Liking It More, But Keep It Quiet - 2011 Chevrolet Cruze LTZ Long-Term Road Test

2011 Chevrolet Cruze Long Term Road Test

2011 Chevrolet Cruze LTZ: Liking It More, But Keep It Quiet

April 21, 2011


Hadn't been in the Cruze for awhile, and after some recent seat time in the new Civic, Elantra, and Corolla, I wondered what about the Cruze would stand out good, bad or otherwise. These are just some impressions relative to its class, not a comparison.

The doors close with a pleasant, damped thunk, a welcome sound for cars in this segment. It's a head game. A car that closes with a hollow whoosh gets a pass if it's reliable and hassle-free for 100,000+ miles. Many are, so you learn to disassociate a wimpy door sound from the car's proven quality. But the Cruze sounds good, and at least fosters the perception of a solidly-built mass of metal. Our leaky trunk blemishes that perception, but beyond that we're so far, so good.

I also like that the Cruze's horn is a muted staccato mumble, and not the raspy bleat of many low-budget honks. It's not embarrassing to lock the Cruze from the keyfob while walking away from it.

The Cruze also suppresses road, wind and tire noise pretty well - there's obviously something in those door panels and A-pillars - but it pays for it a bit with its 3,232-lb. curb weight. Interior materials feel good, or at least innocuous, to the touch, and the seats are comfortable. I think Chevy interior designers missed with the Transformers-like center stack layout. There's some superfluous designory-nerdness and wasted space, such that there's no good storage for phone and - wait for it - yes, coffee.

Yep, I'm complaining about cupholders. And their awkward placement. That and the pretty useless center console, a small, short cavity that can't hold much of anything except maybe a deck of cards and some smokes.

And now, the deal breaker: the Hydra-Matic auto transmission. The trans and the turbo. They are just not on the same page. It’s like a bad competitive dance show that has paired Pau Gasol and Kathy Bates as tango partners. The Cruze's clumsiness is largely a low-speed affair. Once you've got the converter locked up at around 3,000 rpm at highway speeds, the Cruze is a quick responder and moves easily through traffic.

But for a real walk on the edge, try blasting an uphill on-ramp in manual shift mode. Regardless of when you select an upshift, the real fun is waiting to see where the boost lets loose, and where the trans decides it wants to fall.

It's maddening. The Cruze's competitors also suffer to some degree from fuel-conscious shift strategies. And this isn't the first AT we've driven that feels either lifeless or has a life of its own. We've had the trans in for its TSB, and I know the Cruze has a "learning" feature. Perhaps we've completely scrambled its brains with the staff's individual drive styles?

The answer seems simple: Get the six-speed manual. Haven't driven one yet, so can't compare. Any 6MT Cruze owners care to weigh in?

Oh, and just so we're straight, don't interpret any of this criticism or praise as an indication that I like the car or am saying anything positive about it. It's a nice car that earns its place in the segment, although the auto-trans is a liability. But I can't really say that because, you know, I could get canned. Everyone knows we have it in for the General. Just between us, cool?

Oh, and the cruise control icons are still dumb. Roast away.

Dan Frio, Automotive Editor

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