For years, General Motors has been known for underwhelming quality in their small cars, which never realized the full support of a company buoyed by SUV and truck sales. But oh, have times changed. In the last two years, Chevrolet has been steadily building credibility by improving comfort and build quality in their new vehicles, first in the Malibu and more recently in the Traverse . Now they’re tackling the highly competitive small car segment with vigor, and the all-new 2011 Cruze has set its sights on the big players – including the long dominating Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla – by bringing comfort, a gorgeous interior and promising fuel economy to the mix. The interior may be the highlight of the Cruze, but the fact that Chevrolet has gone for the more fuel-efficient (and more fun) turbocharged four-cylinder engine as the standard for three out of four of the trims is even more a sign of the times. Exterior design and performance easily outstrip many in the field as well. So here’s the question of the day – at what point will we stop being surprised by Chevrolet’s competency and come to expect it as the norm?
What's to Like
Interior styling is some of the best in the class and downright impressive for Chevrolet. Comfortable seats and a quiet interior belie the low starting price. Chevrolet is finally downsizing, and the 1.4-liter turbo engine is competent and a smart move overall. A cushy drive and roomy interior makes the car feel like less of a small compact and more of a large sedan.
What's Not to Like
Pricing is slightly higher than others in the segment. No standard USB and auxiliary input jack on the budget trims might deter the target buyer. Reputation is against them – getting small car buyers into Chevrolet dealerships may prove an uphill battle.
DriverSide Driving Impressions
The carmaker has paid significant attention to ensuring the drive feels soild during all types of driving conditions, but specifically it’s the 1.4-liter engine that really shines. The addition of a turbocharger allows torque to peak at low rpm, giving the Cruze a broad and useable powerband for daily driving and plenty of pickup for passing. The six-speed automatic is smooth, though it sometimes lags when you really punch it. Instead of a manual mode that only hints at realistic gear changes, this one holds gears until the needle is bouncing off the redline and even denies your shift if it’s unsafe for the engine. It’s a fun option if you don’t want to swap cogs all the time with the six-speed manual. Brakes and throttle have decent feel to them, though the steering co...