The key to the Cruze, for better or worse, is its size. Like most General Motors vehicles, it’s simply bigger and heavier than everything else in the segment, and it feels bulkier still thanks to the high doorsills. The first time I parallel parked the Cruze, I was sure I was just about to hit the car behind me when in truth I had several feet to spare. The girth also makes it hard to notice how well the car handles. In fact, the Cruze goes around a corner as well as anything else in the segment. Steering is a bit numb — also in keeping with the segment — but is accurate. Despite its unimpressive power rating, the 1.4-liter turbo does an impressive job moving around the Cruze’s 3000 pounds, although it’s hampered somewhat by the six-speed automatic’s insistence on finding the highest gear possible at all times.
The extra inches and pounds pay dividends with a 15 cubic-feet trunk and 5 cubic feet more passenger volume than a Honda Civic. The real-world advantage is less impressive, as the center tunnel hump renders the center back seat all but unusable (the Honda’s rear floor is flat).
There are plenty of Americans who prefer a car that feels big, and indeed, the Cruze delivers all the benefits of driving a large car — it’s smooth, stable, and quiet at all speeds and shrugs off bumps with casual ease. The fact that the Cruze employs a supposedly crude torsion-beam rear axle is merely academic at this point, since the Chevy embarrasses many larger, more sophisticated vehicles with its poise. There’s also a measure of perceived quality that comes with size. The Cruze does everything necessary to heighten that perception. Doors close with a BMW-7-series- like thud, plastics are all nicely grained, the seats are generously bolstered and, in this test model, are covered with decent leather.
– David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
In no segment is the unfortunate trend of incremental growth of dimensions and curb weights more apparent than the small-car segment that the Cruze and the Ford Focus play in. Both of these domestic offerings weigh a few hundred pounds more than their rivals and have pricing that seems more fitting for a mid-size sedan. At least Ford offers buyers a dual-clutch transmission instead of a rather sluggish automatic as in the Cruze.
Personally, the Cruze does nothing for me because it doesn’t come as a hatchback. For that reason alone I’d be heading to a Ford, Mazda, or Volkswagen dealer if I were in the market for a compact car. If the hatchback isn’t a requirement for you, a Hyundai Elantra will be a little easier on the wallet, eyes, and monthly fuel tab. Yes, the Cruze is a big step forward for GM in the small-car segment, but it doesn’t advance the small-car segment itself. There’s no technology to rival Sync, no reduction in curb weight like the Elantra, nor great driving dynamics like you’d find in a Mazda 3 or a Volkswagen Golf.
As David says, the Cruze is a bit bigger than the competition, but I’m not sure that’s a good thing in this segment. Some people want small cars but aren’t willing to move down to a B-segment vehicle that offers virtually no difference in fuel economy but requires a big sacrifice in power and generally a sacrifice in comfort on long highway drives. If you want a bigger car, it’s smarter to shop a lightly used mid-size sedan than a brand new plus-size compact.
– Phil Floraday, Senior Web Producer
My colleague Phil Floraday succinctly hits the nail on the head in regard to the Chevy Cruze with this comment: Yes, the Cruze is a big step forward for GM in the small-car segment, but it doesn’t advance the small-car segment itself.
I cannot agree more. I would point out, though, that there are a lot of people who really prefer to purchase an American-branded car, and their choices in small cars were embarrassingly limited in the past. I used to pity people whom I’d see driving a Chevy Cavalier or Cobalt, because those cars were so vastly inferior to their competitors. I will never pity anyone I see driving a Cruze, because it’s a seriously good car. It’s just not one that has any particular attributes that exceed those of its competitors.
That said, I think the Cruze is very handsome both inside and out, and that’s worth a lot. Also, the 1.4-liter turbo powertrain is smooth, refined, and impressive. I don’t see the need for a dual-clutch transmission here, quite frankly. Good ride comfort, good steering, overall an impressive, if not groundbreaking, car.
– Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor
As my colleagues have noted, the new Chevy Cruze is not a class leader, but I would say that it ranks solidly in the middle of the compact-car pack, which is more than Chevy has been able to say for a long time. The interior is designed well and, as Matt said, it features very nice materials. I also concur with his negative feelings about the car’s exterior styling. Fortunately, the little Chevy drives well, although during my commute the transmission exhibited a couple unsmooth moments of turbo-related uncertainty.
– Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
Let me join in with Joe and Phil: The Cruze looks great when compared with the Cobalt, Cavalier, and a host of other bygone American small sedans, but it’s still playing catch-up to the segment leaders.
I find the interior of the Cruze to be well appointed. I don’t mind the mesh/fishnet-stocking dash and door panels, the center stack is nicely laid out and attractive, and I love the instrument cluster. The pale blue nighttime lighting is also well done.
I wish the exterior styling were up to the level of the interior. The Cruze looks pretty good on profile, but coming and going it really looks too much like a face-lifted Cobalt. There is nothing about the car to attract attention or even announce the fact that it’s a new model. The five-spoke alloys are very nice however. I also think Chevy should join the club and do something more attractive with the exhaust: the turbo Cruze has a single tailpipe hiding under one corner. It should be given a tip and integrated into the bumper skirt or something.
The turbo four pulls the Cruze nicely, peppy around town and decent on the highway, but in two tankfuls of mostly highway driving, I couldn’t muster 30 mpg in this Chevy.
And I was shocked that this car — with no sunroof or nav — is priced over $23K. To put that in perspective, you could order a Hyundai Sonata without the sunroof/nav package for the same price.
Let me rephrase that: You can buy the Automobile of the Year runner-up for the same money and get a nicer interior, a far more attractive (and larger) body, and a warranty that’s twice as long. Unless you draw a check from GM or insist on buying American (even though the Sonata is built in Alabama), there’s not much reason to pick the Cruze.
– Matt Tierney, Art Director
When the first Cruze hit the U.S. auto show circuit two years ago, it was fairly evident that GM had raised the bar for compact cars by some measure.
The problem, however, is that benchmark has since shifted considerably during that time. Both the 2012 Ford Focus and the new 2011 Hyundai Elantra promise to be formidable competition, and a new Honda Civic is just around the corner.
That’s not to say the Cruze is down for the count, but GM’s latest small-car hope certainly has its work cut out. Thankfully, it’s a solid platform to work from, and the car offers a compliant ride without feeling dowdy — in fact, the steering is rather sharp, a refreshing change from the novacaine-laden steering racks installed in Cobalts and Cavaliers of days gone. The 1.4-liter turbocharged I-4 is rather smooth and offers decent power, but the six-speed automatic, which is slow to respond to throttle input and a bit coarse when coaxed through manual controls, could stand some additional refinement.
As one of the chumps who did spend a few years behind the wheel of a Cavalier, I’m happy that GM did actually spend some time and money creating a hospitable cabin. The Cruze’s interior is roomy, spacious, and generally free from the horrid, Rubbermaid-quality plastics that dogged its previous small cars.
I am, however, a little split on the price. On the one hand, I do realize you get what you pay for; content, particularly in small cars, can be costly. On the other, I’m a little puzzled with GM’s content structure. Want a spare tire? Apparently that’s an option, even on the high-trim LTZ model.
– Evan McCausland, Web Producer
2011 Chevy Cruze LTZ
Base price (with destination): $22,695
Price as tested: $23,240
1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine
6-speed automatic transmission
Stabilitrak stability control
4-wheel disc brakes with ABS
Daytime running lamps
Remote keyless entry
Rear parking assist
Tire pressure monitoring system
6-month On-Star coverage
Heated outside mirrors
18-inch alloy wheels
AM/FM stereo with CD player
XM satellite radio
USB audio interface
Power adjustable driver’s seat
Air conditioning with automatic climate control
Auxiliary audio input
Auto-dimming rearview mirror
Tilt/telescoping steering column
Options on this vehicle:
Premium Pioneer audio system — $445
Compact spare tire — $100
Key options not on vehicle:
Audio system with navigation — $1995
Power sliding sunroof — $850
RS package — $695
Fuel economy: 24/36/28 mpg (city/hwy/combined)
Size: 1.4L turbocharged DOHC I-4
Horsepower: 138 hp @ 4900 rpm
Torque: 148 lb-ft @ 1850 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Curb weight: 3102 lb
Wheels/tires: 18-inch aluminum wheels; 225/45R18 Michelin Pilot HX MXM4 all-season tires