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