2011 Chevrolet Cruze LTZ
2011 Chevrolet Cruze LTZ. Click image to enlarge

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Review and photos by Grant Yoxon

Photo Gallery:
2011 Chevrolet Cruze

Toronto, Ontario – I have to admit I approached the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze with a great deal of skepticism. How many people have I spoken to over the 15 years or so that I’ve been testing cars that have less than fond memories of the Cavalier and its replacement the Cobalt. While there were many who loved their Cobalt or Cavalier (or its Pontiac variants), there were many more who would just rather forget they ever owned one.

But GM is a changed company. Pushed to the brink of extinction, it has fought back (albeit with a fair chunk of public change). It is much leaner, more focused, and as GM Canada President Kevin Williams told auto writers on the eve of our test drive, General Motors is committed to “designing, building and selling the world’s best vehicles.”

While I mulled that over, I could think of a few new vehicles in the past couple of years that I wouldn’t describe as world bests. But in Fairness, GM has also had a few winners, such as the current generation Equinox and the new GMC Terrain (both built in Canada in Ingersol, Ontario). The Equinox was one of Autos’s Top Picks for 2010.

But still I had those lingering Cavalier doubts that GM could ever build a compact car that could compete with the leaders in this segment – the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla and Mazda3 – let alone beat them.

2011 Chevrolet Cruze LTZ
2011 Chevrolet Cruze LTZ. Click image to enlarge

Yet, after the better part of a day and a half behind the wheel of the new Cruze, I came away convinced that this new compact is not just competitive, but quite capable of beating the competition if GM can get customers to forget their past experiences and give one a try.

My comments about the Cruze are necessarily confined to the LT model, powered by a 1.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine with a 6-speed automatic transmission. The base engine in the Cruze LS is a 1.8-litre naturally aspirated engine, but this particular model wasn’t available for testing. In addition, GM had only one top-of-the-line LTZ model available, but other than more luxurious appointments, it is basically the same as the LT models. As well, a gas-sipper Eco version, powered by the 1.4-litre Turbo, won’t be available until later in the year.

2011 Chevrolet Cruze LTZ
2011 Chevrolet Cruze LTZ
2011 Chevrolet Cruze LT
2011 Chevrolet Cruze LT
2011 Chevrolet Cruze LTZ (top two photos) and 2011 Chevrolet Cruze LT. Click image to enlarge

Both the 1.8-litre engine and the 1.4-litre turbocharged engine deliver 138 hp but the 1.4 reaches peak horsepower at 4,900 rpm, a more reasonable spot than the 1.8-litre’s 6,300 rpm, just 200 rpm short of that engine’s maximum of 6,500. As well, the 1.4-litre has more torque at a lower rpm (148 lb.-ft. at 1,850 rpm) than the 1.8-litre (125 lb.-ft. at 3,800 rpm). As a result, the 1.4-litre engine has remarkable power at relatively low engine revs. While we didn’t have any hard data – we’ll see that when the car is tested by Canadian journalists at this year’s Car of the Year competition later in October – the Cruze feels very quick in off-line starts and 80 to 120 kilometre acceleration is also rapid thanks to a six-speed transmission that downshifts quickly and a turbocharger that showed little if any lag. One would guess that the 1.8-litre engine will feel more sluggish.

GM expects the Eco model, which will couple the 1.4-litre turbo engine to a six-speed manual transmission with three overdrive gears, to achieve 5.0 L/100 km on the highway. The final Energuide results for the Eco are not yet available, but the 1.4-litre turbo with six-speed automatic has an Energuide rating of 5.5 L/100 km on the highway and 8.5 L/100 km in the city. The 1.8-litre naturally aspirated engine has a rating of 5.4 L/100 km highway and 7.8 L/100 km city when coupled with a six-speed manual and 5.6 L/100 km highway and 9.2 L/100 km city when mated to the six-speed auto. Both engines use regular unleaded fuel.

In highway driving – and we saw quite a bit of freeway in our drives around Toronto – the Cruze is very quiet. GM has made a serious effort to keep unwanted noise out of the cabin, from the use of hydraulic bushings and mounts to the application of sound deadening materials and effective sealing. Put your foot down and yes, you will hear the little beast beneath the hood, but it never interfered with conversation nor disturbed the pleasure of listening to a CD at a relatively quiet level.

Driving down Bathurst Street in Toronto from Eglinton to King, a street notable for its street car tracks laid in concrete, the Cruze was solid, quiet and comfortable. Like many concrete roads, the middle section of Bathurst is marked with ridges every few feet, but in the Cruze the bumps were barely noticeable. I’ve often found that cars get skittish when travelling directly on the tracks, wobbling from side to side. But the Cruze was perfectly stable as if the tracks did not exist.

I was surprised at how well the Cruze handled this type of road. It moved along the bumpy street without any objectionable behaviour. In fact it was very solid, very composed and felt like a much bigger (and more expensive) car.

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