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2011 Chevrolet Cruze
Let's just say that Chevrolet isn't coasting
By Malcolm Gunn

2011 Chevrolet CruzeIt truly is a small world after all when General Motors' cornerstone division produces a vehicle for both European and Asian markets before firing up production on our shores. Welcome to the global edition of the Chevrolet Cruze.

Bringing the Cruze to market in this fashion is currently the Big Thing for North American automakers. Ford's upcoming Fiesta sedan and hatchback that will be assembled in Mexico and Buick's Canadian-built, Opel-based 2011 Regal four-door have already had their European launches and other models from both automakers as well as from Chrysler will likely follow similar paths.

The Cruze sedan, which arrives later this year, is intended to eventually replace the Cobalt as Chevrolet's compact conveyance. It doesn't stray too far from that model's overall dimensions, but a five-centimetre gain in wheelbase combines with a seven-centimetre increase in width for a nine-per-cent bump in passenger room (claimed to be greater than either the Honda Civic sedan or Toyota Corolla) as well as a slightly larger trunk.

Space gains aside, the Cruze's design closely emulates that of other Chevy sedans, especially the mid-size Malibu's horizontally split front grille and short rear deck. Fortunately, some extra creases along each side plus more pronounced fender flares provide a welcome dose of character that distinguishes the Cruze from the rest of the stable.

2011 Chevrolet CruzeChecking out the interior reveals a highly attractive seating area that wouldn't look out of place in a more expensive sedan. There are plastic pieces to be sure, but they're more than offset by plenty of soft-touch coverings for the wrap-around dashboard and silvery painted trim for the steering column, door-mounted speaker surrounds, steering wheel and shifter.

To quiet the Cruze, the headliner is made from a woven fabric backed by several layers of special sound-absorbing material. The doors also contain fibreglass insulation between the sheetmetal and the inside panels and recycled blue-jean fabric - we kid you not - is used to absorb sound from various rear structural components.

Given the added size and fancier seating area, it's surprising that the Cruze's standard and optional powerplants are so diminutive. The base LS is equipped with a 1.8-litre four-cylinder that produces 136 horsepower and 123 pound-feet of torque. Move up to the LT and LTZ versions and a diminutive 1.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder makes 138 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque. Both generate less output than the outgoing Cobalt's 2.2-litre four-cylinder that makes 155 horsepower and 150 pound-feet of torque.

Connected to either powerplant is a six-speed manual transmission, or optional six-speed automatic.

2011 Chevrolet CruzeThe two engines have yet to receive their official government-issued fuel-consumption numbers, but Chevrolet fully expects the turbo engine to achieve 5.8 l/100 km, or better, on the highway.

Base and optional equipment for all trim levels have yet to be announced, but, along with air conditioning and basic power-operated accessories, you can expect a class-leading total of 10 airbags, including driver and passenger-side knee airbags and rear side-impact airbags. In addition, the standard stability control, which is intended to prevent a skid or spin, also includes rollover-sensing program that will direct the airbags to deploy if the system detects that the car is about to tip over.

Notable options will include a premium Pioneer-brand sound package, Bluetooth hands-free communications, navigation system, leather-covered seats (heated in front) and 17- or 18-inch wheels (16-inchers are standard).

The Cruze represents a concerted effort by Chevrolet and parent General Motors to capitalize on the company's considerable design and technical expertise in the production of automobiles that offer North American, as well as worldwide appeal. As Chevy's volume leader, the Cruze is ahead of the curve, which is crucial as the competition gears up hot new offerings in this growing category. There's a Cruze, but there's no coasting.

What you should know: 2011 Chevrolet Cruze

Type: Four-door compact sedan
Engines (hp): 1.8-litre DOHC I4 (136); 1.4-litre DOHC I4, turbocharged (138)
Transmissions: Six-speed manual six-speed automatic (opt.)
Market position: The Cruze would seem to have plenty of ammunition to battle some very popular players in the compact-sedan league, including a big edge in safety features and a wide assortment of optional equipment.
Points: Conservative, yet attractive design; Smaller-displacement powerplants a departure from competing models; No coupe announced, but compact Orlando wagon slated for late 2010; Ten standard airbags provide a safety edge; Appears to be a far more competitive vehicle than outgoing Cobalt.
Safety: Front airbags; front knee airbags; front-/ rear side-impact airbags; side-curtain airbags; anti-lock brakes; traction control; stability control.
MPG (city/hwy): 7.5/5.8 (1.4, AT, est.)
Base price (incl. destination): $17,000 (est.)

By comparison     

Toyota Corolla
Base price: $16,800
Popular compact has a comfortable cabin and a quality reputation.

Kia Forte
Base price: $17,150
All-new coupe and sedan come with plenty of features and attractive price.

Honda Civic
Base price: $17,400
Sporty, thrifty and stylish two- and four-door models are fun to drive.

Malcolm Gunn is an automotive writer based in Moncton, NB, and a regular contributor to CarTest!

Posted March 8, 2010. © CarTest.ca TM


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