2011 Chevrolet Cruze Long Term Road Test - Performance

2011 Chevrolet Cruze Long Term Road Test

2011 Chevrolet Cruze LTZ: Fun-Factor Feature

September 19, 2011

Chevy Cruze.jpg

By now we all know the Chevy Cruze isn't exactly the greatest little car ever produced. It's held back by its noisy, turbo-laggy engine and crude automatic transmission, the last which sometimes shifts rather abruptly and other times gets utterly confused if it even wants to downshift at all, in the meantime hanging in limbo while it contemplates its next move. I've taken to calling it the Chevy Crude.

Then there's the interior, which both looks and feels cheap.

On the bright side, the Crude handles pretty well while delivering a decently comfortable ride. You can attack a corner with it and not be utterly disappointed.

And last night as I was about to make a U-turn into a gas station to fill up with fuel, I remembered this:

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2011 Chevrolet Cruze: Lazy Temperature Gauge

August 30, 2011


(Photo by Glenn Paulina)

Our 2011 Chevrolet Cruze never learned to read. Look, we aren't the type to belittle the poor guy by telling him that sign says he can't run the air conditioning anymore. So we keep driving. And the Cruze keeps belting out the cold.

It's 120-degrees outside and we just gained 4,000 feet in elevation. The Chevy doesn't care one bit. It goes about doing its thing. Now the temperature gauge is another story...

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2011 Chevrolet Cruze: Fahrenheit 126

August 03, 2011


(Photo by Glenn Paulina)

Even when subjected to extreme exterior temperatures the A/C in our 2011 Chevrolet Cruze blows cold, nice and cold. Whether the engine is breathing easy on flat land or under load on a grade, the air is equally refreshing. GM definitely knows how to do A/C.

Mike Schmidt, Vehicle Testing Manager @ 19,000 miles

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2011 Chevrolet Cruze: Some Like It Hot, But Maybe Not This Hot

June 15, 2011


Where on earth did our 2011 Chevrolet Cruze encounter 111-degree weather? About 50 miles west of Phoenix, that's where. It was well over 100 for about 250 miles of the trip, and the temperature gauge reached triple digits pretty much as soon as I dropped into the desert near Palm Springs.

I had decided to drive the Cruze on a quick business trip to Phoenix because, the way I figured it, I'd spend less time getting here by car than I would if I drove 50 miles west to LAX, parked someplace and rode a shuttle, timing that to arrive at least 1 hour early. After that I'd go through the TSA line, board my plane, fly the 1 hour to Phoenix, wait for my bag at the other end and then, finally, grab a cab and ride 40 miles west to my hotel. No way, Jose.

So there I was rolling along I-10 on cruise control at 70 to 75 mph with no trouble, listening to podcasts and playing with the fuel economy meter to pass the time. Just before this picture was taken I decided to take a scenic back road and got off the I-10 freeway for a bit. Shortly thereafter I stopped by the side of the road for a few minutes to stretch and take a few pictures.

Through all this the Cruze sat parked on blacktop, about 10 minutes, I'd say, with the engine off. When I got back in and drove away, or tried to, it started normally but then acted as if the parking brake was still on partway -- except it wasn't. Not much acceleration, weak throttle response, and no warning lamps or any overt signs of trouble, either.

JKav isn't back from his LeMans trip, and since I'm not the engine guy around here I can only take a stab at it. I'm thinking the intercooler was heat-soaked because it felt like the turbo was pretty much 100% out of the picture. The acceleration was just about as bad as you'd expect from a normally aspirated 1.4-liter four in a car of this size. If I had had a VBOX on me (sorry, fresh out) I'd bet that the 0-60 time was no better than 13 or 14 seconds, probably more. And it wasn't smooth about it, either.

I repeated the pattern of driving followed by a 5- or 10-minute stop on asphalt a couple of times and it happened over and over. Once up to speed and cruising again, everything was fine and the brisk acceleration this mill is capable of returned.

I'm not sure if this is normal hot-weather behavior for a 1.4T Cruze. I'm here another day and I'll be keeping close tabs on it. Tomorrow morning should be cool and I'm expecting no such behavior unless and until things heat up later on.

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 11,212 miles

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2011 Chevy Cruze: Excellent Pioneer Stereo

June 10, 2011


Folks have criticized our long-term Chevy Cruze for being too expensive, but I tell you, the $445 that went to the optional Pioneer sound system was worth every penny.

