The 2011 Chevrolet Cruze sedan is an all-new model that replaces the rather unloved and poorly rated compact Chevrolet Cobalt. The Cruze positions itself as a competitor to the well-respected 2011 Honda Civic (Base MSRP: $15,605 to $25,490) and 2011 Toyota Corolla (Base MSRP: $15,600 to $17,470). In general, most critics say the Cruze is indeed a better car -- for now. Many are also quick to point out that the compact-car market changes quickly, and improved competitors pop up every year. A new Honda Civic is due in 2011 as a 2012 model, and the aging Toyota Corolla is also overdue for a redesign, critics say. As a result, The Wall Street Journal's Dan Neil calls the Chevy Cruze "a car of quickly expiring market advantages."
Exterior styling gets more of a mixed response from critics. Some like the substantial, solid look, saying the Chevrolet Cruze maintains a clean, handsome silhouette without being trendy. Other say it's simply too conservative and bland. Car and Driver feels that the styling communicates, "I'm some sort of intermediate sedan, no need to ask."
While the front-wheel-drive Chevrolet Cruze sedan utilizes a relatively simple beam-type rear axle instead of a more expensive independent rear suspension, handling doesn't suffer at all, reviewers emphasize. James Healey at USA Today says, "Cruze liked spirited cornering. Not a sports machine, but close enough to deliver great fun and satisfaction on twisting roads." He adds that the competent handling doesn't come at the expense of a harsh ride, although he says the suspension "thunk-clunked over patched and broken pavement."
Neil goes on to say that while the Cruze offers more than the current Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla, there are other cars that may be superior. For example, the recently redesigned midsize 2011 Hyundai Sonata sedan (Base MSRP: $19,195 to $27,045) is a larger car with plenty of features, but with a similar base price as a midlevel Chevrolet Cruze. Neil asks, "If you've got $20,000 to spend on a four-door family car, would you rather have the audaciously ordinary-looking Cruze or the bigger, quicker, more powerful and more generously equipped Sonata?"
Another potentially strong competitor mentioned in various Chevrolet Cruze reviews is the redesigned and all-new 2012 Ford Focus (Base MSRP: $16,270 to $22,765). But compared to the current 2011 Ford Focus (Base MSRP: $16,640 to $19,670) and 2011 Dodge Caliber (Base MSRP: $16,880 to $20,085), as well as many other current compact cars, reviews say the Cruze is hard to beat.
Some of Cruze's key advantages are refinement and quietness, reviews say. ConsumerGuide.com writes, "Cruze is among the best in class for noise control." Sound-deadening materials, triple-sealed doors and an acoustically laminated windshield help reduce the in-cabin noise.
About.com's Aaron Gold notes that "refinement is the ace up the Cruze's sleeve." He adds that the Cruze offers "levels of refinement, equipment and value that easily meet or beat its Japanese and Korean rivals." Interior fit and finish gets generally high ratings from critics, with scattered quibbles about the perceived quality of some of the materials. (Note: About.com owns ConsumerSearch, but the two don't share an editorial affiliation.)
The 2011 Cruze's interior earns praise from almost all reviewers as being upscale in appearance and nicely functional. Several interior color schemes are available, with attractive two-tone designs and contemporary fabric panels depending on trim level. Gold says, "I really liked the knit-pattern fabric panels on the dash, which look nicer than the acres of plastic found on most compact cars."
Autoblog.com's Reilly Brennan provides a counterpoint, however, noting that the interior passes visual muster, but found some annoyances during his time in the car. "A week with the Cruze revealed that the average user would find some detail-level frustrations. From a usability standpoint, we were frustrated by a lock/unlock switch (it simply didn't work) and some of the placements of everyday plugs and switches." He points out, for example, that the location of the 12-volt power outlet (in the center console next to the driver) is poorly placed if you plan to use it for a dash/window-mounted accessory such as a GPS or radar detector.
The Chevrolet Cruze competes with compact cars, but the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) actually classifies it as a midsize car, thanks to its combined passenger and trunk volume. The trunk holds 15.4 cubic feet of cargo -- more than most of its competitors, such as the Honda Civic's 12 cubic feet and even the larger Honda Accord's 14.7 cubic feet.
Front seats are comfortable and roomy -- "The driver has plenty of room for his knees," says Brennan -- while the backseat is not, many reviews say. About.com's Gold calls the front seats "supportive" with "lots of stretch-out room," but the "back seat is adequate, though not particularly generous." Motor Trend's Frank Markus views the backseat more favorably, saying, "The rear seat offers ample head, leg, and foot room, provided the front-seat passenger isn't utilizing all 42.3 inches of front legroom."
