SOLID MILK CHOCOLATE
Published on Thu, Feb 24, 2011
By: The LACar Editorial Staff
Words by Doug Stokes “Even the electric door locks sound strong and decisive, the doors ‘clunk’ with that old school sound …” so reads the first line of my scrawled notes of a week-long discovery-drive in the new Chevy Cruze. The helpful literature pack that came with our test unit indicates that this car is aimed at the Civic, Corolla, and Focus segment, but it felt far bigger, quite ably blurring the (already muddy) line between compact and mid-size as we went along for the ride. The Cruze is one of the first true flowerings of the General Motors self-reinvention that you’ve heard so much about. Paying back the big loan from Uncle Sugar is great; but building cars that people actually will look at, compare, and then actually put their name on paper for is another thing. This one shows what even a behemoth like GM can do when it wants and needs to.
As alluded to in the first sentence above, “solid” is the real watchword here. This is a very solid car by any consideration. We only started to feel that in the first Volvos, Mercedes, and BMWs that we hung out in 30 years ago. Any appreciable chassis flex now is a dead horse folks. There are better ways of producing a good (comfortable and confident) ride and the marshmallow feel is finally banished at GM. Solid too is the styling, it’s pretty easy to tell that this is a Chevrolet even with the sort of derivative aero-style headlights. This is the kind of an automobile that won’t look terribly dated before the payment coupon book is emptied. Call it conservative contemporary, clean, looking to fit in rather than stand out like a ___ (please insert your choice of extreme look here). Far from being even a sporty car but with ‘no-surprises’ handling characteristics nonetheless, the Cruze that I drove had a (relatively small) 1.4-liter engine with variable valve timing and a (un-noted on the dash) turbocharger. The official name for this motor is “Ecotec” and the EPA numbers bear that moniker out pretty conclusively with a 24 city/36 highway rating—and that under the new, tougher, more real world EPA testing system. What really got my attention is the way that the six-speed automatic transmission kept this 3,200-pound four-door in the fat part of this engine’s torque band, ready for passing, lane changes, and/or just moving out smartly. Honestly, the power numbers feel understated, as opposed to the old, “Is that all you got?” On the contrary, this package delivers.
The interior has a nice cockpit feel, and the seats are stiff and stable. They may feel a tiny touch hard for the first minute of a drive. But, take this one any farther than for a short trip down to the neighborhood Fresh and Easy and you’ll note what those before-noted high-zoot machines have known and outfitted their cars with for years: seats the support (rather than coddle) and don’t let you get anywhere near as fatigued as the super-soft sedan seat of old. Your chiropractor will be pissed, but then, your HMO doesn’t pay for treatments anyhow. The TV term is “nicely-equipped”. Indeed. At a lower right hand corner price of $21,395.00, there’s little lacking on the 2LT model we drove that the LTZ model (the final step on the Cruze four-tier price podium at $22,595.00) adds to the occasion. This car also follows the trends set a decade or more ago by the more expensive imports: put everything on the car at the factory, and let the dealer deal with the pricing. As you may have noticed, stripper models have been out for years, and “contenting” is the watchword. In this case we enjoyed the ride and the content as well. That included a slick six-speed automatic transmission (hey … the base model at $16,995.00 has a six-speed manual for you row-it-yourselves types). The automatic transmission in this Cruze is spot-on, intuitively holding the 1.4 turbo-four in the best possible rev range for the situation. When you’re offered a an engine package that has more torque than horsepower like this one, your writer (that’s me) advises you to take it. (For the record this one is a nice 138/148 hp/torque combo, and every one of those ponies is present and accounted for when shown the whip.) Not to beat a live horse either, but mid-range response is your best friend in 90 percent of all driving situations, and the Cruze with the Ecotec engine is a pal.
Alloy wheels (hey, those are big boy-style five-bolt jobs gang), a driver-friendly, form-fitting six-way power seat (with heater!), XM, phone-ready Bluetooth, air conditioning, traction control, power windows, wonderful On-Star service for six-months (instead of one of those inane/annoying/distracting rolling TV screen maps), remote keyless locks and (Hey, Angie … lookit wot Vito’s got … a remote starter! For those moments when you’re not sure of the neighbor where you’ve parked and don’t want the evening to end with a bang.) Built (“final assembly” to be exact) in Lordstown, Ohio with an engine from Austria (there’s that Teutonic thing again), and 15 percent of its parts from Mexico, the world car deal idea has truly paid off in the Cruze. Solid, if not sensational, when solid is a very strong suit these days. Congrats, GM. Keep ‘em coming! SIDEBAR COMMENT 1 Please note that at no time whatsoever during the writing of this piece did I ever use any direct or indirect “cruise” references. I did not, for example, mention being on “cruise control” for this review, ever call the car a “cruise missile”, allude to the actor, or even go “cruisin’ for a bruisn’”. I never even mentioned that my sainted mother’s maiden name was Kruse, pronounced precisely as “Cruise” in the family, and more properly the phelghm-loosening “Clue-Sah” auf Deutch. I petition not for sainthood in showing such journalistic restraint; a warm round of eyebrow raising will do fine. – Doug Stokes SIDEBAR COMMENT 2 When Ashford and Simpson sang “Solid”, they could have been singing about the new Chevy Cruze. We’re talking old school Volvo solid here—like the 164. Eddie Griffin as Undercover Brother solid. Bob Seeger “Like A Rock” solid. If the Cruze was a chocolate Easter bunny, it would not be one of those cheap hollow varieties. Au contraire. This car is sweet and solid milk chocolate. - Roy Nakano
For more information about Chevrolet products, go to chevrolet.com SPECIFICATIONS Name of vehicle: 2011 Chevrolet Cruze 2LT Price: $16,275 (base) $20,675 (2LT) $21,890, as tested EPA fuel economy rating (miles per gallon): 24 city/36 highway Engine: 1.4-liter 4-in-line turbocharged Ecotec VVT DOHC Horsepower: 138 at 4900 rpm Torque: 148 pound-feet at 1850 rpm Transmission: Six-speed automatic Drive configuration: Front-wheel drive Steering: Power-assisted rack and pinion Suspension: Independent MacPherson strut front suspension with stabilizer bar, torsion beam rear suspension with stabilizer bar, Stabilitrack stability control system and traction control Brakes: Four-wheel antilock brakes, front disc/rear drum Wheels and tires: 17-inch alloy; all-season tires Dimensions Length: 181 inches Width: 70.7 inches Height: 58.1 inches Curb weight: 3102 pounds