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First Drive: 2011 Chevrolet Cruze

Jeff Glucker August 13, 2010 Chevrolet Reviews, First Impressions 29 Comments

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.

  • SSurfer321

    Another great write up Jeff.
    That is one good looking compact. Glad to hear the I-4 isn't anemic as the 136hp would suggest, although it appears to line up with what competitors are offering. Also pricing is spot on with competitors. I hope this car does well for the General.

    • You have to see one in person, the interior is really well done and it looks great on the outside. I hope it does well for them also.

      Edit: Also, thank you!

  • Plecostomus

    Sign me up for an Eco.

  • I sat in one of these at the Barrett Jackson auction in OC last month and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised with how nice the interior is. Ford had been kicking Chevy's ass in that department lately.

  • Paul_y

    I would be interested in how the base model feels inside; understandably, it would have less stuff, but if it's still put together well and comfortable to sit in, they have a winner on their hands.

    …and I agree, it's a really good looking sedan.

    If people actually buy it, we might get our investment in American Leyland back! HOT DAMN.

    I am a dyed-in-the-wool enemy of GM, and I would consider this if I were in the market for a small sedan (I'm not in the market for anything now, honestly, and I don't see getting rid of my xB any time soon).

    • "I would be interested in how the base model feels inside; understandably, it would have less stuff, but if it's still put together well and comfortable to sit in, they have a winner on their hands. "

      That is basically their whole concept for the Cruze… they are all good cars across the trim levels.

      GM just posted their largest quarterly profit since 2004, and a Chevy is sold around the world every 8 seconds. I think they can do it.

    • rocketrodeo

      I'm not an enemy of GM, but they have been failing to build good small cars for so freakin' long–longer than the Cruze's target market age range, for sure–that it's never been more than a moment's consideration for me. This is literally the first small Chevy for which I could entertain the notion of wasting a dealer's time with a test drive.

      • You should check it out…I think you will be quite surprised.

  • Number_Six

    Third pic down is the most flattering shot I've seen of the car.

    • I will upload a gallery of PR shots of the car this afternoon since I only shot the car quickly.

      • Number_Six

        No, I mean I like it.

  • theeastbaykid

    Still the segment leader in Dee-Troit Plasti-Krome,™ but definitely a step in the right direction. Still, give me a Mazda3 hatch for my commuter.

  • Hopman

    I want one!!! But with the turbo and stick please.

    I'm still amazed that what is considared "compact" today would've been "full-size" 20 years ago.

  • I'm a fan, but really wish they'd bring out a properly sorted SS.

    GM has an unfortunate habit of introducing new best compact car that's way better than that last piece of shit about every 8-10 years. Think about the introductions of the Cobalt, Cavalier, Chevette, Vega, etc. All were pretty awesome for the 1-2 years that they got any attention, then GM let them languish and rot until they're so bad you just throw the whole tupperware container way. Then, new, exciting model!.

    Hopefully they'll maintain the Cruze with continuous updates to improve it on a schedule that keeps it competitive.

  • Straight6er

    Gee thats a nice looking Mon…. Cava…. Cobal…. I'm going to stop now.

  • thomasmac

    I was under the impression that the higher trims were not available with a manual transmission at all? If they are this becomes even more desirable to me. I was looking at a Subaru Impreza or Sportline Golf 3 door but if I could get a Cruze 1LT with a stick that would be worth that wait.

    • I asked the lead engineer that very question… he said the manual will be available throughout the lineup.

  • dculberson

    "the base 1.8L DOHC unit which produces 136 hp and 12 lb-ft of torque at 3,800 rpm"

    Man, I'd say the turbo is the way to go then! 12 lb-ft of torque isn't gonna be that much fun to drive. 😉

    Seriously, though, I wonder if/when they'll offer something with a little more power?

    • Fixed, thank you.

      There are no immediate plans since this car does what they want it to do at the moment…though I too wish for a SS version.

  • bzr

    Hey, GINGERS ARE PEOPLE TOO! WWWAAAAUUGAGAUGUGUAGAHHHHH!!!

    <img src="http://www.theyoungestincharge.com/public/assets/images/EY39fkmqKBM-large.jpg"&gt;

  • Number_Six

    I know this is unnecessarily bitchy, especially since I like the car, but here's the posterior of the Canada-only Acura CSX:

    <img src="http://www.canadianautoreview.com/Acura%20CSX%20TypeS-400.jpg&quot; />

    • plecostomus

      Imagine if you showed up to a US Acura meet with an Acura CSX. The JDM fanboys might lose their shit.

    • rocketrodeo

      I've heard that this is not just a badge engineered Civic, but actually has a couple of inches of wheelbase more than the Honda. this would be super-high on my list if Acura marketing only had a smidgen of a clue. And I've owned two Acuras.

      • Maymar

        They have the same wheelbase, although the Acura tends to have a slightly more powerful engine (155hp vs 140 in the Civic right now).

  • penny smith

    When will the cruz be available in Columbus, Ohio?

    • It should be arriving very soon. Slated for Q3 of this year…

  • tristan

    its a fucking kia.
    http://www.kia.co.nz/home.aspx
    but it does look pretty

    talk to me about one in 5 years when it falls into my price range and shit starts falling off

  • Duurtlang

    They even like it in Europe, and that's definitely a first for a Chevrolet this size. In a review of a 2009 Cruze they considered it a very capable car, didn't dislike the interior (very odd for an American car), and liked the exterior looks. Their only relatively minor complaints were about the fuel economy (the 1.8L) and bumpy ride. And the fact it was a sedan in stead of a hatchback.

    picture of the dash of the cheaper trim with the manual in the 2009 European Cruze (don't know how to embed here): http://media.autoweek.nl/m/m1dyvp7bv7s0_800.jpg

    Very nasty google translation: <a href="http://translate.google.com/translate?js=y&prev=_t&hl=nl&ie=UTF-8&layout=1&eotf=1&u=http%3A%2F%2 Fwww.autoweek.nl%2Fautotest%2F2245%2FChevrolet-Cruze-18-LT&sl=nl&tl=en” target=”_blank”>http://translate.google.com/translate?js=y&pr…” target=”_blank”>Fwww.autoweek.nl%2Fautotest%2F2245%2FChevrolet-Cruze-18-LT&sl=nl&tl=en