Tito F. Hermoso / Tito F. Hermoso | July 12, 2011 11:51
Cruise, Diesel-StyleMy journey with the Cruze began in Shanghai, back in the Spring of 2009 at the asphalt path of the Auto Museum grounds right next to Shanghai's F1 Circuit. It's a scenic park, not a test track, with trees, topiary and lakes; great for photos. Warned to drive below the 50km/h speed limit, the arched bridges were steep enough to get some undercarriage airborne shots while the security guards were looking the other way. The meandering park path presented some cornering opportunities too. Since the only traffic the path takes is the occasional gardening truck, the substrata hasn't fully settled. That and over irrigation of the surrounding park grass has caused the foundation to shift, exposing ruptures and fissures; perfect for bad pavement ride assessment. What would have been a dull stroll in the park, turned up some surprises.
Hoping with crossed fingers
At that time, we tried a lot of prototypes but it was the pep of the diesel that made a lasting impression. Unlike the Euro V asphyxiated petrol versions, we could power out the landscaped garden's curves with gusto in the diesel. At that time, exports to markets with diesel fuel not as clean as China's Euro IV standards were put on hold until GM's engineers could certify it. That meant exports to the Philippines had to wait.
Close to two years after the launch of The Covenant Car Company, coinciding with the launch of the Chevrolet Cruze, our market finally welcomed the 148 PS VCDi 2.0 liter. With a 6-speed auto, the VCDi is faster by 10 km/h over the 1.8-liter LT petrol variants, undercutting the 0-100km/h acceleration times by 1.6 seconds and achieving 19.23km/l during our highway economy test. Apart from the typical diesel low frequency thrumming at idle, its hard to distinguish refinement between this and its petrol sisters. Our test mule even had a power moonroof and cruise control. With its rapid reflexes and thrift, the VCDi doesn't suffer from blunted performance, making it genuinely desirable. Now the Focus TDCi has a genuine rival, and who would have thought ten years ago that in the compact segment, its the turbo diesels that deliver genuine high performance?
The Chevrolet Cruze, GM's entry into the Focus-i30-Altis-Civic world compact class is more than just a grown-up super-sized replacement of the Chevrolet Optra. It is better than class average interior surfaces indicates Chevrolet's showroom sales conquests will no longer be solely on price. Its dash is the equal of a concept show car Civic. It is a GM Delta II world car platform that is shared with Opel's Astra hatchback, though the Cruze's torsion beam rear axle does without Opel's Watts linkage. Typical of a 21st century Chevrolet, the Cruze comes with everything but the kitchen sink: roll-over stability control, ABS, traction control, multiple air bags, 17-inch alloy wheels (LT only), remote door locking, electric windows, climate control (LT) and rear park assist. The seats' French stitching, whether fabric (LS) or leather (LT), virtually eliminates seam stretch. The dashboard mid section has fabric trim (LS) or leather (LT) like the Opel Insignia and some mid-sixties Italian designer plushmobile. The aqua-blue lit four-dial instrument binnacle with radially arranged chronometer fonts and a trip computer, set in the Corvette's double cockpit style, is easy on the eye. The central video display screen, with its easy protocol, looks like it belongs in an upmarket Volvo.
The plethora of electronic goodies in today's compact cars also means that some parcel bins and spaces, especially in the central console, will be compromised for shape and volume. Compared to the petrol versions, the Cruze VCDi sounds more eager as the acoustic note of the gasoline engine does not motivate high rpm driving. Definitely, the petrols will hum unobtrusively and not grumble when asked to cruise with a full payload. For us, the VCDi's verve is worth having in exchange for some slight idling drumming.
There's passenger space aplenty, fore and aft, plus 450 liters of trunk capacity. The seat cushions are quite firmly padded for long stretches behind the wheel. The ride on decent roads is more refined than the class average. Random bumps are taken in stride and muffled silence while a succession of multiple holes and ridges would require slowing down. Consistent with Chevrolet honesty, the Cruze's steering behavior and cornering poise allows some roll which will feel natural to most drivers. Predictable final understeer ultimately reins in drivers in need of more cornering practice sessions.
The right stuff?
Its underpinnings hew closer to the Altis, Sentra and Elantra. We used to say that the appeal of a Cruze petrol 1.8 is like a Toyota's; no nonsense ride, high quality feel and serene ambience. It won't poke tempers or rush adrenalin. The VCDi has given the Cruze line an exciting shot in the arm. With the Cruze VCDi, the Ford Focus TDCi is no longer alone in the performance diesel compact sedan segment. And in the compact car segment, you need to get to the level of Ralliart Mitsubishi's and WRX Subaru's if you want even more performance. But it won't come with the diesel's inherent thrift.