This nine-speaker system sounds excellent, even when utilizing the rather imperfect sound quality of iPod files. Strong bass, sharp treble, etc. I thought the pre-set tone settings (rock, pop, etc.) worked rather well, too, giving me a quick-and-easy way to maximize the sound quality of differing music styles. Both Limelight by Rush and Young Blood by The Naked and Famous sounded superb.

Of course, I'm not an audiophile.

If you are, then Doug Newcomb says that the Cruze's nine-speaker system gets "decent" sound quality with a letter grade of C. He notes such things as "the soundstage was above average, but not as wide as I would have liked. Imaging was also good, although center images tended to waver and weren't stable." Okey dokey.

I'd say this is relative, since you might also be disappointed by the Cruze's handling if you own an M3. The important thing to note is that Newcomb also says you can't get a better aftermarket system for less than $500. You'd also be hard pressed to find a better OEM system in one of the Cruze's competitors.

Therefore, I say this stereo is quite good relatively speaking and a must-have with the Cruze. I also pulled out the infrequently used "Right!" stamp just for the hell of it.

James Riswick, Automotive Editor @ 10,707 miles

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2011 Chevrolet Cruze: A Most Appropriate Moniker

May 31, 2011

Cruze 001.jpg

I spent a lot of time on the freeway with the Cruze this past weekend and was thankful a) that I had the little Chevy and b) that the freeways were actually moving freely, a rarity in greater L.A.. Here are a few random observations.

Once you realize you have to really lean into the throttle it to get the Cruze's transmission to downshift, there's perfectly adequate merging/passing performance here. And the tranny swaps gears smoothly whether dealing with city traffic or when grabbing that downshift to get up to freeway speed. As we've stated before, the nav system's interface is a bit clunky (looks like a touchscreen but isn't and selecting letters/numbers is done via up/down/left/right arrow buttons or by the radio's tuning knob). But it's easy to understand and no big deal after you've used it a few times.

The aptly-named Cruze settles in nicely at higher cruising speeds (70-75) where it provides a hushed cabin that allowed me to enjoy the (admittedly just average) audio system and use the Bluetooth phone feature. The Cruze's front seats were very comfortable during the long-weekend's various couple-hour driving stints -- no complaints from my sometimes finicky lower back -- and of course having them heated is a bonus. Just an easy car to live with in the real world of city traffic and long highway stints.

John DiPietro, Automotive Editor @ 10, 591 miles.

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2011 Chevrolet Cruze: Transmission Isn't That Bad

May 24, 2011


There have been a few comments on our Compact Sedan Comparison test, much of it concerning our perceived bias against the Chevrolet Cruze. No sense rehashing it all here, but let's just say that the Cruze lost a few points for its slow-shifting transmission.

I drove our long-term Cruze last night and I think I know why the transmission feels so slow. It's not the shift program, it's the engine. It's utterly torqueless, or at least it feels that way. The transmission may call up a lower gear, but you barely even notice.

I can't say that I really expect big torque from a turbocharged, 1.4-liter engine, but the average consumer expects something. It's a bit worrisome when you're on the freeway and nothing really happens when you downshift.

It's not a deal breaker for the Cruze. It's a solid car otherwise and I don't mind driving it all. If it wants to be considered best in class, though, it's going to need a little more juice.

Ed Hellwig, Editor, Inside Line @ 10,223 miles

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2011 Chevrolet Cruze: The Dexose Oil Specification

May 23, 2011

Cruze Owners Manual.jpg

The recent oil change on our Chevrolet Cruze sparked some debate as to whether or not it needed synthetic oil. It was difficult to get a clear answer on this, but after some extensive research, I was able to find something. The GM branded Dexos oil that will be used in the dealer bulk tanks and sold over the parts counter is a synthetic blend. But if purchased from another manufacturer, it can also be a full synthetic. Sound confusing? Let me explain.

The photo above was taken from the owner's manual. The manual only says that the oil needs to be Dexos certified 5W30. In fact, there is no mention of the word "synthetic" anywhere in the owner's manual. The official "about Dexos" page didn’t mention synthetic either.

