Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Chevrolet Cruze 2011

Fun Drive - 2011 Chevrolet Cruze

A fun to drive compact Chevy!
It was back in August 2008 when I received an invitation from GM to travel to their Lordstown, Ohio, assembly plant complex to hear a speech by GM brass and see pictures of an upcoming compact car slated to replace the Chevrolet Cobalt.
I wasn't able to attend--as it was the first day of school for my children--but I did follow the news from my North Carolina home/office. Judging by what was shared then I fully expected that GM would finally put the ghosts of so many forgettable compact car nameplates over the past 40 years to rest: Vega, Monza, Chevette, Cavalier, Cobalt and whatever GEO or Suzuki-inspired model that always seemed to fall short of the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic, the perennial segment leaders.
Prizm? That was a Toyota Corolla, the very model it seeks to beat today.
Opel Inspired
Two years ago with GM bleeding billions of dollars monthly, I figured it was still possible for GM to get it right especially as the company went to great lengths to assure everyone that they would lean heavily on its Opel brand to build what is now known as the Chevrolet Cruze, a five-passenger C-segment sedan.
Bankruptcy, restructuring and four fewer brands later Chevrolet remains the cream of the GM crop, a brand now known in more than 130 markets. Indeed, 60 percent of all Chevrolets are now sold beyond the US and Canada underscoring the importance of the bow-tied moniker to the General globally.
Soon Debut
With the Cruze expected to show up in Chevrolet showrooms before the end of the third quarter, I was part of a group of journalists who were invited to Washington, D.C. to take part in their national roll out by driving the Cruze and its top competing models, the Civic and Corolla.
As a result of those drives, I had planned to give you a full review of the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze, but I realized that the car I drove was a "pre-production" model. The Lordstown assembly line was still weeks away from producing the cars customers will buy. Still, the cars I got a hold of confirmed what I expected: the Chevrolet Cruze is a game changer, not just for Chevrolet and General Motors, but for the compact car segment.
Yeah, now Toyota and Honda have a car they need to chase, as a new line has been drawn in the sand by GM. Yeppers, GM. Who knew?!
First Drive
My first chance to drive the Chevy Cruze came this past Monday morning when a cherry red sedan pulled up in front of The Dupont Hotel where we had stayed the night before. I got behind the wheel and Chuck Russell, compact car specialist for GM, rode in the front passenger seat. We slowly crept our way out of the city and picked up I-66 and headed west to our first destination.
Immediately, I sensed something very different about the Cruze. It is quiet, roomy, the seats are very comfortable and the car is packed with such niceties as nine-speaker Pioneer sound system, OnStar with turn-by-turn navigation, power windows and locks, six-speed automatic transmission and, in the case of this car, a 1.4-liter turbocharged Ecotec four cylinder engine.
That engine gives out plenty of pep despite its tiny size. When power was needed it was abundantly provided and, mercifully, the engine didn't scream when I stepped on the accelerator. One of the few things that does need adjustment before the assembly line is cranked up (and Russell promised would be adjusted) is that there is a bit of battle being waged between the turbocharger and the six-speed transmission. At times, the engine would hesitate ever so slightly as the transmission shifted in response, something that a bit of software tweaking should resolve.
Minor Tweaks
Two other complaints I had involved the air-conditioning unit which, when put on full blast was annoyingly loud, giving out a crackling noise instead of the normal whoosh. The steering column didn't engage immediately when I shifted it, needing an extra adjustment to get it right. Russell assured us that these problems would be corrected before the assembly line got moving. For those reasons alone I'll provide a follow up review within the next few months.
Back to the drive: the cabin is large and offered plenty of legroom for my six-foot frame and room to spare for rear passengers. GM says that the Cruze is considered a midsize by the EPA due to its interior room, but it is a compact. I had to remind myself that I was driving the Cruze--not the midsize Malibu--as the room and ride are not far off that range.
Cruze electric steering is responsive as the sedan handled sharp turns with little effort. The rear end stayed on track at all times including when taking a second drive around the scenic Virginia horse country another journalist and I decided to test the brakes. At a speed well above 50 mph my fellow driver slammed on the brakes which quickly brought the Cruze to a safe, straight stop. The attendant clunking noise as the Cruze came to a stop assured us that the ABS system had kicked in with Stabilitrak doing its job too.
Compact Loving
So there must be something I didn't like about the Cruze, right? Well, no. I realize some people will NEVER consider a compact car, but there are a lot of people who will. With 15 cubic feet trunk capacity, top of the segment fuel economy, a stylish exterior and comfortable interior, the Chevrolet Cruze hits the mark in all categories.
It has taken GM four decades to get it right and this time a compact Chevy works like a charm.
Matthew C. Keegan is a freelance writer who resides in North Carolina. Matt is a contributing writer for Andy's Auto Sport an aftermarket supplier of quality parts including body kits and fenders.


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