What is it?
This is the all-new Cruze ‘compact sedan’, which GM says is the first Chevrolet to be tested in Europe and tuned for European tastes. The car was styled inside and out at GM DAT in Korea, under a multi-national team. This new look will be rolled out as Chevrolet’s new global design language.
The Cruze is also the first GM model to be based on the all-new, global, Delta platform, which will also underpin this autumn’s new Astra. The upshot is that GM is expecting top-notch crash-test results.
The best way of putting this 4.6m-long machine in context is to think of it as a kind of replacement for the old Seat Toledo saloon or VW Bora.
In this 1.8-litre LS form, the Cruze is loaded with standard equipment, including cruise and climate control, anti-dazzle rear-view mirror, 17in alloys and an upgraded stereo system, as well as the follow-me-home headlights fitted to the lower-end models.
What’s it like?
The first impression is of the car’s good looks. The Cruze has a chiselled, sophisticated exterior that gives nothing away to more established brands. The unusual double decker front grille treatment is particularly refreshingly.
The pleasant surprises continue inside. Chevrolet has done a first-rate job. The ‘dual cockpit’ treatment is original and stylish and the quality of materials and finishes very impressive. It even gets chunks of switchear from the Insignia (steering wheel, stalks, headlamps switch) as well as its own impressive centre console design.
We drove the 138bhp 1.8-litre petrol Cruze, which gets a five-speed manual box as standard. Firstly, the driving position and seat and wheel adjustability were excellent and even the largest adults will get comfortable. The Cruze is snug, but just big enough.
Despite the advertised power, the 1.8 engine is lacklustre, with a rather droning sound track when pushed.
However, although the unit was also very tight, most of us have got used to the ready torque of turbodiesel engines and have forgotton what small-capacity naturally aspirated petrol engines are like.
It needs stoking up past 3000rpm – aided by a slick ‘box and stubby, short-throw shifter - before the car really picks up pace for overtaking. This car is crying out for a small capacity turbocharged petrol engine (which, incidentally, it will get, but only in the US).
On very poorly surfaced Spanish roads the Cruze rides very well, floating over rough surfaces, although on coarse surfaces it picks up a little road roar. The car doesn’t roll too much, either, despite the fact it has no sporting pretensions.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment is the steering, which feels detached and imprecise through long corners and with a half a turn of lock in place.
However, all that said, the Cruze is impressive in its own determinedly non-sporting way. It rolls along quietly and smoothly, and feels altogether light years away from being a budget car.
Should I buy one?
Nobody interested in the kind of sharpened responses offered by, say, a Ford Focus, would be entirely happy with the Cruze. However, the quality of the car, especially the interior, the cruising refinement, the promised safety and the extremely competitive pricing make the Cruze a highly intriguing prospect.
For a lot of less demanding drivers, this is a very, very tempting package, especially in the current economic climate.