North American automakers have never made a world class small economy car that could compete along the lines of the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla or VW Golf. These models have each sold in the tens of millions around the globe so it makes you wonder how Chevrolet got by all of these years with also-rans like the Cavalier and Cobalt—especially when you consider how long both of those vehicles remained in production.
Yes, it appeared as though imported small cars were going to ensure that this particular sector of the new car market remained cursed for Chevy. But then, just as the company rose from the ashes of a debilitating bankruptcy, they give us nothing short of a miraculous Hail Mary Pass to the end zone for a touchdown. While the Volt steals all of the headlines, the 2011 Chevy Cruze is the real story because it is the first car that many import loyalists might actually consider buying.
Not only is the 2011 Chevy Cruze stylish, well built, smartly priced and roomy but it also has a suspension and steering system that offer up quicker reflexes than any system in any GM car that has come before it. The interior build quality and the feel of the optional leather tops everything in its class (including VW) and the surprisingly peppy 1.4 liter turbocharged 138 horsepower/148 lb. feet of torque 4-cylinder returned a truly above average 32.4 miles per gallon over a one week period.
The 2011 Chevy Cruze starts at around $16,000 but my nicely loaded 2LT test model stickered at a still reasonable $20,675 and came with climate control, leather seats, a six-speed automatic, Bluetooth, USB/iPod integration, OnStar with turn by turn navigation, steering wheel mounted audio/cruise/phone controls, cruises control, 17-inch alloy wheels, a 6-speaker AM/FM/CD stereo and GM’s latest 5 year/100,000 mile powertrain warranty.
There is an even more lavishly equipped top of the line LTZ model that can easily top the $27,000 mark and even the 2LT is offered with upscale options like a power moonroof, upgraded premium Pioneer audio and an in-dash large screen navigation unit. Whether or not those three items sound like “must haves” is a decision only you are your wallet can make.
The Cruze is a very well packaged car what with its huge 15.4 cubic foot trunk and plenty of interior room for four, even if rear legroom is a bit lacking when compared to the epic amounts of space for back seat passengers in the 2011 VW Jetta. Chevy has even come so far with their leather/plastics/chrome quality that the tan/brown leather and trim contrast seemed like it could have been ripped from the Audi playbook.
Now, in case you haven’t noticed these are all pretty epic improvements granted to the 2011 Chevy Cruze by GM. But how will it fare against renewed and nasty competition from the 2012 Honda Civic, 2011 VW Jetta, 2011 Hyundai Elantra and 2012 Ford Focus? Will it keep “cruising” in the right sales direction or suffer the same fate in history as something like the 1984 Chevy Citation?
That’s doubtful because Chevy has already announced that it will be introducing a 2.0 liter clean diesel engine option to go after the VW Jetta and the success it has had with its TDI motors. This plan should expand the appeal of the Cruze even to doubters who ordinarily would have bought the far less well built and much less fun to drive VW.