Preview Drive: 2011 Chevrolet Cruze Page 3

April 18, 2010
We had a chance to drive the Cruze models versus a Toyota Corolla XLE and a Honda Civic EX—both 2009 models with automatic transmission. While we couldn’t do any instrumented testing, the Cruze 2LT—the closest match to both of those models—was noticeably faster than the Corolla while being much more isolated from road and engine noise compared to the Civic. On GM’s jarring Milford Proving Ground roads, it handled as well as the Civic, too.

The Cruze incorporates a long list of refinements that reduce interior noise—including triple door seals, acoustical materials in the headliner, nylon baffles in the body panels, and special measures to reduce vibration in the engine, transmission, and exhaust. And the Cruze has the first use (at least in its class) of air shutters that let cool air in when needed for cooling but otherwise shut to aid faster warmup.

Eco model targets the budget green crowd

As our companion site Green Car Reports has detailed, the engineering team pulled out nearly all the stops to cut weight in the Eco model, which 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. And 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 a underbody air diverter, among many features that aid aerodynamics and reduce drag. GM is anticipating a coefficient of drag of less than 0.30.

The Eco model is slightly noisier inside, but true eco-minded drivers are less likely to notice the suspension differences. The Eco gives up the Watt’s linkage, and there’s noticeably more body motion during hard cornering over choppy surfaces.

From a safety perspective, the Cruze will be a huge improvement versus the Cobalt and in terms of equipment will leapfrog nearly all the competition. Ten standard airbags will be included on all Cruze models, including rear side thorax bags plus front knee bags, which are both standard firsts in this class. Electronic stability control and anti-lock brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution are also included. So is an automatic crash notification system, along eith a break-away pedal system to help reduce foot injuries in frontal impacts. GM is anticipating top five-star results and ‘good’ ratings in all major U.S. crash tests.

More safety features, more interior space...and legroom for Lutz, Wagoner or Whiteacre

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. GM went out of its way to accommodate drivers of wide-ranging sizes, so the steering wheel tilts and telescopes to a wide range, and the seat goes farther back than any other compact car this 6’6” driver can remember. It truly is the best small car for legroom, likely topping the VW Jetta.

And it probably helped to have vice chairman Bob Lutz, former CEO Rick Wagoner, and current CEO Ed Whitacre around—they're all well over six feet tall.

The standard manual seat in the Cruze is height and tilt adjustable, with a simple racheting action that’s not unlike what VW has used for many years now, while 2LT and LTZ models come with a power driver’s seat. Backseat legroom is quite ample, but it does depend on how much legroom the front occupants need.

The trunk is a huge 15.4 cubic feet—as large as many mid-size cars, with no odd contours—and on models without the spare there’s a large underfloor storage compartment.

So to run through the possibilities, all 2011 Cruze models 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. Above the LS, 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. 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. Heated front seats will be included as part of a Touring Package that’s optional on the 1LT.

If the 2LT sounds like your pick, you’ll have no problem finding it. The 2011 Chevy Cruze 2LT altogether will make up about 70 percent of sales volume, GM says.

Production will start in August, with the first models reaching most dealerships in September. The Eco model will arrive later in the year.

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