2011 Chevy Cruze: My First Real Drive
February 09, 2011
I was expecting the Chevy Cruze to be a competent little car that is infinitely better to drive than the dismal Corolla (which Chevy is gunning for in its ad campaign). I knew that those readers who branded it just another Cobalt didn't know what they were talking about. Just sitting in the Cruze's cabin was enough to know that it was nothing like its predecessor -- the last Cobalt I drove was an XFE and it felt like some Mexican-market special they use for taxi service in Cancun.
Yet, I hadn't really driven the Cruze until yesterday. Uh oh, where is this going?
Jiminy Tap-Dancing Christmas, our Cruze is legitimately fun to drive. Out on my top-secret handling course just off PCH beyond Chart House and through Topanga Canyon, I discovered a little car that handles remarkably flat and feels light on its toes. Its electric power steering is pretty much devoid of feel, but it's decently weighted and ultimately responsive in quick transitions.
The turbocharged engine has plenty of low-end torque that makes it feel a lot stronger than its humble power numbers and 9.6-second 0-60 time would suggest, while I was flat-out shocked that our reflashed transmission was able to keep up with me through hills and turns. It hangs onto revs and was quick to downshift -- something that is anathema to modern, fuel-saving transmissions. It felt like some sort of sport mode had been engaged.
Of course, away from that top-secret handling course, our Cruze LTZ has a ride that could be considered harsh and lacks the well-damped sophistication of a certain new Ford competitor. The transmission also hangs onto revs a split-second too long in daily driving and has an odd shift quality -- sometimes CVT smooth, other times automanual abrupt. I don't mind it really, it's just odd. I'm trying to reconcile this observation with Takahashi's highway-bound concerns with the transmission's reluctance to downshift, and all I can say is perhaps it's has just finally adapted to our collective aggressive driving style. If it has, good for the Cruze, but I'll keep my ears open for other editors' observations.
Regardless, I'm very impressed with the Chevy Cruze. I'd be interested to drive it in non-LTZ guise, without the big wheels, sport-tuned suspension and rear disc brakes. It probably won't be as fun, but as such there are certainly more reasons to buy the LTZ than just a lust for leather and navigation.
James Riswick, Automotive Editor @ 4,609 miles
Follow my car-related musings on the Twitter @JRiswick