PRO’s: Great interior, great styling, great road manners and oh so quiet.
CON’s: Short on power, may be tight for taller drivers.
FINAL THOUGHT’s: An American small car that just rewrote the rules on what an American small car should be.
Believe it or not but the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze was one of those rare vehicles that I couldn’t wait to get my hands on. I’d had first seen it in person back at the Washington DC Auto Show in early 2010, and from that moment on I had a feeling that the car was going to be a hit. With its sights dead set on stealing customers away from such cars as the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla, the Cruze seeks to deliver consumers a compact car that is anything but. The first thing you notice about the Cruze is that it is a good looking automobile, not a good looking small car, but a good looking automobile. This particular Cruze was an LTZ model equipped with the RS appearance package. That means unique rocker moldings, RS emblems on the lower front doors, as well as a unique front fascia that incorporates stylish fog lights. The rear fascia is also unique and includes a blacked-out center section with chrome strip and rear deck-lid spoiler. Combine that with the Cruze’s sporty 18-inch wheels and you now have a car with a decidedly European look about it.
If the exterior of the Cruze is good, then the interior of the car is excellent. Generally cars in this market segment are on the spartan side and feel cheap when it comes to interior amenities and quality. Nothing in the Cruze though feels out-of-the-parts-bin cheap, in fact it’s quite the opposite. By using inexpensive materials in different ways, the designers at Chevy were able to pull together an interior that has the feel of a car in a much higher price bracket.
One such example would be the use of a soft cloth weave material that covers the passenger side dash and door inserts, both front and rear. It’s a nice touch that gives the interior a softer feel, as opposed to just slathering everything with molded plastics. The seats were leather clad buckets that were more than comfortable enough for everyday driving. The drivers seat came equipped with 6-way power adjustment, with the passenger seat being an 8-way manual unit.
They were also heated, which was a nice touch especially with the cold Northeast climate we’re currently dealing with. The steering wheel was also leather wrapped and extremely comfortable. So much so that I was wishing it had been used in the Chevrolet Camaro that I recently tested.
The 2011 Chevrolet Cruze has room enough for four adult passengers, although if you’re over 6-feet tall like myself, you will find yourself feeling a bit cramped. This goes for both front and rear seating. When it comes time to get comfortable and or get your groove on, have no fear as the center stack controls are well laid out with everything being within easy reach. One thing I can’t stand though is the blue digital readout screen that is located above the HVAC controls. It’s cheesy and for some reason reminds me of a mid-90’s StarTac cell phone.
Take a look behind the steering wheel and you’ll see a highly sculpted cluster that includes large chromed ring tachometer and speedometer dials, temperature, fuel gauge and drivers information screen. This provides you with a readout of everything from your fuel economy to OnStar navigation directions (if your car is so equipped). I should also mention that the trunk is huge with 15.4-cubic feet of cargo space. That’s 3.4 more than the Honda Civic and 3 more than the Toyota Carolla. The interior of the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze LTZ is light years beyond anything Chevrolet has ever put in a compact car before, and they should be commended for it.
Get the Cruze on the road and you’ll immediately notice that it has a decidedly sporty feel to it. Steering inputs are crisp and weighted nicely, thus tempting you to search out your favorite twisty road. The problem however is that when you get there, the Cruze’s 1.4-liter Ecotec Turbo just doesn’t have the stones to get the 3200 lb. car moving as you’d like. According to Chevrolet the little mill makes 138 hp and 148 ft-lb of torque. Not terrible numbers, but just not enough to make the Cruze as fun as the car looks and feels. Put the pedal to the wood and you’ll get to 60 mph in just over 9-seconds. That’s about the same time as the new Chevrolet Volt electric plug-in. Again, not terrible, but the Civics and Jetta’s I’ve driven feel decidedly healthier in the engine department. What Chevy should do is drop in their new 220 hp turbo inline-four that’s in the new 2011 Regal CXL Turbo. Do that and they’ll have a compact car that budget minded enthusiasts can really get behind.
The 6-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly and even has a sport mode that lets you shift manually if you so choose. Forget about trying to spin those 225/45/18 front tires though, because unless you’re on ice, it’s not going to happen. I have to say that I was also pretty impressed by the brake pedal feel on the Cruze. The pedal was nice and firm, allowing the driver to bring the car to a halt with confidence.
If the Cruze’s 1.4-liter Ecotec does anything, it delivers great fuel economy. They say it’ll get 24 mpg city and 36 hwy. The 24 part I believe, but the 36 mpg on the super-slab may be pushing it a bit, unless of course you’re cruising at exactly 55 mph. I was able to muster a solid 27 mpg in combined driving which wasn’t too bad, especially since I was a little heavy on the pedal. It must also be pointed out that the Cruze is VERY quiet when it’s on the road. Tire and wind noise are at minimum levels, which is something that I didn’t expect from a car in this price bracket.
My 2011 Chevrolet Cruze LTZ with the RS package came in at $24,260 on the sticker. That’s cheaper then a comparably equipped Honda Civic EX-L with automatic transmission and similar options and on par with that of a 2011 VW Jetta (again, with similar options). What struck me most about the Cruze after my time with it, was that it always felt like a high quality automobile. From the quiet ride, to the sporty handling, to the doors that go “THUNK” when you close them. Simply put, the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze LTZ was a confidence inspiring, inexpensive automobile that I would recommend to anyone who asked me about it.
* Hey Chevy… just keep in mind what I said about that 220 hp turbo inline-four that you’ve got stuffed in the new 2011 Regal CXL Turbo. It could really work here!