Chevy Cruze: A compact with value
Published: Friday, January 14, 2011 at 6:59 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 14, 2011 at 6:59 p.m.
The 2011 Chevy Cruze is a lot more car for the money than the model it replaces, the Cobalt sedan.
While aimed at compact competition such as the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla and Nissan Sentra, the Cruze compares favorably with higher-ups such as the Nissan Altima and surpasses the Volkswagen Jetta in the lower trim levels.
Even with the lowest LS level trim, Cruze comes well stocked with standard equipment and a cunning design at $16,995. The front-drive sedan's appeal extends into the mid-size market with five trim levels that reach as high as $22,695 for the LTZ.
"Cruze delivers the amenities, quietness and roominess you expect in larger, more upscale vehicles with the fuel economy of a compact," said Margaret Brooks, Chevrolet marketing director for small cars. "At a very competitive price, you'll be able to get a Cruze with leather and heated front seats, 16-inch aluminum wheels, XM Satellite Radio, OnStar, Bluetooth, a USB port for your iPod, cruise control, power locks and power outside mirrors."
Although Cruze bears the same name as a crossover import introduced in 2001, the new model is built on a completely different J300 platform marketed globally under various names.
The new Cruze, introduced as a 2011 model, is built at General Motors' Lordstown, Ohio, plant, which was refurbished at a cost of more than $350 million.
While the Chevy Volt is getting most of the buzz, Cruze is the news when it comes to GM's recovery. This car had to be a hit to bring back market share. Cruze is a key factor in Chevrolet's 18 percent increase in sales through November.
Cruze also has notched top five-star safety ratings in every market where it is being sold.
The review car — a 2LT with leather upholstery, heated seats, power accessories, automatic climate control, remote start and an array of other features — carried a price tag of $20,675. Standard safety equipment included air bags for the front, sides, heads and knees of the front passengers and head protection for those in the back seats.
Cars in the Cruze class generally have competent 4-cylinder engines that deliver enough power to keep pace with traffic but not out front. GM's 1.4-liter, 138-horsepower, double overhead cam, Ecotec 4-cylinder engine is good for 138 horsepower, which is quite adequate for a 3,200 pound car.
The base LS trim comes with a five-speed manual transmission, which might be preferable to some drivers versus the six-speed automatic that represents another in a series of high-value features. With the six-speed automatic, fuel economy is an admirable 24 city and 36 highway miles per gallon.
The six-speed automatic is not as smooth as the continuously variable transmissions that Nissan uses, but it was once considered a feature only found on more luxurious models. From a dead stop, there is hesitation in the accelerator response, and the engine revs noisily under hard acceleration.
But in terms of comfort, safety, styling and standard features, no car in this class delivers more for the money except the Hyundai Elantra. Elantra surpasses all the others with a base sticker price of $15,550 and a 1.8-liter, 140 horsepower engine that rates a class-leading 29 city and 40 highway mpg with a five-speed stick.
At the lowest trim, Elantra exceeds Cruze with disc brakes as standard equipment but falls short with no standard air conditioner and the lack of remote keyless entry.
Elantra also offers a power-train warranty of 100,000 miles or 10 years, which is equal in miles but twice as long as GM's five-year protection.
At the upper trim level, Elantra matches Cruze in standard equipment with a price of $20,700 that includes leather upholstery and all the other amenities available on the 2LT.
If the Cruze has a trump card against Elantra, it's the OnStar protection system, which includes directions and emergency assistance around the clock. GM has aptly made this an attractive sales feature for most models.
Cruze tops other competitors, even without OnStar. Similarly priced Civics and Corollas cannot compare in standard equipment, though Corolla comes closer. At $16,224, the base Civic does not have air conditioning, sound system, cruise control, power windows and locks or remote keyless entry.
Cruze's 1.8-liter base engine is stronger than Jetta's 115-horsepower base 4-banger. In the upper trim, however, Jetta can speed past Cruze with its 170-horsepower 5-cylinder engine at a price of $20,065. That does not include leather upholstery or power driver's seat.
For a buyer who values fuel economy and luxury amenities over aggressive performance, Cruze deserves a place at the top of the shopping list.
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