2011 Chevrolet Cruze Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
September 7, 2010

The 2011 Chevy Cruze certainly isn't a car that will set your heart racing, but it manages to combine a refined ride quality and tactile interior with the no-nonsense, space-efficient packaging--all with good value for the money.

The 2011 Chevrolet Cruze starts a new small-car chapter for General Motors, replacing the Cobalt, which never quite earned the respect or ratings of segment leaders like the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla. However, the new Cruze is right up there with them—and arguably better in many respects.

The Ohio-built Cruze follows a global design that's been fine-tuned for the United States. While it's conservative on the outside, the interior makes a strong presentation, with rich materials and an upscale feel that's on par with recent Volkswagen products. GM has borrowed some of the design cues from its larger Malibu sedan, and the Cruze's cabin has an almost mid-size feel, with enough space for four adults (five in a pinch), plus excellent adjustability for drivers and a huge trunk.

 Powertrains are completely new; a base 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine should perform reasonably well and return good fuel economy, but the star of the lineup is a new turbocharged 1.4-liter four that not only performs slightly better but gets higher EPA fuel economy numbers—up to 40 mpg highway in a new Cruze Eco model. A manual transmission is standard, though the modern six-speed automatic that's available doesn't sap performance like small-car automatics of the past. The Cruze rides and handles like a larger car, which is to say you probably won't call it nimble or tossable, but its isolated cabin and absorbent ride will please most day-to-day users.

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Small-car shoppers are becoming a demanding lot. In addition to more space efficiency and improved comfort and refinement, they all want the latest tech-savvy features and aren't willing to skimp on the safety features. GM has recognized this with the Cruze, and Bluetooth and a USB port are offered on most models; there are a couple of navigation possibilities. GM expects top safety results as well from both U.S. testing authorities.

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2011 Chevrolet Cruze

Styling

The new 2011 Chevrolet Cruze is conservative on the outside but more than makes up for it on the inside with a contemporary, high-quality look.

While the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze is a fresh take for GM and better in many ways than its forebears, the Cobalt and Cavalier, it doesn't look particularly striking on the outside. Its exterior is a little conservative, almost homely, and looks more like a blunted Malibu (Chevrolet's mid-size sedan) than it probably should. "Traditional" is a good way to sum it up, with a clear three-box sedan layout. The arched roofline provides some contemporary pop, and GM hasn't gone overboard with the high-shouldered appearance, affording, refreshingly, a bit more greenhouse.

The interior, thankfully, bears very little semblance to that of the Cobalt; its wrap-around, multitiered instrument panel appears stylish from a distance, and Chevy has used a lot of fine detailing and carefully coordinated trims so that it looks and feels great up close, too. In the design of the center stack, you can even see a little influence from the much-acclaimed Cadillac CTS interior.

Fit and finish, at least from the pre-production, higher-trim-level cars we'd seen at the time of writing, included nice padded dash materials, as well as grippy rubber-nubbed climate control and audio knobs. The standard and optional leather upholstery (with fashionable exposed stitching) felt every bit as good as what we'd see in a more expensive mid-size car.

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2011 Chevrolet Cruze

Performance

The 2011 Chevrolet Cruze isn't especially fast or very exciting to drive, but to most people, its exceptional fuel economy and comfort should make up for it.

The Cruze offers two different engines. Entry-level Cruze LS models will come with a new 136-horsepower, 1.8-liter version of GM's well-established Ecotec family, while the rest of the lineup—including LT and LTZ trims—will come with a 1.4-liter Ecotec turbocharged four. This engine makes a modest 138 horsepower but also turns out a stout 148 pound-feet of torque at a low 1,850 RPM. Both engines can be had with a six-speed automatic or six-speed manual.

In an age where turbochargers have come to mean "high performance," this lineup requires a little psychological recalibration. While the 1.4T isn't really more powerful, and it's probably only slightly more responsive, it's considerable more fuel-efficient, taking advantage of the smaller displacement when you don't need it.

The 1.4T might be the smallest-displacement four you can recall in decades in an American-built car, but it's a flexible, docile engine that always seemed to manage to churn out more torque than we expected. Once started, it settles to a very smooth, quiet idle, and throttle response is quick. We especially appreciated the nice, linear—almost German—feel of the throttle, which was a refreshing change of pace compared to the on/off, touchy accelerators we've noticed in many small cars of late. The six-speed automatic shifts smoothly and has a very low first gear for quick takeoffs, with a wide span resulting in a very deep overdrive sixth. There aren't any paddle-shifters, but there's a manual gate.

