2011 Chevrolet Cruze

Cruze6.jpgBy Jeff Stork

I spent some time last week in Washington, D.C. with an all new Chevy
compact sedan. No, not the Volt — the other one. The Cruze. C-r-u-z-e. Yes, I know you haven’t heard of it. It’s new. In fact, It’s an all-new model that will be sold globally under the Cruze name, replacing
a patchwork of different nameplates.

Cruze1.jpgIt’s based on the front-drive GM Delta II platform (also used by that
attention-grabbing Volt) and will be produced in several countries, with
the North American Chevrolet version coming from the retooled
Lordstown, Ohio plant. The Cruze will go on sale in the third quarter of

The Cruze will offer many choices — perhaps too many. Five different
models? One more and they’d tie the Brady Bunch. And there really is a
sixth because the much touted Volt is based on the same Delta II
platform, which makes the whole Brady analogy fit. The Cruze is
the Jan Brady of Chevy.

And it all makes sense. With the Volt wearing the Marcia-Marcia-Marcia
“Look at Me” crown, the capable and competent Cruze is Jan — second
fiddle to her more newsworthy and headline grabbing sister, but for
many, many people a much better choice based on sound technology and
superior affordability. And while the Doug Simpsons of the world may
line up to spend $35,000-plus for the Volt, the George Glasses will
probably be getting the better deal. I suspect in the long run, Jan will
eclipse Marcia’s popularity.

Cruze5.jpgCruze trim levels range from the Cruze LS at $16,995 base, up to the slightly more stylish Cruze LT with the 1.4T and alloys at
$18,895. Moving up the line, the LT2 adds leather, bluetooth, USB and more at $21,395,
and for those who demand it all, the Diana Ross of Cruze is the LTZ
with auto climate control, parking assist, 18″ alloys and four-wheel
discs at $22,695. Need to channel your inner performance diva? The RS appearance adds lower body fascia wrap, fog lamps and
spoiler to any LT or LTZ for $695. And for Al Gore supporters,
there’s the $18,895 ECO with a standard six-speed stick and expected 40
mpg EPA highway fuel economy.
I wouldn’t say that the styling screams “Chevrolet!”, keeping in
mind the global intentions, but it is clean and contemporary, with the
signature bisected Chevrolet grill up front and gold bowtie badge
flanked by jeweled headlamps. The sides are clean, and the roofline
tapers smoothly rearward. The car features a wide stance, and the wheels fill up the wheel wells nicely (standard size is 16″),
especially with the optional 17″s and 18″s. After all, bigger is better, up to a point. (Wheels, people — we’re talking wheels here.)

Stylistically, the rear seems the
least distinctive part of the Cruze — again cleanly styled but lacking any specific brand character. However, one must note that
the styling of its Cobalt predecessor screamed “rental”, so please don’t
think I’m displeased with the new look at all. Clean and
contemporary, and light years ahead of some of the entries of the recent
past. Besides, Jan looked nice but Marcia was the glamor girl.

I didn’t notice the biggest change until I climbed inside. Gone was the one-piece molded
door panel and black plastic everything-you-touch. The interior has a
two-tone theme on the dash and door panels, the materials are a HUGE
(that word again!) improvement with soft-touch dash facing and the
current GM HVAC and audio controls, which are very nice and tactile. The
optional navigation system (which I did sample) integrates nicely into
the display, although I found the map a bit small. Still this is a Cavalier
successor, and we’re discussing the navigation screen. That’s
called progress.

Speaking of progress, you’ll be pleased to note the Cruze’s comfortable and well-tailored
seats. Ahhhh. Much nicer than the Chevy compacts I remember. Overall
impression is very comparable to the Buick Regal I drove last month (and
liked), though slightly smaller in scale.

Cruze3.jpgPower for most Cruze models comes from the new Ecotec 1.4-liter turbo with variable valve timing, which produces 138 hp and 148 lb/ft of
torque, mated to either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic
transmission. In the ECO variant, the car is expected to deliver
40 mpg highway, with other versions likely achieving mid-30s.  The
1.4 turbo is fitted to LT, LTZ and ECO models. The base LS utilizes a
1.8-liter conventionally aspirated engine developing 136 hp, and 123
lb/ft of torque. We did not drive that particular configuration.

The Chevy folks took time to point out the many safety features of
their newest compact, including ten air bags (two front, two head
curtain, four seat mounted side impact, and two front knee bags) along
with collapsible pedals (yay!), StabiliTrak electronic stability control,
and a bunch of GM favorites like tire pressure monitoring, daytime running lamps, and
automatic headlamps. Additionally, about 65% of the body is made of high-strength steel, and GM anticipates that the car will achieve five star
crash ratings in every country in which it is sold, so it should be up
to the rigors of Jan’s paper route.

Driving impressions come from a day on twisty rural roads in
suburban Virginia. I drove a targeted variety of Cruze models — one being an LTZ with navigation and one without. So I’m an Option Queen. I admit
it. But at least I mixed up the colors.

The 1.4-liter turbo four-cylinder is silky smooth at idle and pairs
well with the six-speed automatic transmission. Acceleration is smart,
and shifts are smooth. We’re light years ahead of the Cobalt and
Cavalier here. The ride is smooth and controlled, and I far preferred it to
the Corolla S, which was provided for comparison. Interior materials were
much nicer as well. I especially liked the soft touch dash and the door
panels, which are much more substantial feeling than the Toyota or the
Cobalt. We were also provided with a Civic sedan for comparison; it
had a ride and handling more on par with the Cruze, but I can’t get used
to the Star Wars instrument panel and the A-pillars that seem
modeled after the old GM Dustbuster minivans. The little Chevy held its
head high against the gold standard of the compact class, and that’s something I’ve never been able to say before.

Jan Brady for Class President! Now what will they do for Cindy?

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