First Drive: 2011 Chevrolet Cruze
By Brendan Moore
For those of you that gin up PowerPoint decks for a living, you know that most of the people that want those presentation decks also want an executive summary in the front of the deck.
So, in the spirit of corporate thrashing-around, here is the executive summary for the new Chevrolet Cruze: A huge quantum leap up and forward from the Cobalt it replaces; not the best car in its segment (although it’s a very, very good car in its class), but, probably the best-value car in the segment in terms of what kind of car you get for the money. Also, the Cruze is available in one iteration (CruzeEco) that returns 40 mpg in highway driving.
Yes, to continue in business parlance, Chevrolet would be the recommended supplier, and the Cruze would be the product that would score the highest after passing through a set of tough screening criteria.
Whew. All that business stuff is giving me sort of a headache. It’s a good thing I keep a bottle here in my desk at the office, right?
Okay, let’s move on with the review.
Chevrolet invited a great many automotive writers to drive the Cruze in July; I was one of those writers, and I was eager to get behind the wheel of Chevrolet’s new compact car. Unlike the forthcoming Ford Focus, I had not yet driven the Cruze, even though the car already had its coming-out party in Europe previously, just like the future North American 2012 Focus.
The Cruze has been sold in both Europe and Asia this year, and American buyers get their shot at the car this fall. The markets of Europe and Asia are tough on compact cars in terms of competition, and the Cruze has exceeded Chevrolet’s expectations, so that’s always a good sign.
The compact car has achieved the top five-star safety rating in every market the vehicle has been sold in so far, and the engineers are supremely confident that it will achieve that same (top) rating in the U.S. and Canada as well.
The Chevrolet folks say they’ve logged over 4 million miles in quality and durability testing for the Cruze, and, that this has happened in some of the most extreme environments in the world. They also add that those developmental miles will be up to over 5 million shortly, that is, by the time the car goes on sale in North America.
How’s it look?
You can see from the photos that it sports a refined, upscale look; not daring, certainly, but fairly attractive. I would have to say that it is more attractive in the metal as opposed to the photos. Some cars are, some cars are not, the Cruze is one that looks better in front of you. If we are going to include the “man (and woman) on the sidewalk” opinion, then GM has hit the bull’s-eye, because the car was getting a great many compliments from people walking by on the sidewalk in downtown Washington, D.C., where my test car was parked. And, let’s face it; the residents of the Capitol City are a jaded bunch.
But, where the looks of the Cruze really belie its price is inside the car, where the car looks more expensive than it actually is. The chimera is not as well-practiced, or as well brought off as the fiction that Volkswagen does with their cars, but they are the acknowledged masters of that particular deception, so it is really high praise for Chevrolet to be mentioned in the same breath with those Teutonic magicians of Wolfsburg. Really, the car looks great for its price point, and the interior designers at GM deserve applause for the good work they did inside the car.
How’s it drive?
It drives very well. Again, like a more expensive car. It is no sports car, and doesn’t pretend that it is, but it moves with some alacrity, courtesy of a very flat torque curve that also kicks in at low RPM, and just stays in there punching. Now, just to be clear, I’m talking about the better engine here, the 1.4L turbocharged DOHC inline-four that pushes out 138 hp, and more importantly, 148 lb-ft of torque, all on regular unleaded. The base model Cruze gets a naturally aspirated 1.8L DOHC engine that puts out a close 136 hp, but a not-very-close-at-all 123 lb-ft of torque. It may not seem like much of a difference, but that 25 lb-ft of torque makes a big difference in a compact car, especially considering that where it’s missing is the lower RPMs.
Unless your life is complete crap, and you’ve just basically given up, plump for the better engine above the base model. You get better standard features, too, and we’re not exactly talking BMW money here, so what’s not to like?
The engines drive through either a M32 6-speed manual or a Hydra-Matic 6T40 6-speed automatic, you choose. Although, the automatics are so good now, it makes a manual sort of superfluous, and this, coming from a guy that likes to row his own. But, a manual is there for the asking, should you eschew being shiftless.
The front suspension of the Cruze is an independent, MacPherson strut-type with side-loaded strut modules, direct-acting hollow stabilizer bar, hydraulic ride bushings and tuned coil springs.
The rear suspension is NOT an independent rear suspension, but rather, is composed of a specifically-designed compound crank/torsion beam affair with a Z-link (otherwise known as a tunable control arm). The Chevrolet boys swear up and down that it is a wonderful piece of work that gives the driver of the Cruze the same performance of an all-independent rear, and at lower cost and a lower hassle level, and, I have to admit, they seem to be right. I couldn’t feel the car do anything untoward when I pushed the car; the Cruze was composed and serene on undulating road surfaces, in decreasing radius turns, etc. And, as is my wont, I was banging around pretty quickly in the car.
There are two brake set-ups; one, a front-disc, rear-drum layout, the other, a four-wheel-disc package. There seems to be very little difference in actual stopping power or stopping distance between the two braking systems. This is probably a wise and calculated decision on the part of the Chevrolet product managers, considering the target buyer. As stated before, it’s not as if the average Cruze owner will be exploring performance limits in the car. The wheels range in size from the base 16-inch steel wheel to the up-market 18-inch alloys.
All in all, I liked the Cruze; I think it’s a good little car, an honest car, a vehicle that is not trying to be anything it isn’t, and further, only wants to please. I think Chevrolet will do well with the car as it is a very attractive bargain, starting at $16,995 USD for the LS model, $18,895 for the LT, $18,895 for the Cruze ECO and ending up at $22,695 for the LTZ. The LTZ has a plethora of “stuff” available as standard at that trim level, a tremendous amount of content, and even if you check off every single box you want on the order form, it still is going to come in around $25,000.
The Cruze for North America will be manufactured at GM’s Lordstown, Ohio plant and will be on dealer lots in sizable numbers this fall.
One last note – the writer I spent half of the second day with in the Cruze as my driving partner looked over at me after a couple of hours of driving and said, “This is going to be my next car”.