– Pleasant styling in and out
– Fair ride and handling
– Good rear legroom and boot
– Average cabin plastics
– Average rear headroom
– Average fuel economy
Not too long ago, there was a time when the Americans could not build a compact car even if their lives depended on it. So they built massive 4x4s instead and marketed them as family cars. But times change, and compacts are suddenly ‘in’ nowadays. One could argue that they still can’t build compact cars, resorting to their foreign operations for help. The Korean-built Chevrolet Cruze is a product of the General’s Daewoo outfit. And they are finally serious about it.
The Cruze is very attractive for this segment, with its available 17-inch wheels and edgy styling. The front end is dominated by a massive black-plastic grille and angry headlights. And yet, it looks inoffensive enough that regular consumers, brought up on Toyotas and Hondas, will love it.
Inside the cabin, the dashboard looks absolutely stunning for a car in this segment, with its symmetrical metal-look centre stack, chrome-ringed gauges and colour-matched soft-touch lining. However, above and below the lighter trim are the darker hard plastics. Even the front doors have some colour-matched soft lining, elbow-rest padding and a bit more hard plastics than we’d like. The rear doors don’t even get the padded armrests. Ergonomics are generally good, but the inner door handles pinched our fingers more than once.
There is good headroom up front, although we’d like a wee bit more knee room for the driver. The leather seats are manually-adjusted in our mid-range model, but we liked the tilt-and-telescoping steering-wheel adjustment. The front passenger would generally have enough legroom, but an ill-placed dealer-fitted fire-extinguisher takes up space, which seems to have become a General Motors trademark. There is very good legroom in the rear, maybe almost as much as that in the class-leading Civic, and easily more than in the Focus. But that sloping roofline cuts down headroom, and tall people will definitely have issues. There is no centre armrest in this mid-range model or even a fold-flat bench, but they are optional. Cargo boot space is otherwise excellent for a car of this size. There are also two adjustable cup-holders and cubbies up front, pockets in all doors, door bottle-holders for the rear, but no proper cup-holders in the rear.
We appreciated the cruise control, one-touch-down power windows, electric mirrors and sunroof. The automatic single-zone a/c and CD/MP3 stereo with AUX port were about average in performance. Safety features include front airbags, stability control and five-point seat-belts, but the rear centre passenger gets a lap belt. However, things like USB ports, push-button start, parking sensors and side-airbags, while not in our tester, are thankfully available as options.
The standard engine across the range is a class-competitive 1.8-litre 4-cylinder, good for 140 hp at 6300 rpm and 176 Nm of torque at a respectable 3800 rpm. Paired with a 6-speed automatic in our tester, the Cruze isn’t particularly quick, doing the 0-100 kph run in 11.7 seconds during our March excursion. The gruff-sounding motor can be played with using the manual-shift feature, which offers quick downshifts but slow upshifts, and can hold gears into redline. Our Cruze lacked a trip computer, so our crude calculations netted a relatively unremarkable fuel consumption figure of 11.0 litres per 100 km, although the 60-litre tank is sizeable.
The Cruze has a rather competent suspension setup, despite having independent MacPherson struts up front and a simple non-independent torsion beam at the rear. The handling is predictable, with only moderate body roll at its cornering limit, and no bouncy rebound once the car is straight again. The relatively wide 215/50 tyres, mounted on 17-inch alloys, offer above-average grip, so it can at least hang in the turns with the Focus and the Civic, both of which have thinner tyres. The car safely understeers at the limit, signalled by squealing front tyres, and the stability control really is just a redundant feature. The ABS-assisted disc brakes perform adequately and there is some steering feel, so the Cruze isn’t a complete write-off in terms of fun.
It also isn’t a write-off in terms of comfort, as the suspension handles bumps rather well. We suspect the ride quality will be slightly harsher for rear passengers sitting on top of the back wheels, but from the driver’s seat, the ride was comfortable enough, with no floatiness over dips and potholes. Like the ride, the steering is mildly firm, but still light enough to park. The car is quiet enough up to 100 kph, after which wind noise starts creeping in noticeably.
The Cruze is a credible effort by Chevrolet. Beyond the nice dash trim, there isn’t much else to separate it from numerous others in the compact category, and it still does not touch the class-leading Civic in refinement. However, the Cruze comes in at 25% less than the Japanese stalwart in terms of base pricing. That in itself is a massive selling point for this competent car.
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