We’ve spent a fair amount of time in the new Chevrolet Cruze since its launch in September 2009. We’ve driven both the 1.6 and 1.8 petrol engined models, as well as the 1.8 LT with its 6-speed automatic transmission, which since being launched has received a software upgrade to successfully eliminate the ‘jumpy’ auto box.
This year will see the introduction of a 2,0-litre diesel to the range, which we think may just be the pick of the bunch for effortless cruising. In the meantime though, the Cruze 1.8 LS is in the running for 2010 SA Car of The Year and we’re bringing you a test on the smaller 1.6 LS.
Refinement is the most noticeable and pleasing characteristic of the new Cruze. The interior is finished in high quality materials that look and feel good. One exception is the steering wheel on the 1.6 LS, which looks ok, but is simply refined plastic and doesn’t feel good. We think the car would feel and look better with an imitation leather covered steering wheel.
Chevrolet have gone to great lengths to achieve the levels of refinement in their Cruze. For one, the front bulkhead is sandwiched between two large sound deadening mats. On the cabin side, a 25 mm thick rubber mat is tightly fastened to the metal. On the engine compartment side, pre-formed fibreglass insulation 10 mm thick is used. All openings for wiring and cables are as small as possible and are closed off with composite grommets. Within the body, hollow sections have been sealed off using foam adhesive that expands when the body passes through the paint ovens during manufacture, Chevrolet says this results in a noise reduction of 40 decibels throughout the body structure. The efforts continue to the fibreglass lining within the doors, rubber mountings for the engine and transmission, even the wheel arches are lined with a composite material to help dampen noise when driving on wet roads or loose surfaces, such as gravel.
So it will come as no surprise to hear us say that the Cruze is a comfortable place to be. The interior offers minimal wind noise, a smooth ride, adequate sound system and a range of electronically adjustable settings for climate, windows, mirrors, radio and more. However, we have one complaint and one reservation regarding the cabin. Although backlit by attractive white and ice blue colours, the drivers instrument cluster can be difficult to read during the daytime, occasionally prompting you to remove your sunglasses and peer into the instruments – the backlighting is only adjustable with the headlights turned on. The other concern we have is that the front seats may be a bit narrow for larger South Africans and could prove uncomfortable on longer journeys, as the side bolsters will tend to push into one’s thighs instead of wrapping around them. Apart from these two points, cabin space is good and rear legroom is above average for a compact sedan.
One display that is easy to read, is that of the screen mounted atop the centre console, which provides a clock, the outside temperature, current radio station or CD track, as well as the climate control details. The 6-speaker (4-speakers for the 1.6 L), 6-disc, front loading Radio/CD/MP3-player produces good sound quality and includes a preset equaliser, as well as auxiliary input for your iPod or MP3-player.
Space is good in the Cruze. It has a large 400-litre boot, foldable rear seats in a 60/40 split configuration that include an armrest and cup holders, as well as plenty of storage compartments for personal items such as the usual cellphones, wallet, keys and sunglasses.
Safety is comprehensive across the whole range. Driver, passenger and seat side airbags are standard on the L specification, while side curtain airbags are added as standard to the LS and LT spec’d models. Active safety systems include ABS on all models with EBD on the LS models and Traction Control on the 1.8 LS and 1.8 LT models.
The Cruze is Chevrolet’s ‘world car’. Being built in many different factories for many different markets, it implies some compromise as market preferences vary, however, we feel in the styling department the Cruze has broad appeal. A bold front end, with headlights that stretch back towards the A-pillars provide an aggressive look. The strong shoulder line provides a bold profile and the rearward sloping roof and sculptured tail-lights provide a welcome contrast to a relatively chiseled shape. 16-inch alloy wheels are standard on all but the LT, which receives a set of 17-inch wheels to fill the large arches.
The design brief for the Cruze was aimed at European conditions where good handling and comfort are preferred over outright performance. In these areas the car is impressive. The directional stability in a strong cross wind is excellent. The ride is firm, the handling stable and predictable, with very little body roll in a tight corner – no tyre squeal, no drama. Change up through the gears and soon you will be moving quicker than the car at first seemed capable of.
The media have not been too impressed with the performance of the range, claiming the Cruze range to be somewhat underpowered. Well, yes, in a power happy country like SA that is understandable. Producing 80 kW at 6 000 rpm and 150 N.m of torque at 4 000 rpm, the figures show the 1,6-litre 16-valve engine to be slightly down on power compared to rivals such as the new Kia Cerato, Hyundai Elantra and Toyota Corolla. But what does this mean in real world driving? Do you have to get out to push the 1.6 against a headwind? Do you have to drop a gear on every hill? No, and no, are the short answers.
The 1.6 motor is sweet, enjoys being revved and can kick up its heels if whipped a little. No sense of power but a smooth acceleration that is not disappointing. The motor is not torquey, but it also does not complain when one might expect it to, such as holding a gear up a hill with the rev counter hovering below 2 000 rpm. Put your foot flat and there will be no response. To get a move on, you’ll need to drop two cogs on the 5-speed box and even then there’s not much to get excited about, although the car does pick up enough speed to avoid being run over by faster traffic. Our test was done at the coast, at higher altitudes one would have to work harder. Acceleration from zero to 100 km/h takes 10 seconds and top speed is a modest 175 km/h.
Accepting that performance was not a priority in the design process, we believe that General Motors has done a superb job at achieving their aims with the Chevrolet Cruze – refinement; handling; comfort; solidity and value for money. As the days went by we appreciated the car more and found it pleasant to live with. We believe that the 1.6 models in particular are worth serious consideration if you are looking to buy a car in the ‘compact sedan’ category.
What we like…
- Comfort and handling.
- Attractive body design.
- Quietness and refinement.
- Price of the 1.6 models.
What we would like…
- Synthetic leather covered steering wheel (Leather standard on 1.8 LT).
- Clear instrument reading during daylight.
- Front seats that can accommodate bigger people.
|Base Price||R186 126|
|Warranty||5 year / 120 000 km|
|Service Plan||3 year / 60 000 km|
|Engine Capacity||1 598 cm³|
|No. Of Cylinders||4-cylinders, In-line|
|Power||80 kW @ 6 000 rpm|
|Torque||150 N.m @ 4 000 rpm|
|Drive type||Front-wheel drive|
|Acceleration||0-100 km/h in 10 seconds (claimed)|
|Top Speed||175 km/h (claimed)|
|Fuel Consumption||6.7 l/100km (claimed combined)|