electric power steering to help improve gas mileage. The application is probably one of GM’s best to date. Steering is light at parking lots speeds, but firms up once on the highway.
The Cruze 1LT I tested featured: connectivity plus package, 16″ alloy wheels, crystal red metallic tintcoat, and a compact spare tire. The total sticker price on this particular Cruze 1LT was $20,240 after destination. That places the Cruze at the high end of the compact car class. The Cruze isn’t a cheap compact, but it is a substantial compact car.
Back to the beginning, I was initially impressed with my first experience with the Cruze. After spending an entire week with a 1LT model, am I still as impressed? In one word, yes. I was slightly disappointed with the gas mileage, but the engine is smooth and quiet.
As for the question about the Cruze being class leading, the short answer is yes – for now. The competition is all getting refreshed and the Cruze has been on sale across the world for over a year. The new Hyundai Elantra is rated at 40 MPG on the highway across the board, the new Focus has some impressive technology available, and we don’t even know what the new Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla will bring. At the end of the day, the new Cruze is currently one of the most competitive compact cars on the market.
Full Disclosure- The review vehicle was provided by General Motors