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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.
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.