Thumbs Up: A domestic sedan that beats the imports in style & quality
Thumbs Down: Engine lacks low end and top end power
Buy This Car If: You want a sound value in a domestic, compact sedan
It’s no secret that both Mike and I are fans of the 2011 Chevy Cruze. In my detailed review, I called it “the first entry-level sedan from Chevrolet that’s ready, willing and (more than) able to beat the Japanese at their own game.” We named the Cruze to our “Top 20 Cars of 2010” list, and Mike called it “an American small car that just rewrote the rules on what an American small car should be.” It goes without saying that we’d both recommend it to buyers, and based on the latest sales result the public agrees with our reviews.
In May, the Chevy Cruze outsold the Ford Focus, the Hyundai Elantra, the Honda Civic, the Toyota Corolla and the VW Jetta. If you’d prefer to look at April numbers, which really weren’t affected by the twin disasters in Japan, the Cruze still outsold the Hyundai Elantra, the Toyota Corolla, the Ford Focus and VW Jetta, losing only to the Honda Civic. That’s an impressive performance against cars that have led segment sales for a long, long time.
What’s the secret to the Cruze’s success? It’s a compact economy car that somehow never manages to feel small or inexpensive. Take the exterior styling, for example: I’d raise the argument that the Cruze is the first entry-level Chevy in years with character and presence. The lines may be conservative, but they’re far from bland and appeal to a broad demographic. Better yet, the car’s styling isn’t “trendy”, which means it will look good parked in your driveway next month, next year, or even a decade from now.
Inside, it’s easy to see that Chevy put a significant amount of thought into the interior. The front seats are superb, offering just the right blend of comfort and support. The leather seems to be fairly stout, and the contrasting stitching is a nice touch that adds to the upscale feel of the car. Front seats are heated, but that’s something we’ve come to expect from even entry-level cars these days.
Rear seats are good but don’t offer much bottom cushion support support. The Cruze’s sloping roofline means that taller passengers (much above six feet) won’t like the Cruze’s back seat accommodations. For cross-town trips, the rear seat is fine, but longer trips with four friends (especially big friends) will require regular rotation of the shotgun seat.
Chevrolet did a great job of styling the Cruze’s dash without spending a lot of money. Mesh fabric is used to provide a contrasting texture on the dash face, and it works well to add detail. There’s just enough contrast between material, color and shapes to keep the interior interesting, and it’s surprising how much better the Cruze’s interior is compared to more expensive automobiles (like the Chevy Camaro, Ford Mustang and Dodge Challenger, for example).
The Cruze’s 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder yields 136 horsepower and 123 ft lb of torque. That’s best described as “adequate”, but it isn’t enough to capture the attention of driving enthusiasts. The Cruze may stack up well against the base Honda Civic, but there’s no Cruze variant to compete with Honda’s Civic Si. Higher trim models of the Cruze don’t even have an available six-speed manual transmission, and that’s a shame. With a little bit of effort, Chevy could easily broaden the appeal of the Cruze to the enthusiast market.
While the 1.4-liter engine may not be exciting, it is reasonably frugal. The EPA rates the Cruze at 24 mpg city and 36 mpg highway, and I saw an actual 26.6 mpg in city-centric driving.
On the road, the Cruze continues to impress. The LTZ comes with a “sport tuned” suspension, but don’t get the idea that this is a sport sedan. Instead, it’s a confidence-inspiring compact sedan that provides a reasonably entertaining ride when the roads get twisty. Steering is nicely weighted and there’s good communication from the front tires. Turn in is reasonably quick and there’s not much body roll as long as you don’t push too hard. Brakes aren’t up for extended track duty, but they are more than sufficient for street driving. In short, the Cruze won’t disappoint behind the wheel, unless your expectations are particularly lofty.
My LTZ trim level tester carried a sticker price of $22,975, including a destination charge of $750. That isn’t a lot of money for the content the car provides, and the Cruze stacks up well against the competition. A similarly equipped Honda Civic EX-L would list for $22,705, a comparable Toyota Corolla LE would sticker at $20,964 (but doesn’t offer a leather interior) and the new Hyundai Elantra Limited would price at $21,205. That may make the Cruze LTZ seem expensive compared to the competition, but it offers up content (like OnStar) that rivals can’t match. If you’re in the market for a compact sedan, the Cruze is certainly worthy of a test drive.