Chevrolet is finally replacing its aging Cobalt with the Cruze sedan, which has been on sale in more than 60 countries in Asia and Europe since 2009. The new Cruze is a design hybrid since its engineering was done at Opel in Germany and Daewoo in Korea. North American versions went into production at Lordstown, Ohio this summer.
What’s come out of this mélange is a $17,000 to $25,000 offering that GM hopes will take some sales back from the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic, the two class leaders. The Nissan Altima is also a perennial contender in this class. And Hyundai has just revealed a new Elantra – that is as technically competent on paper and priced thousands below these contenders. Elantra is using the same formula as the Sonata, the large family car that established Hyundai on the top ten best seller lists in the U.S. after decades of trying.
It is fortunate that for a change the Cruze actually has more transmission speeds and more standard equipment than facing Japanese competitors. The pricing – before any rebates or incentives appear – is right on top of the Japanese cars, an ambitious move – if, big if, GM can make it stick. Nonetheless the hardware is there, but there are decades of bad small cars to overcome at GM. (And I will note, briefly, that GM bankruptcy and government bailout – even with a pending stock offering that will cut majority stake of taxpayers – remain unhelpful here.)
Straddling the Mid-Size and Compact Segment
GM’s problem with this competent car will be marketing and pricing, not equipment levels or quality or ride and handing. Cruze is a very good family car, and can run with the best except maybe in the area of fuel economy.
Given GM’s current state, Cruze is therefore more likely in my opinion to cause some competition among buyers inside GM since it straddles Malibu and upcoming smaller Chevy offerings designed in Korea. The demise of Saturn Aura and Pontiac G6 provide some relief from the internal cannibalization problem, though.
The “plain vanilla in styling” Cruze will also face some tough competition from the more aggressively styled Hyundai Elantra, and new Civic and Ford Focus models when they finally arrive next year. To a lesser extent, the Dodge Caliber might play a bit part here.
Cruze, at least inside GM, was expected to deliver segment-leading 40 mpg highway fuel economy. For the moment only the new “ECO” model, equipped with a 1.4-liter, four-cylinder, “Ecotec” turbocharged engine and a six-speed automatic transmission is rated at 40 mpg. And to do that GM removed sound proofing and tweaked the engine calibration to earn the EPA rating. whether customers will see this in the real world is open to debate. The 1.4 Ecotec is tiny compared the 2.2-liter engine of the old Cobalt. Other Cruze models will have a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine.
A day of test driving meticulously prepped Cruze models at GM’s Milford Proving grounds revealed a pleasant vehicle that is more controlled in wheel and body motions than the Corolla and with equally bland styling. Cruze has better packaging (110 cubic feet interior volume) when compared to the aging Civic (103 cubic feet).
Simply put Cruze is refined and smooth in comparison to previous GM small car offerings, some of which were WCA or World Class Awful. The powertrains are finally upgraded to levels that earlier generations of GM engineers could not envision with the institutional, financial or intellectual restraints they faced.
The 2011 Chevrolet Cruze will be offered in LS, LT and LTZ trims. Ten standard air bags – the most in the segment – include frontal, head curtain side air bags, front and outboard rear-seat side-impact air bags and new knee air bags. It’s the best news yet out of a restructured GM.
The 2011 Cruze models
Cruze LS starting at $16,995:
- Standard 1.8L Ecotec engine and six-speed manual transmission
- The most standard safety features in the segment, with 10 air bags, StabiliTrak electronic stability control with rollover sensing, traction control, anti-lock brakes, collapsible pedal system, power rear-door child safety locks
- Standard OnStar, with a six-month subscription including “Turn-by-Turn” navigation
- Standard air conditioning, power windows, power door locks with remote keyless entry, driver information center, and XM Radio with three month trial subscription
Cruze LT starting at $18,895:
- Standard 1.4-liter “Ecotec” turbo and six-speed automatic transmission
- 16-inch wheels
Cruze Eco starting at $18,895:
- Standard 1.4-liter Ecotec turbo and six-speed manual transmission
- Segment-leading expected 40 miles per gallon highway
- Standard 17-inch alloy wheels with ultra low-rolling resistance tires, and enhanced aerodynamic performance package
Cruze LTZ starting at $22,695:
- Standard 1.4-liter Ecotec turbo and six-speed automatic transmission
- Standard six-way power driver seat, leather seating surfaces, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob
- Standard cruise control, Bluetooth phone connectivity, USB port with audio interface, steering-wheel mounted audio controls, and remote vehicle start
- Standard automatic climate control, auto-dimming inside rearview mirror, and ultrasonic rear-parking assist
- 18-inch alloy wheels
Cruze options include:
- In-dash navigation system with 40-gigabyte hard drive, enabling pause-and-play radio, downloading of audio CDs, or transferring MP3 files from a USB memory device
- Pioneer Audio system, with nine speakers and 250-watt amplifier
- Heated leather seats
- Ultrasonic rear park assist
- RS Appearance package, including rocker moldings, unique front and rear fascias, front fog lamps, and rear spoiler
- Bluetooth, USB connectivity and navigation system
- XM Satellite Radio and OnStar