First Drive: 2011 Chevrolet Cruze

I was invited down to San Antonio, Texas recently to get my first experience with this new compact vehicle from Chevrolet that is replacing the Cobalt model. The new vehicle, set to arrive in dealerships in September, is called Cruze.

One of my first questions during a marketing presentation was “What is the origin of the name Cruze?”
Seems I stumped the panel. No one could give me an answer.

Here in front of my computer I search the interwebs and discover that Cruze has been used by GM since 2001 and this “all-new” vehicle is actually the second-generation of the nameplate, originally a five-door hatchback built by Suzuki.

In 2008 the five-door models were replaced with a four-door sedan and offered globally as the new Cruze under both Chevy and Holden divisions.

The 2011 model we tested in this week are derived from the European Opel Astra architecture. You may remember that Astra was one of the last vehicles introduced in the U.S. as a Saturn shortly before that division was deep-sixed.
We tested LT and LTZ trim Cruze models, most with the new turbocharged 1.4-liter inline four banger. The other engine of choice for American Cruze is a 1.8-liter producing the same horsepower (138) and both are backed by six speed manual or automatic transmissions. Our units all had automatic gearboxes connected to front drive underpinnings and we found the turbo 1.4 quite satisfactory in rural and urban driving conditions with minimal noise, vibration or harshness transferred to the passenger compartment.

And despite being called a compact, EPA sizing standards actually put Cruze just over the line into the midsize sedan category. I even remarked to my factory-provided navigator how the Cruze cabin space reminded me more of Fusion than Focus.

The 2011 Cruze from Chevrolet is targeted at the compact segment, specifically dominators Civic and Corolla. GM provided us with a competitor vehicle from each of these other automakers and the Cruze handily stood up to the challenge. I found Cruze to be quieter and smoother with slightly better acceleration and more satisfactory steering and braking.

Cruze will initially arrive in base LS, LT and LTZ trim levels with an Eco model arriving by winter. The new Eco is slated to offer 40 mpg highway fuel economy, something that will certainly aid Chevy in its drive towards tougher CAFE standards coming from big brother.

Cruze styling, inside and out, could perhaps be best summed up with “Honey, I shrunk the Malibu.” The new Cruze shares distinct styling elements of the larger stablemate which is a good thing for the new Chevrolet.

Safety takes no backseat in the Cruze either as not only does StabiliTrak stability control, traction control and ABS braking come standard across the line, so does no less than 10, count ‘em, 10 airbags, making this one of the safest vehicles in this segment – and beyond.

Pricing for the new Cruze begins at $16,995 for a base LS with the 1.8L engine and manual gearbox. LT models with the 1.4 turbo kick off at $18,895 with the loaded LTZ starting at $22,695. An RS appearance package is also being offered at launch and since GM folks would neither confirm nor deny any SS model in the future, go ahead and expect one.

When a Cruze arrives in the test fleet in the near future we will give it a complete shakedown but after the first drive of the new little Chevy we are impressed. The car is easy and, more importantly, enjoyable to drive. It replaces a vehicle in the automaker’s lineup so sales should be brisk right from the get-go and hopefully will continue for quite some time.

But I still never got the origin of the name.

Categories: Autos, Reviews

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