The Cruze is somewhat larger than the Cobalt, chiefly in width (almost three inches) and wheelbase (2.4 inches), less so in height (one inch) and length (0.5 inch). The cabin feels wide, and outward visibility, event to the rear, is good. The dash looks quite nice and has fewer buttons than the recent GM norm. Leather upholstery is available, which is good because you'll want to upgrade over the standard cloth. The front seats are firm, with prominent lateral bolsters that might be uncomfortable for larger drivers; six-way power adjustment (with manual recline) can be had on all models but the LS and the Eco. Rear-seat legroom is improved by nearly two inches over the Cobalt; a six-foot passenger can sit behind a six-foot driver, but space is only adequate. The rear seat cushion, though, is high enough off the floor to offer good under-thigh support, which is not the case in some much more expensive General Motors cars (Cadillac CTS, we're looking at you).
As for the Cruze's ride quality, Caddy comparisons are actually more apt than comparisons with the Cobalt. First of all, the car is quiet, with road and wind noise well suppressed. The turbo four's engine note isn't melodious, but you hardly hear it below 5000 rpm. We drove a 2LT with the optional sport suspension and seventeen-inch wheels, as well as an LTZ, in which the firmer chassis is standard, as are eighteen-inch aluminum wheels. The Cruze was responsive through the two-lane curves of Virginia horse country, and bump isolation was very good. The electric power steering, however, is overboosted, particularly at low speeds. Torque steer, happily, is a non-issue.
All this goodness doesn't come cheap -- or at least not free. The base LS may be only $605 more than the Cobalt LS, but the Cobalt's even-cheaper model is missing. And as you climb the price ladder, the premium escalates -- a 2LT, for instance, is $21,395, versus $18,560 for a Cobalt. However, the Cruze has more equipment and leaves the Cobalt in the dust, particularly its chassis and powertrain. It is a welcome, and long overdue, change in small-car execution from General Motors.
2011 Chevrolet Cruze
On sale: September 2010
Base price range: $16,995-$22,695
Engine: 1.4-liter turbocharged 16-valve DOHC I-4
Power: 138 hp @ 4900 rpm
Torque: 148 lb-ft @ 1850 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
L x W x H: 181.0 x 70.7 x 58.1 in
Wheelbase: 105.7 in
Legroom F/R: 42.3/35.4 in
Headroom F/R: 39.3/37.9 in
Cargo capacity: 15.4 cu ft
Curb weight: 3300 lb (est.)
EPA fuel economy: N/A