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2011 Chevrolet Cruze: Introduction
For most of the last two decades, Honda and Toyota have teamed up to dominate the compact car segment, but there is a resurgence in this market driven by more than just affordability. Take the all-new 2011 Chevrolet Cruze, for example. Chevy’s previous offering in this class, the Cobalt, was hardly a contender in its class, while the new-for-2011 Cruze helped lead the assault on the perennial class-leading Corolla and Civic. Instead of focusing solely on price, the 2011 Chevy Cruze is a complete package standing toward the top of its class in terms of safety, fuel economy, styling and comfort. Chevrolet dropped off its new Cruze for this weeklong road test and review in the top-of-the-line Cruze LTZ trim level.
Assembled in Lordstown, Ohio, the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze is on sale now at your local Chevrolet dealership with a starting MSRP of $16,525. With four available trim levels (LS, LT, Eco and LTZ), the Cruze LTZ has the highest price that tops out at $22,225. Factoring in the options and destination charge, the 2011 Chevy Cruze LTZ used for this review had an as-tested price of $23,240. Considering that pricing out some other compact vehicles on the market can run well about this amount, the Cruze LTZ test vehicle represents a remarkable value while still delivering impressive quality.
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2011 Chevrolet Cruze: Exterior
Chevrolet took some of its popular recent design cues and made them even better on the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze. The signature twin-port grille looks better proportioned on the front end and the edgy lines help give it a more upscale exterior styling. Although the styling of the new Cruze has been labeled as conservative – especially following the launch of the 2012 Focus and 2011 Elantra – it is still an attractive car with great lines from any angle. Wraparound headlights and wide front fender arches give the Cruze a styling to make it stand out, while the previous Cobalt seemed content just blending in. The Chevy Cruze also has plenty of character thanks to a rising, sculpted shoulder line and an arched roofline that, along with the short decklid, actually equates to a fairly sporty profile. Chevrolet made its new Cruze one of the widest and longest cars in this class, but the overall proportions don’t make it seem oversized or bulky.
Very few elements separate the various Cruze trim levels, and this range-topping LTZ is a good example. All non-base Cruze models offer body-colored door mirrors, but the LTZ’s distinguishing options include the 18-inch, five-spoke painted alloy wheels, rear park assist and chrome door handle accents. For those looking for a sportier appearance, the Cruze is also offered with an RS Package that adds a decklid spoiler and more aggressive fascias and rocker panels, but this vehicle came with the standard LTZ exterior. Unlike the Cobalt, the Cruze does not offer a coupe body style, but Europeans buyers do get the added choice of a five-door hatchback.
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2011 Chevrolet Cruze Review: Interior and Safety
Since it is likely that most cars in this class are bought as practical commuter cars, Chevrolet made tremendous improvements to the cabin of the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze compared to previous compact sedans. Entry-level compact sedans have gained a bad reputation for being as cheap as their prices, but the 2011 Cruze helps change that presumption with improved fit, finish and, most importantly, comfort. Chevrolet definitely went all out when it comes to cabin materials with soft-touch materials used at all touch points and an interesting use of cloth on the instrument panel and door panels to break up any excessive flat, plasticky areas. Above all else though, one of the most surprising aspects of the Cruze is how quiet the cabin is even at highway speeds. Better door sealing and a special acoustic headliner help cut down on unwanted cabin noise leaving the Cruze with an atmosphere similar to a luxury car.
The Cruze LTZ takes comfort even further with standard leather appointments on the seats, steering wheel and shift lever. Unique cabin accents help to spice up the interior such as the metallic and piano black accents on the center stack and chrome rings around the HVAC vents and gauge cluster and accents. The leather seats also feature a contrasting stitching for a sportier, more upscale appearance. There are three distinct interior coloring options available on the Cruze LTZ including a stylish red-on-black look, but this test vehicle came with the Jet Black interior. A ($445) Pioneer-branded premium audio system was the only major option inside the cabin of this test vehicle with the only other option on the car being the compact spare tire adding $100 to the car’s total price and providing a “donut” in place of tire sealant and a portable inflator.