From the 1.4T, there's lots of available torque, coming on strong beginning just above 1,500 RPM, and with the low first gear, it comes across as really quick from launch—faster than its estimated 9-second 0-60 time might suggest. Meanwhile, GM has calibrated the throttle to be very linear-feeling; it's possible to drive the Cruze 1.4 very economically, but throttle response is speedy and there's always more power on tap if you need it.

Curiously, the fastest acceleration time in the Cruze comes from the Aisin six-speed automatic. The manual-transmission model should take around 10 seconds to 60 mph, due to its taller ratios (designed to hit that EPA 40-mpg highway figure). But the six-speed auto is no punishment here for enthusiasts; it shifts quickly and has been calibrated to convey a more direct powertrain feel that resembles a dual-clutch unit at times. Slide the shift knob over to the side and there's a manumatic gate (but no paddles or buttons). Within reason, this unit will stay in whatever gear you want and won't force a downshift when you floor the gas.

The 2011 Chevrolet Cruze handles responsively in normal driving, though small-car enthusiasts probably won't find the sort of satisfaction they seek from a nimbler car. The Cruze doesn't have an independent rear suspension. Increasingly so, that's becoming the norm for small cars once more, and as GM has shown here, it doesn't sacrifice much. With the help of a Watt's linkage, which helps keep the rear tires fully in contact with the road even when the surface is choppy, the Cruze feels confident around tight bends, though with a bit of body lean that discourages much enthusiasm. The steering itself is excellent; with a rack-mounted electronic power steering system, the 2011 Cruze steering has a nice, settled feel on center and gentle load-building off-center, a little light but with a bit of feedback from the road.

To fit the varied expectations of buyers in this class, Chevy offers the Cruze with a choice of two different suspension tunes. LT models pick up the Touring chassis; 2LT and LTZ models get the Sport chassis, which has about a 15 percent increase in spring rate, retuned dampers, and a ride height that's nearly a half-inch lower. Base Cruze models come with discs in front and drums in back, while all models with the Sport chassis (except the Eco) claim four-wheel discs. If you live in a hilly region, you should probably opt for the Sport setup.

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2011 Chevrolet Cruze

Comfort & Quality

The 2011 Cruze offers just as much refinement and comfort - �and nearly as much interior space �as a mid-size sedan.

The Cruze's cabin is a very comfortable place to spend the daily commute or a long day on the interstate, and it's amazing that this small sedan can fit even the largest or lankiest occupants. The standard manual seat in the Cruze is height- and tilt-adjustable, while the power seats on the LT2 and LTZ models we drove accommodate a wide range of drivers. With regard to interior space, the Cruze clearly trumps the Civic and even beats the roomy Corolla. It will be classified by the EPA as a mid-size car, and although the cabin isn't as wide as a mid-size sedan, there's a surprising amount of fore-aft space.

And the legroom, in front, is phenomenal. GM (don't forget, current or former employer of Whiteacre, Wagoner, and Lutz, all tall) went out of its way to account for tall occupants, even adding two extra inches of front-seat travel (and the steering wheel tilts and telescopes in all trims) so that even this 6'-6" driver was challenged to push the pedals with the seat back all the way. The lower cushions provide more thigh support than those in most rival small-car models, and only the Volkswagen Jetta comes close for legroom.

The backseat is what reveals the Cruze as a compact, not mid-size, sedan. It's not nearly wide enough to fit three adults comfortably across, and two adults just barely fit, with headroom a little right for taller occupants and legroom a little harder to get into than it should be, mostly as a result of the surprisingly short back doors. With the front seats all the way back, there's not much legroom, but in a moderate position there's plenty. The trunk, however, is a huge 15.4 cubic feet, with a large underfloor compartment on most models.

Adding to the comfort, especially in back, is a relatively low beltline that affords a good view out for all—it's likely you won't need to pack as much Dramamine.

The Eco model—incorporating a number of small changes to cut weight and maximize fuel economy—is slightly noisier inside, but true eco-minded drivers are less likely to pick up on the suspension differences. The Eco gives up the Watt's linkage, and there's noticeably more body motion during hard cornering over choppy surfaces.

Overall, from the moment you set out, with all the windows rolled up, it's readily apparent that while it's no frisky Mazda3 or Mitsubishi Lancer rival, the Cruze feels more mature and like a much more expensive car. The cabin has been muted with measures like triple door seals, acoustical headliner materials, nylon baffles in the body panels, and special mounts and other measures throughout powertrain components. Altogether, it comes across as a mature, comfortable sedan with a soft, absorbent ride.

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2011 Chevrolet Cruze

Safety

With top test results in every category, verified pretty much around the world, along with some of the best safety equipment in its class, the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze is a high achiever in safety.

