2011 Chevrolet Cruze 2LT Review: Introduction
Some of the worst compact cars Chevrolet have ever built started with the letter C. No, this isn’t an exercise in learning your alphabet courtesy of “Sesame Street.” This notion merely represents the long line of Chevettes, Cavaliers, Citations and Cobalts that seemed to prove the notion that American automakers couldn’t possibly build a good small car. Despite sharing the first same letter in its name, the 2011 Chevy Cruze came and changed all that overnight.
In past years, Chevy compact cars were usually only chosen by people after they approached the Alamo or Hertz rental car counter, but the 2011 Chevy Cruze is so impressively built, stylish, economical and decent fun to drive that you may want to buy one with your own money. Yes, that stuff you keep in the Jonas Brothers piggy bank you claim belongs to your kids.
Without question, the 2011 Cruze is easily Chevrolet’s best small car that they have ever built, but what truly surprises is that the car competes with the front runners in its class and not just the ones that hang in the mid-pack such as a 2011 Kia Forte or 2011 VW Jetta. Quite frankly, we think it belongs on your compact family sedan shortlist.
We like the 2011 Chevy Cruze so much that even though the 2012 Ford Focus, 2011 Hyundai Elantra and 2012 Honda Civic have all recently stolen a bit of its media thunder lately we would still highly recommend you buy one. Even though a fully loaded Cruze LTZ with every luxury item can reach $26,000, we are going to help you see how easy it is to be perfectly happy with a 2LT model that sticks closer to $22,000.
Thankfully, however, public awareness of this affordable, efficient, safe, luxurious feeling and unfailingly agile economy car (more on that later) is at an all-time high. Monthly sales figures have the 2011 Chevy Cruze demonstrating tremendous sales growth over the last generation Cobalt and are finally competing on a scale with the imports. So, is the 2011 Chevy Cruze the answer to your prayers of fuel efficiency and affordable monthly payments? It very well could be.
2011 Chevrolet Cruze 2LT Review: Exterior
Admittedly the geometric shape of the tail lamp design of the Cruze is rather generic, but Chevy really did come up with a unique design element for the front end. The Chevy-signature grille is bisected with a solid painted strip and a giant bowtie emblem. The front headlamps rise ominously at the corners like a scary librarian’s horn rimmed glasses and give it an overall appearance much like that of a very angry Pokémon creature. You remember Pokémon, right? They were all the rage before the Teletubbies and Yo Gabba Gabba stole their thunder in the realm of kids shows that are seemingly based on really, really intense acid trips.
The Cruze’s exterior style may lack the overall sexiness of the Focus, but compared to the kind of kooky-looking Civic and the Jetta’s "Kirstie Alley after an all-night pie eating binge" exterior corpulence, the Cruze looks downright classy. It is a design that is surely going to age well with time and we recommend you order your Cruze with the optional $325 17-inch 5-spoke alloys that came with our tester as that also gives you rear wheel disc brakes instead of drums.
The traditional sedan silhouette of the Cruze does pay dividends in trunk space which amounts to a midsize rivaling 15.4 cubic feet. That’s about as big as an Accord’s trunk to put things in perspective. There is also a large 15.6-gallon fuel tank which gives the Cruze a possible “cruze-ing” (sorry, couldn’t resist one pun) range of 561 miles. EPA fuel economy estimates for the Cruze are 24 miles per gallon city/36 highway and we averaged a healthy 31 mpg during a week of driving.
2011 Chevrolet Cruze 2LT Review: Interior
This is an area where the 2011 Chevy Cruze 2LT that we tested really shines. Interior materials are of such high quality (most especially the sumptuously standard heated leather seats) and the build quality so precise that it makes you feel like you are riding in a much more expensive car. Everything is either soft touch plastic, chrome ringed or covered in leather. This is the kind of interior VW used to put in the Jetta until they cost cut that car like some automotive nightmare version of Freddy Krueger.
Standard features on the $20,925 2LT model include the aforementioned leather seats, power windows, power door locks, Bluetooth, an easy to use USB/iPod integration system, a leather wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, steering wheel mounted audio controls, cruise control, a six-speed automatic transmission, a remote starting function, XM satellite radio, On-Star with turn by turn navigation, automatic climate control and a surprisingly powerful and clear 6-speaker AM/FM/CD audio system. Essentially everything you really want and need in a new car.
