2011 Chevrolet Cruze Review

2011 Chevrolet Cruze - Solid, economical car who's time has come.


American automakers mostly concentrated on building large cars and trucks because that's where the money was, and that was what most of their customers wanted.

But the federal government is mandating that car companies build more fuel-stingy (and thus less-polluting) vehicles. And a growing number of Americans are accepting such models, partly because they've had a few bad gas price scares in recent years and because above-average domestic small models finally are being built.

Thus we have General Motors' new compact Chevrolet Cruze sedan, which has been sold for more than a year in Europe. It will be marketed throughout the globe, while being modified for each region and carrying different badges.

With all its competition, the front-drive Cruze should have been here two years ago. It looks trim, but largely nondescript. The attractive interior is commendably quiet and is roomy enough to let the Cruze be classified as a compact. It has good seats and small (but easily worked) controls. Outward visibility is good.

Fit and finish are excellent. Doors of this nicely built sedan shut firmly, and door-mounted driver power window switches are strategically located so the person at the wheel doesn't accidentally lower a rear window in a rain storm. But front console cupholders are very low, the deep console center bin is tiny and the front passenger seatback control is hard to reach and feels as if made from cheap plastic.

The front is roomy, but a 6-footer will find knee room tight behind a tall driver. And the center of the rear seat is stiff and has a very short fold-down armrest with two cupholders.
The 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine of the Cruze once would have been scoffed at by Americans because of its small size. It looks tiny under the hood, but generates 138 horsepower and has the driveability of a larger engine, although by nature it must work hard because of its size.

Performance is lively in town and acceleration is smooth, with no turbo larg. There's lots of punch from low rpms-unusual for many small turbo motors.

The Cruze is surprisingly quiet, but 0-60 mph takes a so-so 8.9 seconds and 65-75 mph passing is average. Most Cruze models are expected to have the 1.4 turbo.

But a car doesn't have to be fast to be fun to drive. The Cruze has a European feel. Steering is quick and firm, handling is sharp and cornering is and pool-table-flat. The ride is supple, although some bumps can be felt, and braking is good, with a nice-feeling pedal.

The other available engine is a normally aspirated 1.8-liter four-cylinder with 136 horsepower (some early Chevy data says 138) and appreciably less torque than the smaller turbo motor.  It comes in the base Cruze LS model with either a six-speed manual gearbox or six-speed automatic transmission, with an easily used manual-shift feature. I haven't tried the 1.8 engine yet.

The manual also works with the 1.4 turbo engine in a special Cruze "Eco" model to achieve a Chevy-projected 40 mpg on highways, helped by such things as lighter weight and lower-rolling-resistance tires. Higher-line Cruze models all get the automatic.

Only regular-grade fuel is needed for either engine. Estimated fuel economy for the 1.8 is 26 mpg city and 36 highway with the manual and 22 and 35 with the automatic. Discounting the Eco model, Cruze figures with the 1.4 turbo and automatic are 24 and 36.

List prices without a $720 destination charge are $16,275 for the LS with the manual and $17,200 with the automatic. Then come the automatic $18,175 1LT, $20,675 2LT and top-line $21,975 LTZ. There's no price as of this writing for the manual-transmission Eco.

Even the LS is pretty well-equipped. It has air conditioning, tilt/telescoping wheel, split folding rear seat, power windows locks with remote keyless entry and an AM/FM stereo/CD/MP3/auxiliary audio input sound system with 6 speakers.

Safety features include a stability control system and traction control, besides anti-lock brakes.

Move to the 1LT and you add the automatic transmission and power body color mirrors. The 2LT adds a power leather heated driver's seat, remote start, cruise control, steering wheel audio controls and 16-inch alloy (as opposed to 16-inch painted) wheels.
The top dog LTZ adds items including automatic climate control, rear park assist, 18-inch alloy wheels and all-disc brakes.

I tested the $20,675 2LT, which had a bottom line price of $21,870 with 17-inch alloy wheels, all-disc brakes and a compact spare tire instead of a tire sealant kit, beides a $720 destination charge.

The large trunk has a rather high opening, but rear seatbacks flip forward and sit flat to great increase cargo capacity, helped by a large pass-through area from the trunk to the rear-seat area.

The hood is held open by an old-fashioned prop rod, and some fluid filler areas are at the rear of the engine compartment instead of being more conveniently grouped up front.

The Cruze promises to enhance Chevrolet's small-car reputation, which has taken hits over the years because of Japanese and, more recently, South Korean competition.

Dan Jedlicka

Dan Jedlicka's Website

Dan Jedlicka joined the Chicago Sun-Times in February 1968 as a business news reporter and was named auto editor later that year. He has reviewed more than 4,000 new vehicles for the Sun-Times--far more than any newspaper auto writer in the country. Jedlicka also reviewed vehicles for Microsoft Corp.'s MSN Autos Internet site from January, 1996, to June, 2008.

Jedlicka remained auto editor at the Sun-Times until October, 2008, and continued writing for the newspaper's AutoTimes section, which he started in 1992, until February, 2009. While continuing his auto writings at the Sun-Times, he served as assistant financial editor of that newspaper from 1970 to 1973, when he began his automotive column.

He has appeared on numerous radio and television shows, including NBC's "Today," ABC's "20/20" and "The CBS Evening News." He was a host, consultant and writer for Fox-TV Channel 32's 1991 New Car Preview show and that Chicago-based station's 1992, 1993, 1994 and 1995 Chicago Auto Show Previews.

Jedlicka's auto articles have been printed in national magazines, including Esquire and Harper's. His auto columns have been reprinted in U.S. government publications and economic textbooks and he is profiled in the "World's Greatest Auto Show" history book about the Chicago Auto Show. In late 1975, Jedlicka was host and technical advisor for three one-hour television specials, "Auto Test 76," which aired nationally on PBS and were the first nationally televised auto road test shows.

In 1995, Jedlicka was the recipient of the Better Business Bureau of Chicago and Northern Illinois Inc.'s Consumer Education Award, given annually to a person who has gained distinction in the field of consumer education. He received a Lifetime Achievement Award in the Media category and inducted into the Legends of Motorsports Guild at the Carquest World of wheels custom car show in Chicago in January, 2006.

Jedlicka was a member of the North American Car and Truck of the Year jury, composed of a select number of auto journalists from throughout the country, from 1995 until 2009. From 2010 to 2012, he was a member of Consumer Digest magazine's auto experts panel that gave Best Buy new vehicle recommendations.

He is a 1987 graduate of the Bob Bondurant Race Drivers School and later of the BMW "M" and Skip Barber Advanced Driving schools. He was a member of the U.S. team that participated in the 1987 1,000-mile Mille Miglia race/rally in Italy and has been a race winner at the Chicago area's Santa Fe Speedway.

Jedlicka has owned 25 classic cars, including 1950s and 1960s Ferraris and 1950s and 1960s Porsches, a 1965 Corvette, a 1967 Maserati and a 1957 Studebaker supercharged Golden Hawk. Jedlicka resides with his wife, Suzanne, in the Frank Lloyd Wright historic district of Oak Park. They have two children, James and Michele.

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