2011 Chevrolet Cruze LTZ: Wheelbarrow vs. Little Red Wagon
February 14, 2011
The way I see it, there are two types of front-wheel-drive cars.
There are front-wheel-drive cars that handle like a wheelbarrow and there are front-wheel-drive cars that handle like a little red wagon.
The Chevy Cruze is a little red wagon. (Maybe we should paint it up like the Radio Flyer you had when you were five.)
A car that handles like a wheelbarrow handles off the nose, so that the front tires do all the real work of steering and accelerating and braking. Even more than most fwd cars, the rear feels like it's just along for the ride.
Although there will be the usual handwringers who will claim that such an arrangement is a crime against physics, the car that results is often easy and natural to drive, simply because it communicates with you so clearly through the steering wheel. You can balance the car on its front tires quite effectively and you can drive very fast, provided you have plenty of front tire under you.
I've driven some pretty effective wheelbarrows on a race track, including the Dodge Neon (remember the Neon ACR?), Subaru WRX and Volkswagen GTI.
On the other hand, a car that handles like a little red wagon feels like it works all four tires as it's being pulled along, carving through high-speed corners with poise and making quick left and right transitions with confidence. You feel the whole car moving with you, and the suspension at all four corners does the real job of communication. Maybe it's communicating less through the steering wheel and more through the seat of your pants (actually more like the lumber vertebrae, as the science guys tells us).
Among some pretty nice Radio Flyers that I recall, I can count the Mazda 3 and Nissan Sentra SE-R among little cars, and assorted Acura and Audi sedans among large ones.
It's hard to say which strategy is better, really. But I am prepared to say that during a recent photo shoot deep in the Santa Monica Mountains where only photographer Kurt Niebuhr knows the way, I drove the 2012 Ford Focus and this 2011 Chevrolet Cruze back to back and liked the Chevy best. It followed the road so intuitively that it made me feel like a better driver, perhaps because the sense of all four tires following the road surface with finely damped resiliency improved my confidence.
Hard to say which strategy is faster or just plain better, but the Chevy Cruze makes me believe that I like driving a little red wagon more than a wheelbarrow.
Michael Jordan, Executive Editor, Edmunds.com