Options include a power sunroof ($850), a full in-dash navigation system ($1,995) which is a bit pointless considering On-Star already gives you directions via a screen between the speedometer/tachometer dials and an unnecessary but temptingly priced $445 Pioneer 9-speaker Pioneer audio system with a subwoofer. But to be quite honest, never once did we wish that the Cruze we tested had any of those options and this car makes the most sense priced closer to the $20,000 mark.
Passenger space up front is plentiful and the low cowl dashboard gives the vehicle an open and airy feel. Rear seat passengers don’t have as much legroom as you would find in the back of the cavernous Jetta but four full sized adults should be able to ride comfortably with no problems. Of all the interior color options available (which include black leather and a black/red trim combo), we favor the Cocoa/Light Neutral color scheme as it contrasts a medium beige leather with a dark cocoa plastic trim contrast that we think was lifted directly from the Audi playbook.
Now, call us crazy, but we don’t think anyone ever thought about Audi when they got into a Chevy Cobalt. Truly, the interior of the Cruze deserves an award just for the mere fact that it proves how far GM has come in regards to their latest interior designs. And since you spend most of your time looking at the interior of your car, shouldn’t it be a good one?
2011 Chevrolet Cruze 2LT Review: Performance and Safety
Although it might sound like a recipe for disaster considering some lawnmower engines are bigger, the 2011 Cruze LT2’s 1.4 liter turbocharged 148 horsepower/138 lb. feet of torque 4-cylinder provides plenty of power for most any situation. Even the high pitched wail the engine emits when you really push it is pleasing to the ear and at cruising speeds it is barely audible - this review took place in Southern California where “freeway cruising speed” is at least 90 miles per hour.
Part of the credit should go to the excellent six-speed automatic which always helps keep the engine’s turbocharger on the boil but then lowers the engine speed to save gas at cruising speed. We were dubious, as well, that any 1.4-liter engine could motivate a car this size with any gusto, but trust us, it really can. In fact, that ability and its incredibly precise steering and handling saved us from having a deadly accident during our week testing the car.
One evening as were driving along the Pacific Coast Highway in Laguna Beach, a distracted Lexus suv driver on his cell phone swerved into our lane forcing us directly into the path of oncoming traffic approaching at 50 mph. Somehow, as if to defy the laws of physics, the Cruze kept going directly where we pointed it in a situation where most other cars would have spun out of control and collided with incoming traffic. That little 1.4-liter turbo also managed to speed us past the Lexus before oncoming traffic came crashing through the dashboard.
If we were to have had an accident, though, the Cruze does have a class-leading 10 airbags, On-Star emergency services automatic notification and is an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety “Top Safety Pick.” So while we might have survived the crash, we don’t think that when Chevy asked us to test their new compact car that they intended us to include a full crash test. In all seriousness, we feel the Cruze’s agility in an emergency maneuver truly saved the lives of the three humans and one canine in the car that day.
2011 Chevrolet Cruze 2LT Review: Final Thoughts
Although the Cruze ECO gets a lot of press for getting better fuel economy figures than the 2LT, that model is only available with a six-speed manual which limits its appeal. That is why a model like the mid-level 2LT that is well within reach of most new car buyers is so vital to the success of the 2011 Cruze. And we can happily report that not only is it a revelation in terms of a compact Chevrolet, it is also hugely impressive and competitive in its market segment.
In the long term, however, the Cruze’s success or failure will really rest on its reputation among owners for reliability and if Chevy gets this part of the process wrong (as Ford might with the 2012 Focus…again) then there will be no stopping the exodus of new car buyers back to the waiting arms of Honda, Hyundai and Mazda dealers. Sure, even some Toyota dealers will no doubt trick some strays into buying what we loosely define as the “totally redesigned” 2011 Corolla which is apparently fooling some into thinking new tail lamp plastic qualifies as a “redesign.”
To even compare the Cruze to the soul-less and desperately style free Corolla is to besmirch all of the work Chevy clearly put into its new compact car. It is kind of like comparing Lady GaGa’s clear talent with that of the musical horror show known as Ke$ha. Seriously, is Ke$ha a real person or just a computer program? One thing we can say for certain, however, is that the Cruze’s talent is real and if it were a pop singer it would never need to resort to lip-syncing.