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