Dexos is an oil certification standard created by GM to consolidate its recommended oils. It is comparable to the upcoming ILSAC GF-5 standard -- the one to which the entire oil industry will have to adhere. According to GM, the Dexos1 oil specification will decrease harmful piston deposits by up to 28 percent and improve fuel efficiency by up to 0.3 percent compared to the ILSAC GF-4 specifications. Dexos compliant oil is higher quality oil, but it isn't always fully synthetic. GM licenses the Dexos certification to motor oil manufacturers that can then choose to offer a full-synthetic variation, as long as it meets the requirements. All 2011 GM models and newer will use Dexos1 branded oil. Dexos2 is for diesel vehicles.

In the link that sodaguy posted, Mobil1 full synthetic is listed as one of the alternates that can be used in the event that Dexos1 is not available. While they haven't been formally tested, fully-synthetic, non-Dexos oil is listed because it meets and may exceed the Dexos requirements.

Tom Read, a GM powertrain technology representative, says that the term "synthetic," has different meanings depending on the oil marketer. "The use of the term "synthetic" with engine oil is used broadly and not standardized in the industry. However, Dexos would certainly qualify in the commonly understood definition of a synthetic blend oil," says Read.

If you go to the Dexos licensed brands page, you'll find that both non-synthetic and synthetic oils are listed. Now take a look at the second line, and you'll see "ACDelco Dexos1 SAE 5W30," which is supplied by General Motors. This is the oil that will be supplied to the dealers.

Read says that GM is in the process of distributing and educating its dealers about this new oil standard. But it takes time to get the message out. I found this out for myself when I called the parts departments of a few local Chevy dealerships. Most of them had never heard of Dexos and couldn’t tell us whether or not Dexos was a synthetic oil. The ones who had heard of it said that it cost about $7 per quart -- a far cry from the $2.50 per quart on our recent bill. When I called the parts department of the dealer that had performed our oil change, it did not even have the oil in stock. I then knew for sure that our Cruze was not filled with Dexos oil.

I told our service advisor that we had reason to believe that our Cruze was not filled with the proper oil and showed him the Dexos page from the owner's manual. And as fate would have it, an internal dealer memo about Dexos was sitting on his desk. The service advisor referred to Dexos as a synthetic blend. He told me that the dealership had recently ordered a batch of Dexos oil and that the service department would replace our oil as soon as Dexos was in stock. He assured us that since it was that dealership's policy to fill all cars with a synthetic blend, we would be OK in the meantime and that our warranty would not be compromised.

These mix-ups are bound to happen when well-established standards change. We suspect that this kind of thing might have happened at Toyota dealerships, too. That company is slowly phasing in full-synthetic oil in many of its models.

On a final note, we asked Read what would happen if a person used a conventional 5W30 oil with the API starburst symbol (as per the owner’s manual) for an entire oil interval:

"If a customer uses a non-licensed engine oil that is simply ILSAC GF-5 quality, they will not enjoy the benefits of using a Dexos licensed product. Those benefits could include better low temperature performance, cleaner pistons, better aeration performance, etc. This could be especially important as the engine oil ages. Furthermore, with the extensive licensing and quality monitoring program in place, the customer can be sure that the Dexos licensed product they are using actually meets that performance level."

If you own a 2011 or newer GM vehicle, I suggest checking with your dealer to make sure they give you the proper oil.

Ron Montoya, Consumer Advice Associate @ 10,175 miles

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2011 Chevrolet Cruze: Spare Tire vs Tire Repair Kit

May 17, 2011

Cruze Spare Tire.jpg

I wrote an article on spare tires recently, and the research I did for it made me more aware of the spare tires -- or the lack thereof-- in cars today. Our long term Chevrolet Cruze came with this temporary spare. But it’s not a standard feature. All Cruzes come with a tire repair kit, unless you opt for the $100 temporary spare (as we did).

We are going to start seeing more of this in the coming years, as automakers seek ways to reduce weight in vehicles. Over the past two years, there has been an increase of 30 vehicles that come standard with tire repair kits. Both the spare and the tire repair kits have their pros and cons, but if it was my car, I'd want the temporary spare.

Would you pay the extra $100 to get a spare? Would you mind using an inflator kit? Or would you just call roadside assistance?

-Ron Montoya, Consumer Advice Associate @ 10,014 miles

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2011 Chevrolet Cruze: GM Finally Designing Some Decent Wheels

April 29, 2011


GM does not have a good track record when it comes to wheel designs. It's been a pet peeve of mine for years. With all the design talent available to the General, you would think at least some of its cars would have some decent looking rims. But no, it's been one mediocre wheel after another.

