2011 Chevy Cruze first drive

The all-new 2011 Chevy Cruze offers a quiet, smooth ride in a compact body.

The 2011 Chevrolet Cruze in the Washington, DC area on Monday, July 26, 2010. Steve Fecht

One of the biggest hurdles the folks at General Motors face in marketing the Cruze is getting consumers to set aside negative thoughts about Chevrolet and embrace a new product.

The Chevy Cruze, which replaces the "thank-goodness-it's-gone Cobalt," is a great place to start. And with an expected 40 mpg on the highway with the Cruze Eco model, consumers might quickly change their minds about Chevrolet.

The all-new 2011 Chevy Cruze pushes the limits of the compact segment. It offers a quiet, comfortable ride and a stylish and sturdy body, all at an affordable price.

The Cruze is already available across Europe and Asia, in a total of 60 countries, and will make its U.S. debut in September.

Chevy is offering five models of the Cruze to the U.S. market: Cruze LS, Cruze LT, Cruze 2LT, Eco Cruze, and Cruze LTZ. An RS package is available for the LT and LTZ models for $695 extra.

Handling

Pulling into traffic on I-66 heading east away from Dulles International Airport, the LTZ held its own against the elements and other vehicles. The ride was smooth and quiet, even in the pounding rain that had felled trees and knocked out power lines.

The LTZ's electrically assisted power steering was a plus when switching lanes quickly or hugging turns on the narrow roads of the Washington area.

Most surprising to critics is that the Cruze features a MacPherson strut suspension in the front end and the rear is a Z-link Watt's linkage, which keeps the suspension centered. The biggest difference with the Z-link, as opposed to a multi-link axle design, is that noise and vibrations are reduced.

The LTZ, starting at $22,695, is the top of the line. The instrument panel is bright and easy to read. And the car's midsize model amenities include a leather-wrapped steering wheel and gearshift knob, and leather seats. The car also has Bluetooth phone connectivity, a USB port with audio interface, heated seats, and remote vehicle start.

Additional safety features on the LTZ include a tire pressure monitoring system, daytime running lamps and automatic headlamps, four-wheel disc brakes, and rear-parking assist.

Competition

On the second drive day, I had a chance to check out the LS on the open road in rural Virginia under a clear blue sky.

The LS, starting at $16,995, comes standard with a 1.8L Ecotec engine and a six-speed manual transmission. It has a staggering 10 air bags--I counted them. StabiliTrak electronic stability control with rollover sensing, traction control, anti-lock brakes, collapsible pedal system, power rear-door child safety locks, and limited subscriptions to OnStar and XM Satellite radio round out the features.

The Cruze is in direct competition with the Corolla and Civic, but I think the Cruze wins as far as feel, features, and driver-friendliness. Simply put, the Cruze's added features, quietness, and better handling will appeal to drivers.

The two other models in the Cruze lineup include the LT and the Eco Cruze. Starting at $18,995, the LT features a standard 1.4L Ecotec turbo and six-speed automatic transmission with sporty 16-inch wheels. The LT doesn't need much peddle to glide over hills in rural Virgina.

It's not difficult to imagine the Eco Cruze being super fuel efficient; it has 17-inch alloy wheels with ultra low-rolling resistance tires, and an enhanced aerodynamic performance package.

Rounding off the Cruze family are the top-of-the-line models: Cruze 2LT, starting at $21,395, and the Cruze LTZ, starting at $22,695.

By design

With the Cruze, Chevy has come a long way in body design.

The first eye-catcher is the two-tier grille with the iconic Bowtie logo. Next is the prominent headlamps and sculpted hood. These details are complemented by an arching roofline.

The designers intentionally gave the Cruze a long wheel base to make it look bigger, and the instrument panel inside is easy to use without being distracting. The speakers of the Pioneer stereo are smartly placed and sound terrific.

Overall, I found the Cruze to be a formidable opponent in the battle of the c-segment cars.

Cruze is backed by GM's five-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty.

 

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