With its large outward dimensions, the Cruze is also afforded plenty of interior space offering better passenger volume than Corolla, 2012 Civic sedan and 2012 Focus sedan with 95 cubic feet and best-in-class cargo volume at 15 cubic feet. The only real downfall of the interior in terms of comfort is the small seat bottoms for front and rear passengers, which can be a little uncomfortable for taller occupants on long trips. At least the driver can easily get comfortable easy in the Cruze LTZ which comes standard with power-adjustable seat and tilt and telescoping steering column.
The 2011 Chevy Cruze received an overall five-star crash rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) named it a 2011 IIHS Top Safety Pick. Standard safety features for all 2011 Chevrolet Cruze models include ten airbags (yes, ten), active front head restraints, electronic brake-force distribution with brake assist, four-wheel anti-lock brake system, daytime running lights, tire pressure monitoring system, traction control and StabiliTrak stability control.
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2011 Chevrolet Cruze Review: Performance
While the base Cruze LS uses a 1.8-liter naturally aspirated inline-four, all other trim levels are powered by a turbocharged 1.4-liter inline-four that produces 138 horsepower and 148 lb-ft of torque. In the LTZ trim level, this engine is mated solely to a six-speed automatic transmission which offers a manual shift mode. In this configuration, the Cruze has EPA fuel economy estimates of 24 miles per gallon in the city and 36 mpg on the highway. In this class, though, 40+ highway mpg seems to be the new benchmark, and the Cruze hits that number with the Eco trim level (42 highway mpg). Chevy recently announced that the 2012 Cruze will be even more fuel efficient than the 2011 model.
Most drivers probably won’t expect their compact sedans to handle like a sports car, but compared to some of the newer competitors to go on sale this year, the bigger, heavier Cruze definitely pays the price. Chevrolet has not released the curb weight for the Cruze LTZ, but the Cruze LT tips the scales at 3,102 pounds which is about 200 pounds more than a comparable Focus and about 300 pounds more than a comparable Elantra. Although this weight disadvantage surprisingly doesn’t hurt the Cruze’s fuel economy, it leaves the car feeling sluggish off the line and heavy in tight turns despite the fact that Chevrolet calls the LTZ’s suspension “sport tuned.” One benefit that the LTZ trim brings to the handling of the Cruze is that it comes standard with four-wheel disc brakes while all other trim levels have rear drum brakes as base equipment. On long hauls, however, the Cruze is as smooth and quiet as a luxury sedan with plenty of power to keep up with traffic. Given the fact that this car is sold around the globe, the smooth ride is even more impressive as GM has managed to hit the nail on the head in terms of the suspension tuning giving it a near-perfect ride for American roads.
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2011 Chevrolet Cruze Review: Summary
Once upon a time, small cars were used primarily for basic transportation from point A to point B, but automakers such as Chevrolet have managed to inject this segment with some promising new vehicles such as the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze. While other recent Chevrolet compact cars like the Cavalier and Cobalt seemed content in just existing in its class, the new Cruze actually puts some heat on the competition by being a class leader in many areas. Even with its minimal downfalls, the 2011 Chevy Cruze is light years better than its predecessors and should be very competitive in this rapidly improving segment.
For Chevrolet, the launch of the 2011 Cruze couldn’t have come at a better time with competition in the compact car segment growing fierce in the last year with the Honda Civic, Ford Focus, Hyundai Elantra and Volkswagen Jetta all being redesigned and the Toyota Corolla and Mazda Mazda3 expecting to get reworked in the near future. In such a tough segment, the Cruze gives Chevy a car that offers a variety of highlights rather than one that is being shopped for price alone. After spending a week in the all-new 2011 Chevrolet Cruze LTZ, it’s clear that GM definitely has an excellent global vehicle that is able to appeal to small-car-minded Europeans while giving Americans a roomy, attractive small car with competitive fuel economy.
Pros – interior comfort, styling and craftsmanship; competitive fuel economy; fresh, new styling
Cons – higher starting price than many competitors; small seat bottoms; unimpressive handling and acceleration
Chevrolet provided the vehicle this road test review
Photos by Jeffrey N. Ross
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