Preview: 2011 Chevrolet Cruze car previews chevrolet
2011 Chevrolet Cruze. Click image to enlarge
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Cruze is GM’s new global compact

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By Jil McIntosh; photos courtesy General Motors

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2011 Chevrolet Cruze

Milford, Michigan – When it was founded back in 1908, GM was initially to have been named International Motors. Although it did move into international markets shortly afterwards, it seldom acted much like a global company; instead, many regions operated autonomously, an expensive and inefficient way to produce vehicles.

It took almost a century, but the company has finally turned that around, using its designers, engineers and facilities to a single purpose. The latest result is a new “global” car, the Chevrolet Cruze, which the company gave a small number of journalists a chance to test-drive around its proving grounds in Milford, Michigan. The initial impression: this new model is going to shake up a compact segment that’s generally been the domain of the imports.

Already on sale in some markets, including Europe and China, the Cruze will eventually appear in some 60 countries, built locally for each region. It will go on sale in Canada and the U.S. in the third quarter of 2010, as a replacement for the outgoing Cobalt. Our models will be built in Lordstown, Ohio, where the Cobalt is currently produced.

Preview: 2011 Chevrolet Cruze car previews chevrolet
2011 Chevrolet Cruze. Click image to enlarge

While the Cruze will be aimed at compact car buyers, it pushes the edges of that envelope. Compared with the vehicles GM is primarily targeting, it’s 58 mm longer than the 2010 Toyota Corolla, and 94 mm longer than the Honda Civic. It’s also marginally longer than the Cobalt, and is wider and taller than any of them. Chevrolet representatives were maddeningly coy when asked exactly where the car is situated, saying that they expect the EPA to classify it as a midsize, but that they will market it as a compact “with midsize presence.” You have to love marketers.

There was no hint of pricing, which will come much closer to its on-sale date, but the Cobalt it replaces runs between $15,495 and $21,700 for non-SS models. Pricing is undoubtedly going to be quite a balancing act, given that Chevrolet’s plans also include two new vehicles below the Cruze. The Aveo will be an all-new model, with production shifting from Korea to the United States (I spotted what appeared to be a heavily-camouflaged one making a turn of the test track) and sliding under it, a new Korean-built mini-car, the Spark. These will give GM the hatchback configuration that won’t be found on the Cruze. I suppose the marketers know what they’re doing, but I hope that having pared back to the bone during its bankruptcy, GM doesn’t go back to carrying too many models – especially in the smaller sizes that Americans tend to ignore, save for the odd buying blip when fuel prices float a little too high for their liking.

Preview: 2011 Chevrolet Cruze car previews chevrolet
2011 Chevrolet Cruze. Click image to enlarge

Gas prices are top-of-mind for GM with the Cruze. Two engines are offered, and will go on sale simultaneously. The base LS uses a 1.8-litre four-cylinder, which I didn’t get to drive (the vehicles at the event were pre-production models, and the company said no LS models are available yet), with a choice of six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission. Its tentative specs are 136 horsepower and 123 lb-ft of torque.

The volume seller is expected to be a new turbocharged 1.4-litre four-cylinder, developed between Germany, Sweden and the U.S., making an estimated 138 horsepower and, most importantly, 148 lb-ft of torque at a mere 1,850 rpm. It will also be offered with a choice of six-speed stick or autobox. Both engines run on regular fuel.