MotherProof.com's Sherisse Gilbach comes up with the biggest criticism for the Cruze's rear seat, however. She simply kills the setup of the seat belt connection points, saying they are distinctly not kid-friendly: "The recessed seat belt receptors made buckling up a complete hassle. Every. Single. Time! With all the whining coming from my kids about them, I was seriously tempted to just hop back in my own car whenever a trip with the kids was in order."
Three primary trim levels are offered: LS, LT and LTZ. The base engine in the Chevy Cruze LS only is a 136-horsepower 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine, matched with a six-speed manual gearbox or optional six-speed automatic transmission. EPA estimates fuel economy with the 1.8-liter engine is 26 mpg city/36 mpg highway/30 mpg combined with the six-speed manual transmission, and 22 mpg city/35 mpg highway/27 mpg combined with the available six-speed automatic..
The Chevrolet Cruze LT and LTZ trims are powered by a turbocharged 138-horsepower 1.4-liter four-cylinder that offers a boost of 25 pound-feet of torque for a total of 148 pound-feet. The slightly more powerful turbo engine also offers better fuel efficiency: 24 mpg city/36 mpg highway/28 mpg combined with the six-speed automatic. Both engines run on regular fuel.
Both engines are competitive with other cars in the class for performance, say reviewers, but neither feels particularly strong and acceleration is leisurely. Some critics comment that the Cruze's four-cylinder engines feel and sound a bit coarse, and the available automatic transmission isn't a particularly smooth operator. USA Today's Healey explains that the six-speed automatic "usually shifted just fine, but too often it was guilty of rough gear changes and slightly balky hard-throttle downshifts."
The Chevrolet Cruze Eco, also powered by the 1.4-liter turbo, matches that engine with a standard six-speed manual transmission, efficiency-focused gearing, low-rolling-resistance tires and aerodynamic tweaks such as lowered ride height and active grille shutters. The Cruze Eco also undergoes a variety of weight-reduction measures, resulting in a curb weight that undercuts the standard LT model by around 200 pounds.
As a result, the Cruze Eco carries an EPA rating of 28 mpg city/42 mpg highway/33 mpg combined. An automatic transmission is available with the Cruze Eco, but ordering it cancels out many of the fuel economy gains achieved with the stick-shift-equipped car; it's rated 26 city/37 highway/30 combined.
Car and Driver's Steve Siler notes that the Cruze Eco's weight-loss regimen has benefits beyond its fuel-economy improvements; it also "feels nimbler and more responsive than other Cruzes."
While many economy cars start out very basic and ask the buyer to add on desirable equipment, the Cruze offers a long list of standard features. The base LS model includes air conditioning, satellite radio, the OnStar telematics system, an auxiliary input jack for MP3 players, power windows and locks with remote keyless entry, an eight-way (manual) adjustable driver seat, folding rear seat and trip computer (whose display supports OnStar's turn-by-turn directions service).
Next up is the Cruze LT, subdivided into 1LT and 2LT. The 1LT adds chrome wheel covers, one-touch driver's window, floormats and color-keyed power sideview mirrors, while the 2LT includes amenities such as alloy wheels, leather upholstery, heated front seats, a power driver's seat, cruise control, remote vehicle start and Bluetooth capability.
The range-topping Chevy Cruze LTZ adds 18-inch alloy wheels, four-wheel disc brakes, sport-tuned suspension, automatic climate control and rear park assist. Additional options such as a navigation system, sunroof and the RS appearance package (with sporty body add-ons and fog lights) are available.
Safety features are among the best in class. Standard equipment on all Cruze models includes anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control, pre-tensioning front seatbelts and 10 airbags (front airbags,full side-curtain airbags, front and rear seat-mounted side airbags and front knee airbags). The 2011 Chevrolet Cruze is named a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and earns a 5-star overall rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
There are a number of excellent road-test reviews with plenty of detail and opinion about the Cruze, including articles from The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Car and Driver, Motor Trend, About.com and others. MotherProof.com gives a shorter, less comprehensive review with extra emphasis on driving the Cruze with children. Good summary-type evaluations can be found at Edmunds.com and ConsumerGuide.com.
This extensive review by Cars.com staffer Joe Wiesenfelder gives plenty of details and driving impressions of the Chevrolet Cruze. Cars.com gives the Cruze its Best New Car for Commuters top-pick award.