Recently, the tide has started to turn. Cars like the Corvette, Camaro and CTS-V Series now have some proper wheel options. The improvements have even trickled down to the Cruze.

The set of 18s on our long-termer aren't going win any awards, but they do look better than most cars in its class. They're simple, have some dish to the lip and a non-chromed finish. It helps that they're wrapped by a meaty set of 215/45 tires. Nice job Chevrolet.

Ed Hellwig, Editor, Inside Line

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2011 Chevrolet Cruze: Radio Reboot

April 25, 2011

chevy cruze radio.jpg

In honor of Earth Day weekend, the radio in the Chevy Cruze decided to save some energy and resources by broadcasting static instead of, you know, actual radio programming. Tried restarting the radio as a fix but that didn't do it.

Turns out what was needed was a full system reboot -- the problem happened twice over the weekend and in both cases, turning the engine off and then back on again did the trick. Our Keepers of the Keys have been notified.

Warren Clarke, Automotive Content Editor @ 9,051 miles

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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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2011 Chevrolet Cruze: Comparison

March 10, 2011


That's our long-term Chevy Cruze in this comparison test. But how did it perform against the Ford Focus?

Read the test of the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze LTZ vs. 2012 Ford Focus Titanium.

Donna DeRosa, Managing Editor

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2011 Chevrolet Cruze LTZ: Cruising

March 08, 2011


When you’re cruising down the freeway in the fast lane, the Cruze is in its element. Poised, quiet and efficient, the Cruze really shows us just how refined compact cars have become. You can drive this car across the state and never wish for something longer, lower and wider.

But as soon as the Cruze drops into expressway traffic, it gets hateful. When you’re following the surge of cars and trucks, you’re always accelerating, coasting and braking between 40 to 60 mph. You need a car that can keep its balance, blending engine and transmission performance.

And balance is the very thing the Cruze’s powertrain lacks.

As we’ve said before, it’s easy to blame the transmission. But it’s really everything that conspires against you — the transmission programming, the nature of the turbocharged, small-displacement engine and even the action of the throttle pedal.

When you’re motoring at moderate speed in urban traffic, the six-speed automatic always seems to be in the wrong gear. It’s calibrated for optimal fuel economy, so it shifts to a taller gear as soon as possible. And this means that as soon as you lay into the gas pedal for even moderate acceleration, the transmission has to cycle to a shorter gear, a pause in power delivery that quickly becomes annoying.

What’s more, the nature of the turbocharged 1.4-liter engine also works against you. It wants to coast for maximum fuel economy as well, so the turbo falls asleep. Then when you accelerate, the turbo wakes up and starts spinning, the boost comes up, and the engine is up on the torque curve. The problem is, the change in torque output forces the transmission to think. Maybe it’ll downshift once to take advantage of the power increase. Maybe it’ll downshift twice if it thinks you’re serious. Or maybe it won’t downshift at all.

You’re trying to send the engine and transmission the right kind of signals through the throttle pedal, but the Cruze’s throttle pedal always makes me wonder if the powertrain is getting the message. The light-effort action is meant to make the powertrain seem extra responsive, but instead it makes it harder to keep from disturbing whatever equilibrium the engine and transmission have been able to achieve.

The transmission can even be annoying at low speed. It wants to coast with the torque convertor backed off — another fuel-saving strategy — but as soon as you need a little power, the torque convertor re-engages and there’s a small but noticeable lurch from the powertrain in response. It makes for a long commute.

None of this really makes the Cruze undrivable, of course. Most people would probably never notice this behavior, which is why it’s so hard to describe. It’s one of those development things, where more time is needed at the proving ground to find a way to effectively balance the inputs from the engine, transmission and throttle pedal. No doubt it’s a difficult thing, as the Cruze gives us a kind of rising curve of performance from all three sources. For example, equilibrium is much easier to find when you have a broad, unchanging plateau of engine power.

What worries me is that we’ll soon be driving a lot more cars like the Cruze — cars that are trying to find the balance point in powertrain performance under the constraint of extreme fuel-efficiency requirements. BMW’s six-speed automatic transmission already shows much of the same behavior depending on the car in which it’s installed (it was hateful in the 2009 BMW 740i), as does Ford’s six-speed automated manual in the 2012 Focus.

The days are gone when an automatic transmission minimized shifting and was meant to deliver a long pull of seamless power. Now automatics like this one in the Chevy Cruze almost seem as if they have been engineered to maximize shifting, attempting to keep a car poised at the balance point of maximum fuel economy.

