What's New for 2011
The 2011 Chevrolet Cruze is an all-new small sedan that replaces the aged Cobalt.
In the small car big leagues, Chevrolet has never had a competitive player. The mediocre Cobalt (SS version excepted) and the generally terrible Cavalier that preceded it were doomed to dwell in the minors as rivals consistently outperformed them in key areas such as overall build quality and performance. But unlike those farm team disappointments, the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze is ready for the show.
Breaking with the Chevy tradition of offering a larger-than-average engine in a small car, the Cruze offers a pair of fuel-efficient yet peppy small power plants. Whether you get the 1.8-liter non-turbocharged inline-4 or the 1.4-liter turbo mill, you'll get class-competitive performance along with the promise of high fuel economy.
The Cruze's handling is also notably sharper than the Cobalt's and its interior is light-years ahead in terms of quality and styling. In terms of features, even the base Cruze LS comes pretty well equipped, with 10 airbags being one notable standard equipment highlight. The Cruze is also quite roomy (the EPA actually classifies it as a midsize car), though rear seat comfort is only so-so for taller folks.
Even so, Chevrolet has done a lot right here. When compared to this segment's traditional leaders, the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla, the Cruze is fully competitive (or even better) in terms of design and driving dynamics. Certainly, you'll still want to check out the few other big hitters in this group such as the all-new, upscale 2012 Ford Focus, the redesigned and very impressive Hyundai Elantra and the feisty Mazda 3. But the fact that we're saying "other big hitters" in reference to the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze speaks well of this competent new player.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2011 Chevrolet Cruze is a small sedan that comes in four main trim levels: LS, Eco, LT and LTZ.
The LS includes 16-inch steel wheels, OnStar, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, air-conditioning, an eight-way (manual) adjustable driver seat, a 60/40-split rear seat, a trip computer, full power accessories and a six-speaker stereo with a CD/MP3 player, satellite radio and an auxiliary audio jack. The Eco is equipped similarly to the LS but is optimized for maximum fuel efficiency with aerodynamic improvements, lightweight alloy wheels, low-rolling-resistance tires, a smaller fuel tank and a few minor feature deletions to further reduce weight.
The LT is actually comprised of 1LT and 2LT subsets. The 1LT comes with a turbocharged engine, chrome wheel covers, color-keyed power sideview mirrors, floor mats and a one-touch-up driver's window. The 2LT adds alloy wheels, remote vehicle start, cruise control, leather upholstery, heated front seats, a six-way power driver seat, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls, a USB/iPod port for the audio system and Bluetooth.
The Cruze LTZ adds 18-inch alloy wheels, automatic climate control, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, illuminated vanity mirrors, rear park assist, a sport-tuned suspension and four-wheel disc brakes.
Many of the upper trims' standard features can be had on lower trims via à la carte options or packages. A hard-drive-based navigation system, a premium sound system, a sunroof and an RS appearance package (unique front/rear fascias, foglights, rear spoiler) are all available on the upper trims.
Powertrains and Performance
The Cruze LS is powered by a 1.8-liter inline-4 that makes 136 horsepower and 123 pound-feet of torque. The Eco, LT and LTZ come with a turbocharged 1.4-liter inline-4 that generates 138 hp and 148 lb-ft of torque. The LS and Eco come with a six-speed manual transmission while the other trims come standard with a six-speed automatic (optional on the LS and Eco).
In Edmunds testing, a Cruze LTZ accelerated from zero to 60 mph in 9.6 seconds, an average time for this class. EPA fuel economy estimates stand at 22 mpg city/35 mpg highway and 27 mpg combined for the Cruze LS. The turbocharged engine (LT and LTZ) receives a similar 24/36/28.
The fuel-economy-focused Cruze Eco earns a laudable 28 mpg city/42 mpg highway and 33 mpg combined with the manual transmission and 26/37/30 with the automatic.
All 2011 Chevrolet Cruze models come with stability control, antilock brakes, full-length side curtain airbags, front knee airbags and front and rear side impact airbags as standard. All trims save the LTZ have a front-disc/rear-drum brake setup; the LTZ upgrades to four-wheel disc brakes.
In government crash testing, the Cruze earned a top five-star rating for overall safety performance, with five stars in both frontal and side-impact categories. In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety testing, the Cruze received a top score of "Good" in both frontal-offset and side-impact testing. In Edmunds brake testing, a Cruze LTZ stopped from 60 mph in 122 feet, a decent distance for this class of car.
Interior Design and Special Features
The Cruze's "twin cockpit" interior design (a similar theme is found inside the Equinox SUV) and two-tone color schemes deliver an upscale ambience. Overall interior quality is pretty high, too, with soft-touch materials in the right places and very little that's shiny plastic.
The Cruze's front seats are a little narrow, but they offer plenty of adjustment and are both supportive and comfortable. A low cushion for the backseat diminishes comfort for longer-limbed riders, whose thighs will have minimal support. Actual legroom is about average for the segment.
Considerably above average, however, is the Cruze's impressively large trunk, which measures an impressive 15 cubic feet. For comparison, a Civic sedan's trunk capacity is 12 cubic feet, about what most cars in the class offer.
The most surprising characteristic of the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze is its genuinely athletic handling and comfortable, controlled ride quality. The Cruze's all-new chassis isn't particularly sophisticated as far as economy cars go, but its design ensures secure handling and an absorbent -- but not mushy -- ride. The standard suspension, dubbed "Touring," rides as well and as quietly as just about any compact car, while the sport suspension on the LTZ is firmer, but not anything approaching jolting.
Most drivers should be satisfied with either of the Cruze's engines. The upscale turbocharged engine is pretty average in terms of outright acceleration, but it's peppier around town thanks to its increased amount of torque. We've encountered some rough shifting with early versions of the six-speed automatic transmission, though this issue has since been addressed by a technical service bulletin (TSB).