Replacing the aging Cobalt, the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze was the brand's first real world-class compact. It leveraged the small-car savvy of GM's German Opel operations and the company's GM Korea (formerly Daewoo Motors) engineering center.
The U.S.-built Cruze comes in a single 4-door sedan body style with generous proportions. A stiff body structure, communicative rack-mounted electric power steering and unique Z-link rear suspension give the Cruze European-like ride and handling. A turbocharged 1.4-liter 4-cylinder engine, tuned for good low- and mid-speed response, can deliver up to 42 miles per gallon, as rated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in the fuel-economy-optimized Cruze Eco model.
Chevy's Cruze is available with Bluetooth and USB connectivity, as well as navigation, SiriusXM Satellite Radio and OnStar communication systems. The Cruze was the first compact to offer 10 airbags as standard equipment.
The Cruze is a good used-car choice because it packs a surprising amount of midsize-sedan comfort and refinement into a fuel-efficient compact layout, not to mention that Chevrolet parts and servicing are readily available.
What We Like
Good fuel economy from 1.4-liter turbo engine; communicative steering; roomy trunk; handsome design; solid structure; quiet operation
What We Don't
Cramped rear seat; no hatchback or wagon body styles; slow downshifts of automatic transmission; heavy for its size
Fuel Economy & Engine Specs
The 2011 Chevrolet Cruze has two available engines. The Cruze LS comes with a 1.8-liter, dual-overhead-camshaft (DOHC) 4-cylinder with four valves per cylinder and continuously variable intake and exhaust cam phasing. Output is a modest 138 horsepower and it develops 125 lb-ft of torque. It burns regular unleaded gas and has EPA ratings of 26 mpg in the city and 36 mpg on the highway with the standard 6-speed manual transmission, and 22 mpg city/35 mpg hwy with the optional 6-speed automatic.
All other Cruze models come with a turbocharged 1.4-liter DOHC turbo 4-cylinder, which produces 138 hp but a more robust 148 lb-ft of torque. It, too, runs on regular unleaded (unusual for turbo engines) and is EPA-rated at 24 mpg city/36 mpg hwy in LT and LTZ models. The fuel-economy-geared Eco model squeezes 26 mpg city/37 mpg hwy from the 1.4 turbo when equipped with the 6-speed automatic, and an impressive 28 mpg city/42 mpg hwy with the wide-ratio 6-speed manual gearbox.
Standard Features & Options
The 2011 Chevy Cruze is available in LS, LT, LTZ and Eco trim.
Typical LS equipment includes air conditioning, cloth seats, a tilt-telescopic steering wheel, remote keyless entry, OnStar communication systems, SiriusXM Satellite Radio, a 6-speaker AM/FM/CD stereo with an MP3 decoder, auto headlamps, 16-inch steel wheels, stability and traction control, anti-lock brakes, a 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine with a 6-speed manual transmission, and power door locks and windows. A 6-speed automatic is optional.
Moving up to the 1LT adds power mirrors, upgrades the engine to the 1.4-liter turbo, and opens up the option list to cruise control, rear parking assist, alloy wheels, a power driver's seat and a leather shift knob. Upgrading to the 2LT adds steering-wheel audio controls, Bluetooth, a USB port, a power driver's seat, leather upholstery, heated front seats, cruise control and options such as navigation, a power moonroof, 17-in alloy wheels, heated mirrors, remote engine starting, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and a 9-speaker Pioneer DVD audio system.
The range-topping LTZ comes standard with automatic A/C, 4-wheel disc brakes, 18-in alloy wheels and rear parking assist.
The Eco is a special fuel economy model with 1LT-level trim, unique low-rolling resistance tires, a rear spoiler, underbody aerodynamic aids, and shutters behind the grille that close at highway speeds. It's available with an automatic or manual transmission, the latter being a special wide-ratio gearbox to increase fuel efficiency.
An available RS package on LT and LTZ adds a rear spoiler, fog lamps, unique fascias and rocker panels with ground effects.
As good as the Cruze is, used compact Chevrolets depreciate faster on average than Toyotas and Hondas. Chevy sold a lot of Cruzes in 2011, and many are now coming back into the used-car market, so supply should be good and prices reasonable.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has announced the following recalls for the 2011 Cruze:
On models with the 1.4-liter turbo and automatic transmission, the supplemental vacuum pump may not function, resulting in increased pedal effort.
On Eco models, oil may collect on the belly pan, creating a fire hazard.
Attachment welds for some fuel-tank brackets may have been omitted, allowing the tank to come loose and leak in a crash.
The automatic transmission's shift lever may not correctly indicate the chosen gear position, allowing the car to roll away when parked.
The steering wheel may have been improperly attached and can become detached while driving, resulting in loss of control.
An improperly installed bolt may allow the steering shaft sections to separate, causing a loss of steering control.
Safety Ratings & Warranties
NHTSA gave the 2011 Chevy Cruze five stars for frontal and side impacts.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the 2011 Cruze a Moderate rating for small-overlap front impacts and a Good rating for moderate-overlap front impacts, side impacts, roof strength, and for head-restraint and seat crash performance.
General Motors covered the 2011 Cruze with a 3-year/36,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty, a 5-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty with roadside assistance and a 6-year/100,000-mile corrosion-perforation warranty.
Chevrolet certified pre-owned (CPO) cars cannot have more than 75,000 miles on the odometer and must be five years old or less. Every CPO Cruze undergoes a 172-point inspection. Those that pass receive a 12-month/12,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty, plus whatever remains on the transferable, original 5-year/100,000-mile powertrain coverage. Also included is a 2-year/24,000-mile maintenance plan with roadside assistance.
Other Cars to Consider
2011 Ford Focus -- This was the last year for the previous-generation Focus. It's smaller and lighter than the Cruze and fuel economy is decent, but it lags in technology, particularly by not offering a navigation system. Also, this Focus is only available with a 4-speed automatic or 5-speed manual transmission.
2011 Toyota Corolla -- Toyota's evergreen Corolla is consistently at or near the top of the compact sales race due to its reputation for fuel economy, trouble-free operation and good resale value. The Corolla driving experience is plain vanilla, but an XRS model offers a more powerful 158-hp 2.4-liter engine and grippier 17-in tires for a dash of sporty.
It's hard to beat the combination of good engine performance and thrifty fuel economy offered up by the 1.4-liter turbo 4-cylinder available in all but the base LS models. The Cruze is transportation first and foremost, but just because it's a small car doesn't mean you should scrimp on amenities. Finding one that's nicely optioned with a good sound system, leather seats and a sunroof can help erase the small-car blues. Go for a Chevrolet certified pre-owned car, when available. And check with the dealer to make sure that the 2011 Cruze you're considering has had the long list of safety-recall items resolved.