Review: 2011 Chevrolet Cruze, Joe Wiesenfelder, July 30, 2010
2. The Wall Street Journal
The Wall Street Journal's Dan Neil points out that the Chevrolet Cruze beats the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla on many points, but suggests that a buyer would be better off in a similarly priced Hyundai Sonata.
Review: Brand-New and Almost Out of Date, Dan Neil, July 31, 2010
3. Car and Driver
Car and Driver writer John Phillips gives his opinion of the new Chevrolet Cruze, with plenty of details. He notes that is it much better than the outgoing Chevrolet Cobalt and offers a lot for the money, but it's still far from the perfect small car.
Review: 2011 Chevrolet Cruze LTZ -- Road Test, John Phillips, Nov. 2010
After a week in the midtrim Chevrolet Cruze 1LT, Reilly Brennan calls it "a B student that's finally moved up from a failing grade." But he emphasizes that there is room for improvement.
Review: Review: 2011 Chevrolet Cruze 1LT, Reilly Brennan, Dec. 14, 2010
About.com gives the Chevrolet Cruze a rating of 4 stars out of 5. Reviewer Aaron Gold doesn't say that the Cruze is better than its Japanese rivals, but says that the small Chevrolet is "a real treat" that offers more features and equal or better levels of refinement and value. (Note: ConsumerSearch is owned by About.com, but the two don't share an editorial affiliation.)
Review: 2011 Chevrolet Cruze Test Drive, Aaron Gold, Aug. 3, 2010
6. USA Today Magazine
In this road-test evaluation, auto writer James Healey itemizes the positive and negative aspects of the Chevrolet Cruze. He liked the "classy interior," and "crisp handling," but not the "spongy" brakes or coarse engine.
Review: Test Drive: 2011 Chevrolet Cruze Has Class, Nice Touches, James R. Healey, Nov. 5, 2010
Reprinted at Cars.com, this MotherProof.com reviewer was critical of the recessed seat belt receptors in the rear seats and the 17 mpg average she achieved. She was pleased with the styling, interior features and comfort, and size of the trunk.
Review: 2011 Chevrolet Cruze, Sherrice Gilsbach, Jan. 18, 2011
8. Motor Trend
Motor Trend's review includes some comparisons between the Chevrolet Cruze and the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla. While thorough, this "first-drive" review was based on a one-day drive of three Cruze trim levels rather than an extended test drive.
Review: First Drive: 2011 Chevrolet Cruze, Frank Markus, April 16, 2010
With a well-rounded review, Edmunds.com editors give a good summary of the Chevrolet Cruze and its strengths and weaknesses. Editors are pleased with the car's "genuinely athletic handling and comfortable, controlled ride quality."
Review: 2011 Chevrolet Cruze, Editors of Edmunds.com
This review gives unique insight and opinions on the Chevrolet Cruze. Michael Karesh is impressed with the interior, but feels the overall driving experience is dull. But, for non-enthusiast drivers, he claims, "The Cruze is a shockingly good car."
Review: Review: 2011 Chevrolet Cruze LT, Michael Karesh, Oct. 20, 2010
ConsumerGuide.com gives the Cruze a Recommended rating rather than its top Best Buy honor. In a standardized review, editors praise the car's "solid body structure," quietness, front-seat comfort and overall value. The base engine averages 29.2 mpg, while the turbocharged engine averages 25.2 mpg.
Review: 2011 Chevrolet Cruze: Road Test, Editors of ConsumerGuide.com
12. Car and Driver
Steve Siler drives the lightweight, efficiency-optimized version of the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze and says that the measures taken to lessen weight and increase the car's fuel economy have the added side benefit of making it more fun than its standard counterparts. He calls it "a rare win-win for buyers seeking some fun as well as those wanting thrift."
Review: 2011 Chevrolet Cruze Eco -- First Drive Review, Steve Siler, Feb. 2011
13. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gives the Chevrolet Cruze its Top Safety Pick honor for its scores in frontal offset and side impact crash tests.
Review: Chevrolet Cruze, Editors of Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
14. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
The 2011 Chevrolet Cruze scores a 5-star overall safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for its performance in government safety tests. The overall score breaks down to 5 stars for front and rear impacts and 4 stars for rollover protection.
Review: 2011 Chevrolet Cruze 4 DR FWD, Editors of National Highway Traffic Safety Administration