2011 Chevrolet Cruze LT Turbo
2011 Chevrolet Cruze LT Turbo. Click image to enlarge

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General Motors Canada

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Review and photos by Greg Wilson

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2011 Chevrolet Cruze

As reported in our recent reviews of the new Chevrolet Cruze compact sedan (First Drive, Day-by-Day Review and Test Drive), when equipped with the optional 1.4-litre turbocharged engine, the new Cruze is a serious competitor in a class that has a lot of serious competitors, notably the all-new Hyundai Elantra, the brand new Ford Focus, the popular Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla and Mazda3, as well as the Nissan Sentra, Suzuki SX4, Kia Forte and Mitsubishi Lancer.

The Cruze’s strong points, in our view, are its optional turbocharged engine with its generous low-end torque (after an initial turbo lag); its quiet, comfortable ride; a well-equipped and nicely finished interior; and a bigger-than-average trunk. Low points (according to our testers) are the initial turbo lag below 1,500 r.p.m.; surging 1st to 2nd shifts when the six-speed automatic transmission is cold; spongy brake feel; only adequate rear legroom and headroom in a car that is bigger on the outside than most of its competitors; and an annoying rattle in the passenger seat of our first test vehicle.

2011 Chevrolet Cruze LT Turbo
2011 Chevrolet Cruze LT Turbo. Click image to enlarge

As mentioned, the Cruze is the only compact sedan in its class available with a turbocharged engine (the turbocharged Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart AWD and Evo models are in a different price bracket) and though relatively small at 1.4 litres (1,362 cc), the Cruze’s four-cylinder engine cranks out 138 horsepower, comparable with most of its competitors’ 1.8-litre and 2.0 litre naturally-aspirated engines, the big exception being the new Ford Focus with 160 hp. As well, the Cruze turbo’s maximum torque is reached at much lower engine speeds: 148 lb.-ft. at just 1,840 rpm compared to around 4,000 rpm in its competitor’s engines, giving the Cruze more throttle responsiveness at lower speeds.

That doesn’t make it any quicker to 100 km/h however: according to acceleration tests conducted by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC), the Cruze’s 0 to 100 km/h time of 10.4 seconds (automatic transmission) is slower than popular competitors like the Honda Civic (8.6 sec) (5 man), Mazda3 (9.9 sec) (5 auto) and Toyota Corolla (10.1 sec) (4 auto) though quicker than the new 2.0-litre VW Jetta (13.2 sec) (6 auto).

2011 Chevrolet Cruze LT Turbo
2011 Chevrolet Cruze LT Turbo. Click image to enlarge

Passing performance from 80 to 120 km/h is decent, though. The Cruze Turbo’s passing time of 7.3 seconds trumps the VW Jetta (9.7 sec) and Toyota Corolla (8.6 sec), and is comparable with the Honda Civic (7.1 sec), and Mazda3 (7.0 sec).

With a much smaller engine than its competitors, you’d expect the Cruze’s 1.4-litre turbo combined with a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic to offer best-in-class fuel economy, but it depends which Cruze model you choose, according to Energuide. The Cruze LT and LTZ Turbo with a six-speed automatic transmission have city/hwy (L/100 km) ratings of 8.5/5.5, not as good as the new Hyundai Elantra 6.9/4.9 (auto); Toyota Corolla 7.8/5.7 (auto); and Honda Civic 8.2/5.7 (auto); but better than the Mazda3 8.7/6.0 (auto) and VW Jetta 9.3/6.7 (auto).

However, the Cruze Eco model which has aerodynamic bodywork, underbody panels and a rear spoiler to reduce air resistance, low rolling resistance 17-inch tires, and a six-speed manual transmission with a tall top gear ratio that allows very low engine revs at highway speeds, is rated at just 7.2/4.6 city/hwy (7.8/5.1 with automatic transmission). That beats the new Hyundai Elantra 6.8/4.9 (man); Toyota Corolla 7.4/5.6 (man); and Honda Civic 7.4/5.4 (man); Mazda3 8.1/5.9 (man), and VW Jetta 9.1/6.0 (man).

2011 Chevrolet Cruze LT Turbo
2011 Chevrolet Cruze LT Turbo. Click image to enlarge

This Cruze Eco model however, deletes some features to save weight, including the spare tire (replaced by a can of tire sealant), cruise control, folding centre armrest, rear centre head restraint, some of the sound insulation, and part of the rear suspension. I haven’t tested this model, but I would guess that its higher gear ratios would reduce throttle responsiveness and the deleted sound insulation would result in a noisier cabin.

The other Cruze model, the LS with a standard non-turbocharged 138-hp 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine, offers city/hwy fuel economy numbers of 9.2/5.6 (auto) and 7.8/5.4 (auto), still very reasonable.

All the fuel economy figures provided by NRCan’s Energuide are painfully optimistic but as their testing procedures are consistent, they do provide a valid basis for a broad comparison of different vehicles.

Aside from its low-end grunt, what I liked about the Cruze’s small turbo engine is its quiet cruising power. I was seeing 2,400 r.p.m. at 100 km/h in top gear with minimal engine noise. Notably, there is no whine or whistle from the turbo when accelerating, a characteristic common to many turbos.

2011 Chevrolet Cruze LT Turbo
2011 Chevrolet Cruze LT Turbo. Click image to enlarge

The optional six-speed automatic transmission, likely the choice of the majority of Cruze buyers, works in mechanical harmony with the turbo engine, and I didn’t experience any rough shifts or surging. Six speeds is the new standard in automatic transmissions because it provides better performance and fuel economy. GM’s Hydra-Matic 6T40 transmission includes a manual mode gate that permits manual shifts with the shift lever when the driver wants to hold it in gear for improved performance or engine braking.

On the freeway, the Cruze feels like a bigger car than it is and the ride is quite comfortable. Handling is nimble without too much body lean however the Cruze is not as sporty as cars like the Honda Civic and Mazda3: comfort and quiet have been given a priority over handling. The electric power steering provides a nicely weighted feel in city and highway conditions, and the Cruze tracks well at high speeds. For safety in slippery conditions, electronic stability control and traction control are standard equipment.

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