2012 Chevrolet Cruze- Is It Ready For World Domination?

Someone at Chevrolet must’ve paid close attention to the episode of  “Sesame Street” that featured the letter “C”.  Throughout the decades Chevy has always featured a compact model whose name began with that special third character of the alphabet- namely the Corvair, Chevette, Citation, Cavalier, and Cobalt. The majority of them sold well- mostly due to low pricing, an extensive dealer network, and demand from fleets. None of them were cars that you’d want to recommend to a friend while keeping a clear conscience.

Ahhh….but today we have the Cruze.  And although this new compact Chevy still continues the same compact “C” tradition- it represents something new for GM.  Unlike the others which were targeted solely for the North American market, the Cruze is a true world car. Designed in Korea, engineered in Germany, and built in eleven different car plants on three continents, it’s a car designed to appeal to everyone, no matter which country they live in.  A car that is so good that it’d be desirable to anybody, not just the folks in Iowa.  It was time to see if it could live up to the hype.

Like the outgoing Cobalt and the old Cavalier- the Cruze’s style is inoffensive.  The greenhouse is pleasing, although the rear roof pillar has an unfortunate touch of Chrysler Sebring, and there isn’t anything tacky or overwrought about the profile.  Just clean, simple lines that won’t stand out in a parking lot, but probably will age well with time.  The only overdone touch is the massive Chevy corporate grill on the front. Seperated by the split framing the bowtie badge, the top portion is non-operational and is just for looks.  The grills on the Holden and Daewoo versions of the Cruze are much better proportioned.

Step inside and that’s when the Cruze seperates itself from the predecessors.  Chevy has never been good at making decent interiors in its compact cars. The Cavalier’s was a shrine to lose-fitting, cheap plastics that were begging to be pulled from their perches.  The Cobalt was a slight improvement. The Cruze is light years ahead of both.  Everything fit tightly and there were no squeaks and rattles in the rental car.  The only lose piece I found was the silver bezel around the gauges that popped off a little too easily and refused to go back to its home on the dash.  Like the exterior, the interior was stylish without being gimmicky.

Ergonomics are very good and the blue gauges were clear, easy-to-read, and had a bit of a funky 80’s font to them.  Ventilation controls were easy to use with two knobs controlling fan speed and temperature as well as buttons directing the flow of air.  The radio was intuitive although going through the audio control menu was slightly confusing.  Above both the radio and HVAC was an information display showing radio stations, temperature settings, date, time, and outside temp all in the same ice-blue color as the gauges. Nice touch Chevy!  The only other issue with the controls was with the rear child locks.  One of my back seat passengers ended up being caged in and there were no switches on the inside rear doors to disable the locks.  A quick check of the easy-to-read owner’s manual revealed there’s a button that controls all of the child locks on the driver door.  Once again, a nice, if not slightly cheeky, touch and one that could spur some amusing pranks.  The car I rented was the basic LS model and GM’s selection of standard features was perplexing.  Although it had upscale features such as power windows, door locks, MP3 player, and automatic headlights, there were no power mirrors or cruise on my Cruze, excuse the pun. Visibility was good in all directions even though the side mirrors were oddly shaped and didn’t offer much of a view.

The front seats had good bolstering and support and there was plenty of leg/headroom upfront.  The seats were very comfortable for the five hour drive I took in them.  The steering wheel tilts and telescopes and the front seats have adjustments for height and lumbar so that finding the perfect driving position was easy.  The rear was a different story.  Leg room was scarce and the sloping roof imposed on headroom.  Dimensionally, the Cruze is not as compact as one may think- at 181.0 inches it’s actually longer in length than a 1991 Toyota Camry.  For a compact that is almost crossing the line into midsize car territory rear space was a let-down.

Driving the Cruze, like everything else, was yet again inoffensive. Power from the 1.8 liter DOHC four-cylinder engine that develops 138hp was sufficient for accelerating and going over mountain passes.  It won’t win any drag races, but it won’t leave you begging for more power.  The six-speed automatic was the weakest link of the powertrain.  Sometimes it seemed confused; shifting when it wasn’t necessary, and refusing to downshift when climbing grades or passing.  Thankfully there is a manumatic mode that works well if the transmission’s stubborness becomes overbearing. Handling is safe and secure on the twisties.  Feedback through the well proportioned three-spoke steering wheel is light and there’s little communication to the driver, however the car feels very well planted to the road.  Ride quality is very good- firm without being harsh.

Fuel economy was this car’s biggest disappointment.  Chevy boasts that the Cruze is capable of achieving over 40mpg on the highway.  However, that is only obtainable in the higher-end turbo model.  The naturally aspirated four-cylinder, such as mine, is rated at 35mpg.  With my conservative highway driving, the highest I managed to reach was 31mpg.  Not bad, but it pales in comparision to competitors from Ford and Hyundai.

Otherwise, the Cruze is a likable car and reflects the seriousness that GM now has towards its North American compact offerings.  It’s not the greatest small car on the market, but it’s certainly not the worst.  It would be a car that’s easy to live with as well to recommend to the undemanding commuter.  Compared to its predecessors, that’s a huge step in the right direction. Overall, it gets 4.0/5.0 boomerangs.


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