The 2011 Chevrolet Cruze is a small, affordable car designed to replace the Cobalt. It’s a decided improvement over a model no one will miss, and works hard to bring elements of luxury to the small sizing and high fuel performance packaging that cash strapped customers are begging to see on dealer lots. Granted you have to move to the upper end of the $16,525-$22,225 MSRP range to get those bells and whistles, but in a non-hybrid that averages 26 mpg around town and 36 mpg out on the road, that’s a little easier to stomach. (Go with the Eco trim level, which has a manual transmission and an opening price of $18,500 and those numbers jump to 28/42.)
The Cruze faces stiff competition from the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla because both have a known presence in consumers’ minds. The Cruze, however, is a roomy, efficient, refined compact car that is helping to redefine the genre in buyers’ minds. There are five trim levels — LS, 1LT, 2LT, LTZ, and Eco. There are two engines, a 1.4-liter inline four at 138 hp (125 lb. ft. of torque) and a 1.8-liter turbo-charged unit at 138 hp (148 lb. ft. of torque). Arguably the Cruze is not as sporty as the Mazda3 or the Volkswagen Golf, but it offers commendable power for daily commutes and a smooth, comfortable ride.
The exterior may be a little dull, boring even, for some drivers. Chevrolet designers were going for an upscale sedan appearance. While the build may err on the side of plain, no one can argue that the quality of the construction is exceptional. The front split grille and molded hood, while restrained, do not have that “toy car” quality so common in previous compact efforts. Inside the spaciousness of the cabin feels like a parlor trick, an impossibility in such a tiny package, but Chevrolet has pulled if off with no smoke and mirrors involved.
The steering wheel and shifter are straight out of a mid-range sedan without intruding on the overall scale of the cabin. The noise control levels are best-in-class, and ten airbags allay fears about cabin safety. Soft-touch materials are standard, with an option for leather, and all the finishings are superbly well done – even the hard plastics. Tall drivers will feel at home behind the wheel, but, understandably, no one will want to ride in the back for any extended period of time. The trunk has 15.4 cubic feet of cargo space, which is huge in this genre. At the base level you get a trip computer, power outlet, AM/FM stereo with CD, and a three-month XM Radio trial. Add Bluetooth, a USB port, and audio controls on the wheel for roughly $300. Navigation is a $2,000 price bump.
The 2011 Cruze picked up a five-star overall safety rating from the federal government, with five stars individually for front and side crashes, and four for rollovers. In addition to the ten airbags, there’s electronic stability control, traction control, tire pressure monitoring and anti-lock brakes standard.
Environmental concerns, the high cost of gasoline, as well as a sense of needing to “scale back” to weather the recessions have all dramatically changed the tastes of American drivers. While SUVs and trucks have not disappeared from the scene, hybrids and compacts are making their presence felt in a big way. The 2011 Chevrolet Cruze is one of the leaders in that surge. Well-engineered, roomy, a competent performer, efficient and affordable, this model should play well with buyers. A solid choice for day-to-day, around town driving and short trips.