Forget everything you think you know about any Chevrolet compact car. For generations, Chevrolet's small cars have been disappointing to own, drive, or even just look at.
With the all new Chevy Cruze however, things are about to change.
On the outside, it's simply striking. There's greatness in the way the bodywork and its details were conceived, from the trademark Chevy grille and bowtie logo, the raked headlamps, the feature lines and the side profile. Everything comes together nicely to produce a car with a great deal of visual character.
The new Cruze is also now the longest in its class, measuring in at 4597mm long. Width and height are also at the high end of the class at 1788mm and 1477mm, respectively. Rear leg and hip room is also very good, and there's quite a bit of boot space too.
If the exterior was striking, then the interior simply floored me. Past interiors of Chevy compacts really made you feel like you're getting your money's worth, which wasn't much in the case of the Optra. No more.
The Cruze's double wing dashboard is something more befitting far more expensive European brands, and I don't mean just the great texturing and graining of surfaces or the dotted silver and glossy black trim. With high build quality tolerances, Chevrolet has created an interior that evokes a feeling of class and refinement that's highly uncommon in the compact car segment.
Sitting in the driver's seat, you're greeted by a three-spoke leather-wrapped steering wheel with anatomic grips and audio controls. The seats are very well shaped and bolstered, and lined with supple gray leather. The twin-cluster gauges are intricately detailed and modern, with a large LCD in between for the fuel mileage and trip computers. The center console is simply upper class, with another large LCD which shows vehicle, audio and climate settings, controlled via the buttons below the screen.
Then there are the features. A 6-disc audio system with MP3 playback, USB connectivity and 6 speakers take care of the entertainment, while a fully automatic climate control system handles the comfort. Of course, there's the high level of safety equipment, as the Cruze has dual front and side airbags, ABS and stability control. Excellent value for something that costs just a tad over PhP 1M.
So far, so good. Now comes the nitty gritty: the engineering.
Under the hood, the engine is quite a ways from being ground breaking in terms of power and torque, but 141 metric horsepower from 1.8 liters sounds pretty decent. When it comes to power delivery, most of the power is really located on the mid to high end of the rev range, somewhere between 3500 rpm to the rev limit of 6300 rpm. Below 3500 rpm, the engine cruises quite smoothly.
With the 6-speed automatic, the sprint from 0 to 100 km/h takes 11.5 seconds as claimed by the manufacturer, and sounds pretty accurate when tested at 11.8 seconds. The transmission's gear splits are excellent, feeling like a true 6-speed instead of a 5 speed transmission with its total ratio split up to make 6 gears, if you get my drift. The advertised top speed is 190 km/h, but has a bit of a difficult time getting there, and thus, the Cruze is happier cruising along at a steady 100 km/h, which it does at an efficient 1700 rpm in 6th for 14.9 kilometers per liter of consumption. In city driving conditions, the Cruze is quite efficient too and delivers 10.3 kilometers to the liter with moderate traffic, and does it with such a great feeling of refinement.
The real surprise with this car is the way it handles. Previous Chevrolets were really the subject of endless jokes when it comes to their lack of cornering prowess on a track or on an open road. No more. The Cruze's suspension set up (MacPherson front, Watts Z-link rear) has been tuned for symmetrical handling as Chevrolet claims. Let's put it to the test.
On the twisty tarmac, high up on the Sierra Madre mountains, the Cruze comes to life. Sustaining the car in either 2nd or 3rd gear, attacking the corners is easy. Strangely easy. The Cruze has a sense of composure in the corners that would normally be associated to grand tourers, thanks in large part to the strong, stiff body structure. There is still a bit of lean, but it always feels managed and kept in check by the car's suspension, making for a fun driving experience.
The Kumho Solus tires hold up well to challenging roads, though their low profile nature for the 17 inch wheels do tend to soak up more of tarmac's imperfections at low speeds. The Cruze also has a pretty good set of brakes at all four wheels when you stomp at the anchor, and having ABS, EBD and stability control provide an even larger safety net.
Rarely has a car manufacturer had so much riding on one car model, especially after Chevrolet's parent company GM, languished in the wake up call known as Chapter 11, Chevrolet has put everything they've got into this one. And it shows.
With the new Cruze, Chevrolet now offers great looks, decent economy, a multitude of features, high standards of refinement, an engaging drive and a feeling of overall quality that's very rare for its price range, and will undoubtedly shake up the established order in the compact car class.
The Chevrolet Cruze impresses.
It's about time.