Test Drive – 2011 Chevy Cruze LT

Test Drive - 2011 Chevy Cruze LT

Test Drive - 2011 Chevy Cruze LT

Base Price: $20,675

Price As Tested: $21.890

This week, we’re driving the all-new 2011 Chevy Cruze, which replaces the Cobalt in the Chevy lineup. Cruze is a 4-door, 5-passenger compact sedan that comes in LS, LT, Eco and LTZ dress. The entry level LS, with an injected 136 horse 1.8-liter 4-cylinder, starts at just $16,995 with a 6-speed manual, and comes very well equipped.

The LT model is classified in two nomenclatures, namely 1LT and 2LT. Unlike LS, the LT’s, Eco and LTZ come standard with a turbocharged 138-horsepower Ecotec 1.4-liter 4-cylinder engine mated to a standard 6-speed automatic.

When comparing Cruze to the competition, Chevy’s new entry stacks up well against Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla and Ford Focus… which it must do to stay competitive. As for the Cobalt it replaces, gone are the outdated “Chevy Cavalier” genes that still found a home in the Cobalt line, sans perhaps the SS Supercharged Cobalt.

Cruze is built on Chevy’s new European-bred Delta II Platform in Lordstown, Ohio. It replaces Cobalt’s older Delta Platform, which also tooled for Cavalier, HHR and several Saturn models. Cruze’s wheelbase is much longer than Cobalt’s, 105.7 to 103.3, resulting in both a more comfortable ride and more interior and cargo room. Cruze is also heavier than Cobalt by nearly 400 pounds, which plays a role in safety and that “secure feeling.”

Thanks to Chevy’s dedication to the Ecotec 4-cylinder engine and utilization of an automatic transmission with 6-forward gears, the end result is a larger compact that delivers a very impressive 24 city and 36 highway EPA numbers. Furthermore, Chevy delivers these MPG numbers without sacrificing anything in the power category thanks to the turbocharger. For those who want more MPG, order the Cruze Eco model, which bases for $18,175 and delivers 42 MPG highway thanks to aerodynamic tweaks, lower ride height and aluminum lightweight wheels. (This model is highly recommended).

The standard equipment list on all Cruze models is impressive and features keyless entry, Stabilitrak, traction control, 4-wheel anti-lock brakes, all the powers, CD MP3 Stereo with 6-speakers, air conditioning, OnStar with free six months, XM Satellite, rear seat armrest with cupholders and 16-inch tires and wheels. Also, expect 5-Star safety ratings in the U.S. as Cruze earned top grades in non-U.S. market tests. Notable is all Cruze models come with 10 standard airbags versus six for the competitors.

In addition to the LS base trim, 1LT adds a cargo cover compartment, floor mats, automatic transmission and power body color mirrors. 2LT adds cruise, leather steering wheel, USB port, steering wheel audio controls, Bluetooth, remote start, Meridian Leather heated front seats with a 6-way power driver seat and 5-spoke alloy wheels.

Perhaps the biggest upgrade when comparing Cobalt to Cruze is Cruze’s impressive and roomy interior. You’ll feel more “Malibu or Impala” inside than Cobalt, much to our liking. These mid-size dimensions make everything easier, from seating passengers to carrying cargo. Granted, you might find a little more plastic utilized on LS and LT than higher priced LTZ, but the fit and finish is most noteworthy. Although rear legroom may be a bit tight for very tall adults, Cruze receives high grades on this well conceived interior.

On the highway, the Ecotec engine is a winner. Not only did we generate great fuel mileage, when you mat the throttle in a passing situation, the Cruze responds in a very peppy manner thanks to the turbo. Handling is precise and the “feel” in the steering wheel is good thanks to Cruze’s strut front and Z-link rear suspension.

Only two options were listed on the window sticker of our tester, a 17-inch alloy wheel and tire package for $395 (recommended) and a compact spare tire that replaces a tire sealer and inflator kit for $100 (also recommended). With options and a destination charge of $720, the final retail came in at $21,890, although I’m sure Chevy dealers everywhere are ready to explain GM incentives and discounts currently available.

Important numbers include a curb weight of 3,102 lbs., 15.4 cu. ft. of cargo space, 15.6 gallon fuel tank and 35.7 ft. turning circle.

In summary, the all new Chevy Cruze’s receives a “Best Buy” tag from this writer, as it delivers in all areas at an affordable price.

Likes: Exterior design, roomy, power, fuel economy, interior, 100,000 mile warranty.

Dislikes: Rear drum brakes, not much else.

(Greg Zyla is a syndicated auto columnist).