If the Cruze is any measure, some development problems lie ahead.

Michael Jordan, Executive Editor @ 7,076 miles

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2011 Chevy Cruze: You Can't Have It All

February 15, 2011

Chevy Cruze in the backyard.jpg

Buying a car is about priorities, since it's impossible to get absolutely everything you want. The car that's hugely powerful, sips gas, handles like a sports car, rides like a Rolls, has a huge interior, is packed with every feature available and costs a reasonable amount just doesn't exist.

For most American buyers, size and power have reigned supreme forever. More power equals better, bigger means you're not poor. I saw this in the reader reaction to our Chevy Cruze. "Why the hell did you buy a $26,000 compact car that goes from zero to 60 in 9.6 seconds when you could buy a Hyundai Sonata (bigger, more power) for less money?"

For most European buyers, there is more of a willingness to pack on features to smaller cars due to high fuel prices, limited space and just general taste. There is also more of a priority placed on interior quality and handling. In other words, their priorities aren't size and power.

In this way, our particular Cruze certainly seems like more of a European sort of car. It's probably one of the reasons why I like it so much. Back when I bought my 2000 Jetta, I appreciated it for all the reasons I like the Cruze: loads of features, high-quality interior, sporty handling and it was small. Yes, some people like a smaller car even if they can afford something bigger.

There is a main difference, however: my Jetta had the 2.8-liter VR6. It had guts, whereas the Cruze "feels stronger than its power numbers would suggest." On the flip side, the Cruze returns 28 mpg combined while that VR6 got 19.

I'm not sure why I went off on this tangent, because I started writing this blog with the intent of comparing it to a Hyundai Sonata. So here it goes.

Our Cruze LTZ with the optional audio/navigation package, sunroof and Pioneer stereo hit the register at $26,085. If you were to pack a similar amount of stuff onto a Sonata, it would be $28,530. There are certainly unique features here and there, but for the most part, you're looking at spending roughly $2,500 for the Hyundai's extra space and power (And keep in mind that the Sonata is the class value champ).

I know I'd gladly spend some of that $2,500 on more power, but then, I like the Cruze's size. As such, I could get a VW GTI for roughly the same price or wait for a Focus ST, but then I wouldn't get all the Cruze's stuff.

Again, you can't have it all.

James Riswick, Automotive Editor @ 6,775 miles

Follow my (shorter) automotive musings @JRiswick

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2011 Chevrolet Cruze LTZ: Wheelbarrow vs. Little Red Wagon

February 14, 2011

Construction wheelbarrow.jpg

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.)

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2011 Chevrolet Cruze: World Touring Car Champion

February 14, 2011


Did you know that about the same time we took delivery of our 2011 Chevrolet Cruze LTZ, a UK-based touring car racing team was wrapping up their 2010 racing season with a fleet of Chevrolet Cruzes of their own?

It's true. And they had a pretty good year, too.

In the British Touring Car Championship (BTCC), the RML Chevrolet Cruze team won seven races with driver Jason Plato, who also took home the 2010 BTCC drivers' crown. His competition included the Honda Civic Type-R, the BMW 3-series and the Ford Focus, all with 2.0-liter engines.

Barely a month later, the FIA's World Touring Car Championship (WTCC) held its final race of the season in Macau. A different arm of the same team campaigned three Cruzes in the worldwide WTCC series. This time, the Chevrolet Cruze went one better, taking the driver's crown with Yvan Muller while also winning the manufacturer's championship for Chevrolet.

This year, FIA WTCC rules are moving away from 2.0-liter normally aspirated engines to 1.6-liter turbocharged powerplants. BTCC rules are staying put at 2.0-liters.

The 2011 season hasn't started yet, but you may still be able to catch reruns of 2010 events on Speed if you program your DVR to seek them out.

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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

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2011 Chevrolet Cruze LTZ: The Good, the Bad and the Reflash

February 02, 2011


As Photo Editor Niebuhr pointed out, many of the Cruze's transmission issues have been resolved with the TSB service. He also mentioned that it tends to stay in second gear for an unusually long time. I found that to be true too, if you gave it any more than a light throttle application. So, problem solved, right?


I drove the Cruze on the highway at actual highway speeds yesterday. I was in the number one lane (left/fast lane) and spotted a slower car ahead. I decided to pass the car on my right to get ahead of both cars. I gave the pedal a little more and not much happened. Time and distance to pass was dwindling. A little more pedal, and the Cruze slowly gained speed. Finally, I had to floor it.

