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2011 Chevrolet Cruze - New Car Review

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by Autotrader August 2010

Pleasure Cruiser


The 2011 Chevrolet Cruze marks General Motors' effort to break the pattern of abject failure in compact cars, established by the Chevette of the 1970s. Both that car and this Cruze were designed by and for GM's foreign divisions, but thankfully, the similarities end there.

Rather than treating compact models as money-losing placeholders designed to prop up Corporate Average Fuel Economy scores and attract young shoppers into the GM family, Chevrolet now sees them as genuinely desirable products in their own right.

Customers are willing to pay a little extra to get a product they genuinely enjoy, so GM will be in the position of making both money and friends with the Cruze. One surprise Chevy has for shoppers in this compact car segment is the possibility of micro-car gas mileage combined with full-size safety.

Escape from the penalty box

GM cars in general and its small cars in particular have earned a reputation for being miserable places to spend time. Uncomfortable seats wrack the back while the eyes are assaulted by a plague of unsightly hard plastic and poorly installed trim pieces. The Cruze goes against that grain and reaches for the top of the class, sporting a nicely detailed interior, which makes a legitimate claim for the title of segment leader.

The dashboard and instrument panel are worthy of particular note, with chrome rings on clear binnacles that catch the blue LED backlight in a fetching manner. A blue driver information display between the main gauges compares well to a similar one in the next-class-up Hyundai Sonata.

The Seoul of design

The bulk of the Cruze's exterior design work was done by GM's Korean studio at the former Daewoo facility. And it shows in a striking but familiar design that could easily slot in among any of the recently introduced Hyundai or Kia models.

Implying a Korean appearance would have been a criticism in the past, but the latest crop of cars from this particular peninsula have been uniformly fresh and attractive. The combination of the wheel arches, faceted edges and jumbo-sized tail lights – along with the bluff prow mandated by pedestrian impact standards – is a car very much of the moment. How long its moment lasts remains to be seen, especially as the design debuted nearly two years ago in other markets.

Chevrolet trumpets that the doors are "beta-braced." No idea what that means, but they close with a substantial thunk that imparts an impression of solid, high-quality construction.

Turbo to go

The lowest trim level (LS) deploys a 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine that develops 136 horsepower and 123 pound-feet of torque. Nice enough, but the real star of the range is a 1.4-liter pipsqueak of a four-cylinder engine that produces a competitive 138 hp – thanks to being turbocharged. GM pits the Cruze against the top-selling Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla, and beats them in most respects.Using such a small engine enables class-leading fuel economy, led by the thrifty Eco model's anticipated 40 mpg (with the six-speed manual transmission), a number comparable with hybrids and subcompacts like the Ford Fiesta.

An excellent 148 lb-ft of torque churns out from just 1,850 rpm and there is no discernible turbo lag (the delay between the gas pedal's movement and the turbocharged engine's increase in power output). Thorough noise suppression measures ensure that the hard-working engine voices no complaints to the cabin, but this powertrain doesn't have the same rev-happy disposition as the Honda Civic engine.

Steering response is firm and accurate at speed, but in the parking lot, the electric power assistance feels overdone and provides little feel or feedback. The higher trim levels (LT and LTZ) have a six-speed automatic transmission as standard.

Cruze control group

GM pits the Cruze against the segment's top sellers: the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla. And beats them in most respects. The Corolla does nothing well, handicapped by a soggy suspension and steering with less direction than a basement-dwelling 45-year-old slacker. At least the effort required to keep the Corolla pointed straight ahead on a rural highway distracts the driver's attention from the lower-grade interior plastics.

The Civic enjoys futuristic styling and an adventurous, high-mounted digital speedometer that approaches the function of a head-up display. But its firm steering still provides no feedback – all the bolts in the system feel over-tightened and the wheel doesn't even return to center properly.

The Volkswagen Jetta and the Mazda3 share a place at the pinnacle of this segment and carry a corresponding price premium. But the Cruze feels competitive with both in terms of driving dynamics and cabin appointments. Price-wise, it's easy for a Jetta to head for $20,000 and beyond, while $17,925 will bag a mid-level Mazda3 four-door (bear in mind that the Mazda3 also holds its value as well or better than any of its rivals). The basic Cruze 2LS starts at $16,275 and the range-topping LTZ goes for $21,975.

Despite its mini-car fuel economy, the European version of the Cruze earned the highest safety scores ever in that territory's crash test program. Chevrolet predicts the Cruze will earn five stars in the U.S. government's tougher new crash tests for 2011, a benchmark few cars will reach. This confidence is the result of greater use of high-strength steel, increased welding and bonding (i.e. gluing), and 10 airbags.

The Cruze settles in for highway cruises with the ride comfort and quietness of a bigger car, helping drivers who have downsized from SUVs feel more at home than they might expect in a compact. The spacious back seat, comfortable ride and frugal fuel economy provide a convincing response to critics who have asked why the domestic industry can't build a fuel-efficient family car.

A hatchback would be better still, but the folding rear seats and 15-cubic foot trunk (around three cubic feet better than average) give the Cruze the flexibility to serve as a credible primary car in a household seeking an affordable sticker price and minimal fuel bills.

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Used 2011 Chevrolet Cruze LTZ
Used 2011 Chevrolet Cruze
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Saving this vehicle to yourMy Autotrader account
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Used 2011 Chevrolet Cruze LTZ
Used 2011 Chevrolet Cruze
$5,881
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Used 2011 Chevrolet Cruze LT
Used 2011 Chevrolet Cruze
$8,500
This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2011 Chevrolet Cruze - New Car Review - Autotrader