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2011 Chevrolet Cruze Review - VIDEO ENHANCED

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2011 Chevrolet Cruze

The New GM Got It Right and a Whole Lot More!

By Marty Bernstein
Senior Editor at Large

Auto industry pundits and skeptics doubted GM’s premiere Chevrolet division would be able to muster the stuff to create a new compact sedan that could rival, much less potentially upset the dominance of small compact car brand leaders like Kia, Honda, Hyundai, Toyota, Mazda and Ford, its cross-town rival. And produce it following the government mandated bankruptcy and during the apex of the recession which had a serious impact on business.

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2011 Chevrolet Cruze

Well, the pundits skeptics were wrong. Dead wrong. Chevy has produced not just a good car, but a damn good car, one I believe can and will compete with the best of em. Here’s why I’ve come to this conclusion:

• Size does matter. While officially classified as a compact sedan, the Cruze has the exterior look of a coupe with the interior spaciousness of a midsize sedan which out classes its rivals in the important interior space size category.

• Serious fuel economy. As gas prices continue their upward creep, the Cruze depending on the model, has a city rating of 22 to 24 city and from 35 to 36 mpg highway. Combined the new car sticker, known in auto circles as the Monroney named in honor of the former Oklahoma Senator, shows an EPA rating of 28 mpg. Actual mileage depends on driving style.

• Startling selection. Four different models are offered from the not-so-Spartan LS and moving up to the better 1LT and the still better 2LT to the topped out LTZ. Trim packages and options make the primary difference.

• Sensational price and value. Starting at $16,995 for the entry level manual transmission and topping out at $22,695 for the top of the line model, Cruze is priced right for today’s buyer and the economy, but choose carefully.

• Smooth and efficient engine and transmission. Known for its big and powerful engines Chevy has been able to tame engine technology to right-sized 4-cylinder powerplants of 1.4 turbo charged or 1.8 liters. The 6-speed manual is only available in the LS entry level mode and can be had with the automatic 6-speed which is standard on all other models.

As some readers may have noticed my comments regarding the exterior design of the Cruze has been left unstated. This element of auto reviews is a matter of personal taste and usually is not an objective criticism. Judge for yourself.

Ah, but inside the Cruze is a totally different subject: it is surprisingly large and well designed in the front compartment. The coupe design of the Cruze does limit backseat headroom, but there seems to be more leg room than competitive sedans.

Chevy has done away with most of the inexpensive looking and feeling plastics from past small car models. The top of the line LTZ model I drove during the test had fabric trim on the dashboard with the look of carbon fiber which I think is a nice touch. Dashboard layout is simple and uncluttered with all controls, gauges and knobs within easy reach. Well, almost. The unlock windows buttons were not conveniently located, but the steering wheel had good audio control buttons. Seating was a good as any car I’ve driven recently and that includes much more expensive models.

Click PLAY to watch the Chevy Cruze 'interior' video

The center console was lacking in useable space, especially for cup holders and personal navigation devices. The heating and air conditioning has easy to operate controls and heats up in hurray. The audio system was acceptable, but not exceptional. I really disliked the location of the seatbelt-latch, it’s down at seat level which, when wearing a coat in winter, makes it rather difficult to use. And we all know how cold it’s been this winter. Chevy has included a lot of standard features in every Cruze including:

• Safety features -- 10 air bags, StabiliTrak electronic stability control with rollover sensing, traction control, anti-lock brakes, collapsible pedal system, power rear-door child safety locks

• Convenience features – the Cruze rivals some more expensive cars with this extensive list: air conditioning, power windows, power door locks with remote keyless entry, driver information center, an auxiliary jack for personal playback devices and XM Satellite Radio with three-month trial subscription and Standard OnStar, with a six-month subscription including Turn-by-Turn navigation

Naturally there’s a choice of trims, materials and colors and other options too extensive to list here. I’ll leave that to your Chevy dealer.

Driving the Cruze was easy and a pleasant experience. The steering is responsive and borders on the agile, but don’t expect sportscar handling, the Cruze delivers a pleasant driving and riding experience in a comfortable environment. The 4-cyclinder engine is surprising quiet and the automatic transmission is smooth and quiet without disconcerting audio changes during the shifting process. Exterior noise even on rough roads is at an acceptable level too.

GM delivered on its promise of a better small car and a whole lot more despite mitigating circumstances. Pound for pound, dollar for dollar the 2011 Chevy Cruze exceeded my expectations and will I believe, exceed yours as well.

KNOWLEDGE BASE: Chevrolet Buyers Guide