A brief pause and a downshift resulted -- but only a single gear downshift. There was nowhere near the amount of power needed to pass. It was as though the Cruze was towing our Raptor. I finally gave up, slowed way down and slotted in behind the car that was on my right.
I didn't get the opportunity to drive the Cruze on the highway before the reflash, so I can't say if this is a new issue. I can say, however, that it's an issue now. In the future, I suppose I'll have to slap the gear selector to manual mode and drop the gears down a few cogs by hand.

Mark Takahashi, Associate Editor

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2011 Chevrolet Cruze LTZ: Finally, a Road-Trip Worthy Chevrolet Small Car

January 26, 2011


I logged just 250 miles and 6 hours of seat time in our 2011 Chevrolet Cruze during a quick trip to San Diego and back this week. It was a pleasant trip overall and I enjoyed being in the car, even in heavy traffic, which is far more than I can say for our old long-term 2005 Cobalt. That car had motor, but the seats were uncomfortable, the cabin was cheap and poorly packaged, and the ride was pretty coarse and unsophisticated.

With our Cruze, it's pretty much the opposite.

Although the driver seat in our Cruze seemed a bit narrow and flat at first, it's actually very supportive and I love sitting in it. The driving position is excellent, too, as the dash and door panels all feel pretty low, so you can easily see out over them -- like you can in a Honda Civic. Materials quality is generally good, although the brown trim on the steering wheel and dash is a bit daring for my pedestrian aesthetic taste, I like that a two-tone color scheme is available in a budget-oriented small sedan. The steering wheel fits comfortably into my hands at 9-and-3, and I like that I can get supplementary nav instruction in the trip computer display.

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2011 Chevrolet Cruze LTZ: Impressive Range

January 25, 2011


I'd planned to fuel up our 2011 Chevrolet Cruze LTZ before my quick trip to San Diego, but there was a line at my usual gas station, and I got impatient, and hopped on the freeway, figuring I'd fill up somewhere in Orange County. The "distance to empty" meter promised about 89 miles at that point.

But I made it all the way to Oceanside before I really needed to fuel up -- 20 miles past when the low fuel light came on. That was an easy 451 miles on that tank, and I wasn't even trying. My pace was perhaps 70-75 when the freeway was clear.

I then put in 14.067 gallons of 87 octane, which is 32 mpg. Not an earth-shattering number, but still very good, and right on target with the 24 city/36 highway EPA rating on the automatic-equipped Cruze LTZ.

What I really like about this car, though, is its big gas tank -- 15.6 gallons -- meaning that a 500-mile tank should be in the cards for us without too much effort.

In reviewing the specs for the Cruze Eco model (which comes with a taller-geared version of the 6-speed manual gearbox), I noticed this car only has a 12.6-gallon tank. Of course, the Eco has a higher 28/42 EPA rating, but in theory, if the Cruze LTZ and Cruze Eco both hit their EPA highway targets, our LTZ would still have a longer range due to its bigger tank.

More notes from the trip coming tomorrow.

P.S. The photo was obviously taken when I was fueling up, accounting for why the fuel gauge needle points almost to the full mark. It was pegged near the E when I pulled into the station.

Erin Riches, Senior Editor @ 5,461 miles

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2011 Chevrolet Cruze: Closing the Gap

January 20, 2011


One thing that strikes the single person driving around town in a 2011 Chevrolet Cruze is the right-size feel of this sedan. It has ample room for the long of leg and assorted passengers, and it's easy to street-park without feeling like a subcompact rugrat.

From the driver seat, the Cruze feels similar in mass to other "right-size" sedans I've driven and enjoyed -- the 1998-2005 Volkswagen Passat, the 2005-2009 Subaru Legacy. And it turns out that it actually is close dimensionally. It's 181.1 inches long and 70.7 inches wide, and stretched over a 105.7-inch wheelbase and 60.7/61.3-inch track. Compare that to a 2009 Legacy, which was 185 inches long, 68.1 inches wide with a 105.1-inch wheelbase and 58.9/58.5-inch track.

I've given up on hoping that nameplates the Legacy, Passat and Accord will shrink back to reasonable proportions anytime soon. Instead, I'll just wait for compacts like the Cruze and and Mazda 3 to size up to small-family proportions. And the Chevrolet is pretty much already there.

