Chevy and the compact car go together like sunshine and ginger kids. At least that is the way it used to be…until now.
The minds behind the Bow-Tie have developed an all-new compact sedan, the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze, with lofty goals in mind. They don’t just seek to play catch-up to the likes of Honda’s Civic, Ford’s Focus, and Toyota’s Corolla. Their aim is to present a product which shoots for for “more” in all categories. Presenting an “upscale presence”, as they put it, in an affordable and efficient package is no easy task. Guess what though?
They did it…
…and the damn thing looks good too.
I was invited to Santa Monica’s Fairmont Hotel to listen to a brief presentation on the all-new Chevy Cruze, before embarking on a nearly 100-mile drive. The route include a wide range of road types (rural, beach front, highway, and twisty LA canyons) with my lunch waiting at the destination. Since I am a perpetually hungry man who also happens to enjoy driving, the morning was looking up already!
My co-pilot for the journey was Shad Balch, GM’s Enviroment & Energy Communications Specialist, whose focus is Alternative Fuel vehicles. I know what you are thinking, it would be nothing but “The Volt is awesome” and “please slow down sir before I take away the keys.” However, Mr. Balch is the proud owner of a 2009 Corvette. Upon hearing this, I smiled and we left the hotel behind us in a 2011 Chevrolet Cruze LTZ RS.
The first thing I noticed right away about the Cruze is just how well the interior looks and feels. Mentally blow up what you know about previous compact products from the General because this is a whole new ballgame inside. The quality of the materials and the way they are applied is seriously top notch. They could call it the Buick Cruze, and I would nod my head. The driver’s seat was comfortable and everything was within easy reach. Once underway, there is something else that is oddly present – the absence of lots of cabin noise. Engineers at Chevrolet worked hard to make sure the Cruze rides quietly and they clearly achieved this. They did this by applying sound-deadening technology everywhere they could, the result is a sound quality that is library-quiet.
Under the hood, there are two four-cylinder options available; the base 1.8L DOHC unit which produces 136 hp and 123 lb-ft of torque at 3,800 rpm, and a turbocharged 1.4L DOHC engine which produces 138 hp and 148 lb0-ft of torque at just 1,850 rpm. The 1.8L engine and a six-speed manual tranmission will be standard on the base LS trim, while all other trims receive the turbo 1.4L and a six-speed automatic except for the Cruze Eco which gets the turbo and the manual. The manual gearbox will be available as an option on all upper trims as well.
Besides being quiet, the Cruze is surprisingly nimble on the road. It is not a tight, sporty compact but it certainly is not a sloppy, wave machine either. Up front sits a MacPherson strut suspension while in the rear is a compact, quiet, and responsive Z-link setup. It helps provide ride control from all angles and improves lateral stability over other rear suspension setups.
In a compact sedan, the ride is typically nothing to write home about but with the Chevrolet Cruze it’s a different story. It was comfortable and responsive, and you can’t ask for much more than that in this segment. The odd bump is handled with ease and a long sweeper allows for continual throttle throughout the turn without any sense of impending doom. I felt composed in my seat and the car felt composed through the driving adventure that is Mulholland. I took this car away from LA and back again and I was comfortable the entire time. The interior refinement mixed with the under-car engineering provides a wonderful achievement in the compact car market.
The power ratings seem tame and, well they are. This is no sports car. It is also not a wheezing hunk of metal that can’t handle a hill. Out on the gradient highways north of LA, I had no problem keeping up with (and passing) much of the light late-morning traffic. For the most part, I let the six-speed automatic do most of the work but occasionally I could pop it into M and downshift for a more aggressive pass.
The phrase “content is king,” applies to this new compact. The 2011 Chevrolet Cruze starts at $16,995 for the base LS trim which includes; OnStar, power doors and windows, remote keyless-entry, an Aux jack, and XM satellite radio. The $18,995 Cruze LT provides the 1.4L turbo and six-speed auto and 16″ wheels. The $21,395 Cruze 2LT adds six-way power adjustable and heated leather seats, a leather wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, bluetooth phone connectivity, a USB port with audio interface, steering wheel mounted audio controls, remote start, and alloy wheels. The 500-mile range, $18,995 Cruze Eco gets everything in the 2LT package as well as a six-speed manual transmission, around 40 mpg on the highway, 17″ alloy wheels with ultra-low rolling resistance tires, and an enhanced aero package. The Chevy Cruze you see in these photos is the top-trim LTZ which starts at $22,695 and adds 18″ alloy wheels, four-wheel disc brakes, and an automatic climate control system. This car is also equipped with the optional RS package which is available for the LT and LTZ, and includes appearance upgrades. A nine-speaker Pioneer audio system, in-dash naviagtion, 40-gig hard drive, and rear park assist system are all optionally available items. All Cruze models come standard with 10 airbags, StabiliTrak, and ABS.
For years, the compact car segment has been untouchable for Chevrolet. They built less-than desirable vehicles in this class while the competition was creating great cars. Their focus was on their bread and butter vehicles with the compact left to wither on the vine. This is no longer the case. The 2011 Chevy Cruze is a well-built, stylish, efficient, and affordable compact sedan.