MANILA, Philippines - The all-new Chevrolet Cruze has a lot resting on its shoulders. For one thing, it’s not just another new compact sedan, but one that is expected to reenergize the Chevrolet brand worldwide. It’s the product of a multinational design team that spans Korea, Germany, America and Australia.
The team created no less than a new global design language for the Bowtie brand. An arching roofline extending from the steeply raked windshield into the slim rear pillars is the defining exterior feature of the Cruze. Combined with an aggressively styled front end and a short rear deck, it brings sporty coupé-like looks to this style-conscious segment.
The car has a hunkered, low-to-the-ground stance with its wheels located at the outer edges of the taut bodywork. A distinctive and quite BMW-like concave shoulder line flows along the sides of the car into the rear deck and is set to become a new signature Chevy design feature. I like it.
The big bold – and now signature – GM grille sports Chevy’s gold bowtie with a new self-confidence – almost like the way a new Audi wears its equally huge front grille. The grille is flanked by distinctive headlamps that sweep up to the front fenders. The rear end, while still good-looking, is the least successful styling effort of the car’s sides. It’s supposed to echo the twin round taillights of the great Chevrolet Corvettes and Camaros but in this Asian car-dominated market, the only car it seems to remind people of is the current Honda Civic.
The upscale cabin sports flowing lines and plush, grained soft-touch materials you’d see and feel in most European cars. I applaud the flush fit of panels with impressively tight gap tolerances and generous leg, head, and shoulder room for the front passengers. Rear passengers enjoy decent elbow- and headroom but taller ones would wish for more legroom.
The interior was inspired by the dual-cockpit of a vintage Corvette. The center point for the dual-cockpit symmetry is a neatly integrated center stack, housing the very ergonomically laid out infotainment and air conditioning displays and controls. The analog dials (with cool italicized fonts for the speedo and tach) are beautifully backlit by white and ice blue LEDs.
Leather upholstery is standard in the P1,048,888 top-of-the-line LT test model. (The Cruze line starts at a mighty reasonable P808,000.) The range of fore/aft adjustment for the front seats boasts the longest travel in the compact segment. A particulate and odor filtration system that cleans the air entering the cabin is standard throughout the Cruze range – a boon in our heavily polluted streets. The Cruze LT’s audio system boasts an AM/FM/MP3 head unit with an in-dash, 6-CD auto-changer and a USB port in the center console. Redundant audio controls are conveniently located on the steering wheel.
The Cruze’s body structure is among the stiffest in its class, with a torsional rigidity 140% greater than that of its predecessor, the Optra. A tight, strong structure is key to suppressing noise, vibration, and harshness (NVH) as well as good crash safety performance and optimal ride and handling.
Three-point seatbelts for all five occupants, driver and passenger front airbags, front seat-mounted side airbags, and a collapsible pedal assembly are all fitted as standard for the LT. Active safety measures include ABS, traction control (TCS), electronic brakeforce distribution (EBD), and optional Electronic Stability Control (ESC).
The all-new 1.8-liter 16-valve all-aluminum gasoline engine features variable valve timing on both the intake and exhaust sides. It develops 141 hp at 6,200 rpm and peak torque of 176 Nm at 3,800 rpm, including 85% from just 2,000 rpm right up to 6,300 rpm. While the engine’s drivability is excellent, outright power and overall smoothness is just average – definitely not class-leading. As displayed on the trip computer, the car consumed an average of 6.8 kilometers per liter (kpl) in mostly heavy traffic marked with a few flat-out bursts of acceleration when the road clears up. Most drivers should be able to achieve 8 or even 9 kpl in city driving with this car, though.
The LT (and its lower-end LS sibling) has a new six-speed automatic transmission, a segment first for Chevrolet (a lot of automatic-equipped cars don’t even have five speeds yet). Six speeds won’t necessarily make any car faster, but will go a long way in improving fuel economy on long highway drives and prevent the annoying “hunting” between gears when driving in slow-moving traffic.
Compared to its predecessor, the Cruze benefits from a substantially wider track and wheelbase for greater cabin space as well as better ride and handling. Front and rear suspension are by MacPherson struts and compound crank (torsion beam), respectively. Hydraulic bushings, a feature commonly found on high-end luxury cars, are used to give a higher degree of ride isolation and a more controlled absorption of road input loads.
There may be strong patriotism among Chevy owners in North America, but as far as the rest of the world is concerned, Chevrolet’s new compact sedan is no Patriot missile; it’s an intercontinental ballistic Cruze missile designed to strike hard deep into enemy territory. Given its looks, features and price, it should do just that.
• Head-turning styling, especially from the front and sides
• Well-appointed and very upmarket-looking cabin
• Impressively high build quality
• Luxury car safety features
• Cool 6-speed automatic
• Tightish rear legroom
• Paddle shifters would have been a nice touch
• No 2.0-liter variant
• Chevy’s new-from-the-ground-up Cruze is one great contender in the take-no-prisoners compact sedan stakes.