The Cruze, as with a few of today's safest small cars, offers a level of safety that, in many respects, puts it on par with larger cars.

This new compact sedan has a number of safety segment firsts. Its 10 airbags—including frontal, head-curtain, thorax side bags front and back, and knee bags—are the most in its segment, and the rear thorax and knee bags are standard-feature firsts for a value-priced compact car.

The 2011 Cruze also has a collapsible pedal system to help reduce the risk of leg or ankle injuries—in a frontal crash, especially. Other noteworthy standard safety features include OnStar with Automatic Crash Response, which automatically notifies OnStar and first responders, such as a 911 operator, depending on the chance of severe injury.

Crash-test results have been top-notch in every sense, including top 'good' results in every IIHS category and the IIHS Top Safety Pick designation for 2011. Also in federal NCAP testing the 2011 Cruze has earned five-star results overall and in every subcategory.

The Cruze has also aced every other major crash-test program in the world, including the Euro NCAP, KNCAP (Korea), C-NCAP (China), and ANCAP (Australia). These market-specific models of the Cruze vary slightly, but not significantly, in structure.

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2011 Chevrolet Cruze

Features

Although the top-of-the-line 2011 Chevrolet Cruze 2LT and LTZ models come with the most goodies, the entire lineup won't disappoint.

All 2011 Cruze models (at a starting price of just $16,995) include keyless entry, power accessories, air conditioning, a six-speaker sound system with auxiliary input, and a six-month subscription to OnStar's Directions and Connections services. We got a chance to use the last feature for help in finding our way back into the city after making a wrong turn, and we found the service, in which an operator answers and beams navigation directions to the car, tremendously useful. Once the directions are in, the vehicle will correct if you miss another turn.

Mid-range LT models add items like a USB port, Bluetooth, and remote start, while the LTZ, which we spent the most time with (ours stickered at less than $23,000), gets automatic climate control, heated mirrors, park assist, and a snazzier gauge cluster, as well as optional heated seats. A real screen-based nav system is also on offer.

LT models are split into 1LT and 2LT, confusingly. The 1LT adds chrome wheels and power rearview mirrors, while the 2LT brings 16-inch alloy wheels, leather seats, a power driver's seat, heated front seats, cruise control, a USB port, Bluetooth, remote start, and steering-wheel audio controls. Heated front seats will be included as part of a Touring Package that's optional on the 1LT.

The Eco model slots above the 1LT but doesn't include all the features of the 2LT. Then the top LTZ includes 18-inch flangeless alloys, four-wheel discs, automatic climate control, heated mirrors, rear park assist, and an upgraded gauge cluster and interior trims.

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2011 Chevrolet Cruze

Fuel Economy

While the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze has class-leading highway fuel economy, its city mileage isn't quite as impressive.

While official EPA fuel economy ratings, as well as federal environmental ratings, weren't yet posted at the time of this writing, General Motors has said that the Cruze will achieve EPA ratings ranging from 22 mpg city and 35 highway for the base 1.8-liter version with an automatic to 26/36 mpg for the 1.8 and a manual transmission. The 1.4T with the six-speed automatic will carry a 24/36 mpg rating, while the Eco package, with six-speed manual, will get 40 mpg highway (though a city rating still hadn't been released).

Over 35 miles of driving on congested freeways and urban streets leading into Washington, with plenty of stop-and-go and rapid takeoffs—a "hard commuting," worst-case scenario that's bound to be on the low side—we saw about 24 mpg from the trip computer in a Cruze LTZ model equipped with the six-speed automatic. Otherwise, we saw readings in the upper 20s in about 150 more miles of mixed driving.

Cruze models with the automatic transmission also get a neutral idle feature that automatically disengages the torque converter when sitting at stoplights in Drive—helping to boost mileage in stop-and-go driving.

The Cruze Eco model targets shoppers who are looking for good fuel economy and perhaps have other green motivations but don't have the budget for a hybrid. Changes include thinner steel panels, smaller welds, and reduced flanges at welded joints, altogether reducing weight by about 25 pounds. To help aerodynamics, the Eco has a lower ride height (about the same as the Sport models), a rear spoiler, a larger front air dam, and an underbody air diverter, among many features that aid aerodynamics and reduce drag. GM is anticipating a coefficient of drag of less than 0.30.

Altogether, Chevy says the Cruze Eco will deliver the highest fuel economy of any compact car sold in the United States and a cruising range of more than 500 miles.

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April 21, 2015
For 2011 Chevrolet Cruze

The car is a little mediocre at times.

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i have owned this car since march 2011 and at first it was a good dependable car then it has had 6 recalls since new and it just spent a week and a half in the shop back in November ans the first part of... + More »
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Styling 8.0
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