Erin Riches, Senior Editor @ 5,161 miles

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2011 Chevrolet Cruze LTZ: Quick First Impressions

December 25, 2010

2011 chevy cruze st wheel 2.jpg

Finally got my butt in the new Cruze and my first thoughts are mostly favorable. My sentiments echo my colleagues' for the most part. The little Chevy feels solid from the way the doors shut to the way the chassis stays planted while tackling a deserted on-ramp (a rare treat here in L.A.). The cabin is handsomely styled, boasts supportive seats and is furnished with quality materials. Cruising at 70-75 the Cruze has a relaxed and fairly quiet demeanor -- actually impressively so for a car in this segment. Lastly, I have to concur with Mr. Romans on the steering wheel - its ideal diameter, rim thickness and spoke placement (with thumb reliefs) make for a pleasing driver-to-car interface.

As others have noticed, the powertrain could be a little quicker to respond as there is a minor delay when the whip is cracked. But after that heartbeat, the 1.4-liter turbocharged four pulls pretty hard and without much vibration and racket. The tranny was usually smooth and cooperative but I noticed a few instances of harsh gearchanges. As we've already noted, there is a TSB on this very issue that we will have addressed soon.

At first blush, the Cruze strikes me as well-rounded entry that finally gives Chevy something strong in the small sedan segment.

John DiPietro, Automotive Editor @ 3,937 miles

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2011 Chevrolet Cruze LTZ: Hydra-matic Coasting

December 24, 2010

Hydra-Matic 6T40 (MH8) 6-sp transaxle.jpg

Coasting sounds so great.

It makes you think of coasting down a long hill on a bicycle that first time when you were a kid. All that speed, even while you were saving up energy for the next uphill. Coasting is wonderful.

Except in our 2011 Chevrolet Cruze LTZ. It wants to coast all the time to save energy, only it's getting in the way of our pedaling.

It's easy to understand Chevy's obsession with minimizing even the slightest bit of frictional losses here, since not only is there an impact on the frequency of your personal visits to the gas station but also an impact on the overall fuel economy of the entire fleet of Chevrolet vehicles. That is to say, since the Chevy Cruze gets really good (and boring) mpg, the Chevy Corvette can get really bad (and fun) mpg.

The trouble is, the torque convertor of the Cruze's Hydra-matic 6T40 seems have been tuned by Chevy to slip into the coasting mode every time you let up on the gas even a fraction. And then when you get back on the throttle pedal again, there's an annoying delay before the driveline hooks up again - a delay accentuated by this turbocharged 1.4-liter inline-4's need to spool up to full power. So what you get is a confusing surge through the powertrain in commute traffic as you alternately ease into the gas and then lift off.

Sure, I like coasting, but driving the Chevy Cruze in traffic is like trying to pedal your bike with way too much slack in the chain.

Michael Jordan, Executive Editor, Edmunds.com

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2011 Chevrolet Cruze: Handles Like It's On Nails

December 21, 2010


And what does that mean? Nothing really, I just couldn't think of a headline that made sense, so I went with nonsense.

Now that I've got your attention, the Cruze does actually handle quite well. Not in the "rip your favorite freeway on ramp a new one" kind of way. No, it's more like, "wow, this relatively inexpensive sedan actually feels like it has a real suspension" kind of realization.

The Cruze absorbs bumps and potholes with a reassuring firmness that you don't get in a lot of sedans in this class. Mostly they just sound hollow and a bit fragile. The Cruze muffles hard hits and soaks them up like it could take a beating for many years to come. Feels solid, I like it so far.

Ed Hellwig, Editor, Inside Line

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2011 Chevrolet Cruze LTZ: Transmission Update and More

December 20, 2010


In the last Cruze post, I noted that the transmission left much to be desired. You, our well-informed and helpful commenters, were quick to inform us that there's a technical service bulletin (TSB) to address the harsh and delayed shifts. It's a problem that'll have to wait until after the holidays, so until then, we'll just have to deal with it.

On to my weekend with the Cruze...

In the interest of full disclosure, I was in a pretty sour mood all weekend. A leaking roof (my home, not the Cruze), car shopping (for my girlfriend, not me) and the awful driving skills displayed in L.A. when it rains all conspired to keep a perma-frown on my face. The wonky transmission had me sighing loudly on a regular basis, but at least I knew what the problem was. Thanks, readers.

