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2011 Chevrolet Cruze: First Drive; Small doesn't always mean cheap and basic.

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2011 Chevrolet Cruze

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2011 Chevrolet Cruze: First Drive
Small doesn’t always mean cheap and basic.

By Larry Nutson
Senior Editor, Chicago Bureau
The Auto Channel

The Chevrolet Cruze is an important car for General Motors. More important in my opinion than the well publicized Chevrolet Volt.

The Cruze has the tasks of keeping repeat compact car buyers…especially GM owners, attracting those ready to move up in size from a subcompact, and also of meeting the needs of folks who are downsizing but not willing to give up comfort, convenience and features while at the same time reducing their fuel consumption.

Many folks are “resetting” their vehicle needs. For example, the empty-nesters who are perhaps getting out of a larger midsize sedan or a crossover vehicle or finally retiring the minivan.

Already on sale in over 60 countries across Europe and Asia, the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze is produced in Lordstown, Ohio for sale throughout the United States and Canada. Good news for the Chevrolet marketing folks this time around is that the Cruze has not been “badge-engineered” for another GM brand. GM’s restructuring has left Chevrolet alone with car models in the compact and sub-compact segments.

However, formidable offerings from competitors such as the Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic, Ford Focus, Hyundai Elantra and Nissan Sentra will certainly challenge the Cruze.

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The Cruze is designed to give customers what they want regardless of the car’s size providing the spaciousness and amenities of a midsize car and the fuel economy of a compact. The 2011 Chevrolet Cruze is a 5-passenger, 4-door sedan and will be offered in three trim levels, LS, LT and LTZ. A new family of efficient four-cylinder engines include a 138HP Ecotec 1.4L turbo and an Ecotec 1.8L also rated at 138HP. A six-speed automatic and six-speed manual transmission are available.

Fuel-saving, rack-mounted electric power steering, 16-, 17- and 18-inch wheels, StabiliTrak electronic stability control with rollover sensing, traction control and anti-lock brakes all are available.

A driving range of approximately 550 miles, with the 15.6 gallon fuel tank, should be achieved with the Ecotec 1.4L turbo which is EPA rated at 24 city mpg and 36 highway mpg and only comes with the automatic. The 1.8L is rated at 22 city and 35 highway with automatic and 26 city and 36 highway with manual. Both engines use regular unleaded---no premium required.

I drove the 1.4L with 6-speed automatic and was pleased with the acceleration, responsiveness and quiet operation of this power train.

The Cruze Eco model is the first compact to get 40mpg. This is achieved by using ultra-low rolling resistance tires, lightweight wheels and aerodynamic devices including “aero shutters” behind the grille that close above 35mph and reopen as speed falls below that point. A lower front lip spoiler and rocker trim also aid the aero improvements. With the 1.4L Turbo and manual transmission the EPA fuel economy is 28 city and 42 highway. This model is also lighter in weight achieved by using a smaller 12.6gallon fuel tank. You’ll use less fuel but have a shorter driving range.

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All models share an interior characterized by premium materials and a lengthy roster of unexpected equipment, including leading infotainment.

A stereo system that includes MP3 playback capability, six speakers and an auxiliary jack for personal playback devices is standard. The infotainment display, climate controls and radio controls are all flush-mounted in the integrated center stack that blends harmoniously with the instrument panel.

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I liked the black and red fabric interior on the Cruze 1LT I drove. The seats were supportive and comfortable and provided a good range of adjustment. The rear seat is split-fold and increases the 15 cubic foot trunk size for those occasional large loads.
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The Cruze is adequately spacious to function well for a single person, young couples, including those with a small child in a rear child seat, and for empty nesters. I don’t subscribe to the philosophy of driving a vehicle all year long such as a full size SUV because that amount of space might be needed only once or twice a year. When the time of need arises, rent.

Priced starting at $16,995 for the LS, when compared to Chevy’s previous compact entry, the Cobalt, the Cruze is $1000 lower priced when similarly equipped. The Cruze LT starts at $18,895 and the LTZ at $22,695.

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Judging from the overall design, quality of materials, equipment offered and features and benefits the Cruze appears to be “done right”. In addition, taking into consideration the success this car is already seeing in Asia and Europe, the Cruze may just cruise out of Chevrolet dealers very quickly.

For the folks that are moving down in the market and yet want all the comfort and features typical of larger cars, the 4-door Cruze certainly has plenty of room for the empty-nester couple to travel in style and have the convenience of an urban or suburban grocery hauler or to go out on the town with another couple. And, the 500 mile driving range makes it great for the road trip to visit the grandkids.

Remember: The Cruze is very city friendly; easy to maneuver and park with good gas mileage in stop and go driving.

Larry Nutson

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