That said, if you can look past the current state of our transmission, the Cruze is a decent car. It's quiet enough, even with the windshield wipers running constantly. The wipers, however, are a little streaky, obscuring the forward view at night. The ride quality is acceptable, if not a little harsh over potholes. But hey, this isn't a luxury car.

I noticed one thing in the audio/navigation system that was curious. In navigation mode, I went to select a radio preset but got no reaction. Huh? I switched the display over to radio mode and then it worked. Strange, I thought. But then when I went to program a destination into the nav, I figured out why. Some of the options in the system make use of the preset buttons. For instance, in choosing a route to the destination, I could press 4,5 or 6 to make my selection.

It's not all that intuitive, but certainly not a problem for a Cruze owner who drives it every day. For an occasional driver like myself, I thought it could have been more easily operated with the menu dial that seems to control almost every other function. Looking back, it's a pretty trivial little annoyance, but like I said, every little thing seemed to bug me this weekend. I'm all better now, thanks.

Mark Takahashi, Associate Grinch

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2011 Chevrolet Cruze LTZ: Shifty

December 17, 2010


Last night was my first drive in our Cruze. Overall, I think it's pretty well executed, but one thing struck me as being a little "off" as soon as I started moving: the transmission.

The timing and feel of the gear changes seem a little inconsistent to me. Sometimes the six-speed automatic is smooth as anything else in its class, but other times it feels as rough as a teenager learning how to drive a stick-shift. At first, I thought it was driver error, so I drove like a limo driver -- very slight throttle inputs and not a lot of load on the driveline. Nope, the first to second gear change resulted in a strange lurch back and forth. At the next light, I tried the same approach and the shift was so smooth, I almost didn't feel it.

Slowing down, I also feel some rough downshifts, and just like the upshifts, it's not very consistent. With slight pressure on the brake pedal as I approach a stop, the transmission steps down to the next lowest gear. Every now and then, that shift is far too noticeable -- like your foot slipped off the clutch pedal of a manual transmission.

I've got it all weekend, so I'm hoping to get to the bottom of this. Maybe I'll toss-in a Dynolicious graph to better explain what's going on. It's supposed to rain all the way through the weekend, too, so I should also be able to tell you if the trunk stays dry.

Got anything else you'd like to know about our long-term Cruze?

Mark Takahashi, Associate Editor

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2011 Chevrolet Cruze: Future Power

December 10, 2010


Should Chevrolet decide to put a larger engine into the Cruze, I think it's safe to assume space in the engine bay won't be a problem. Judging by the space around our car's 1.4-liter turbo-4, fitting something like the old 2.0-liter turbo from the Cobalt SS seems entirely possible. Alternately, it will be interesting to see if consumer interest develops for aftermarket tuning of the 1.4-liter turbo. Being a turbo, it should be pretty easy and affordable to increase power.

Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor

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2011 Chevy Cruze: L.A. to Vegas and Back

November 23, 2010


Okay, enough about the leaky trunk. Lets talk road trip.

I've driven our new long-term 2011 Chevy Cruze to Las Vegas and back and the news is good. This is an excellent road trip machine. Comfortable. Quiet. Roomy. And the word solid comes to mind. The Cruze feels solid.

After nearly 600 miles of highway travel, I would honestly never hesitate to hit the interstate (hey that rhymes) in this sedan. I enjoyed it that much.

But a little more power would be nice. Especially on those steep grades between Tinsel Town and Sin City. I had her floored more than I would have liked.

And that, of course, hurt my fuel economy. Well, that and a hardly broken in engine (I left L.A. with only 471 miles showing on the Cruze's odometer.) Anyway, I averaged 27.4 on the first tank. This included about 30 miles of city driving in Vegas. But on the way home I averaged 30.1 on the next tank, which also included about 30 miles of L.A. city driving and traffic.

Remember, the EPA rates the Cruze at 24 city and 36 hwy.

Scott Oldham, Editor in Chief

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2011 Chevy Cruze LTZ: Track Tested w/ Video

November 20, 2010


We jumped the gun with the 2011 Chevy Cruze LTZ. We could'e waited for the Long Term introduction and for it to go live on the LT blogs, but it's an important car and virtually as soon as we had the numbers, we wanted them out. So, in case you're not a frequent Straightline reader (You are, right? ) here are the track numbers and impressions of testing a 2011 Chevy Cruze LTZ, powered by a 1.4-liter turbocharged I-4.

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