December 02, 2011
See all of the blog posts on this vehicle.
GM introduced the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze at a pivotal moment in the automotive market. The General had recently graduated from a crash course in accounting, and a natural disaster was months away from devastating Japanese automobile manufacturing. If ever there was an opportunity for Chevy to succeed with a new, global compact sedan, this was it.
But as our introduction alluded, there was more to the challenge for Chevrolet. It was not good enough for the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze to simply be better than the Cobalt it replaced. To attain the levels of success GM expected, the Cruze had to compete with the compact legacies of the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla. Not to mention show well against the upcoming, all-new Ford Focus and Hyundai Elantra. This was no small feat.
We jumped right into the fray, purchasing our Cruze the moment they were available on dealer lots. A base Cruze was available in the $16K range so our $26,000 top-trim Cruze LTZ garnered extra attention. We wanted to test all of the available gadgets. So we spent $3,400 on the optional navigation system, power sunroof, premium audio system and a compact spare, which replaced the standard tire sealant and inflator kit.
Was this Cruze good enough to earn GM a larger share of the compact market? Was a 1.4-liter four-cylinder enough engine for displacement-hungry Americans? How would its 28 mpg EPA average hold up after 20,000 miles? These questions echoed in our minds as the 12-month test began.
Starting Off on the Wrong Foot
Every new test vehicle is subject to our standard protocol of safety and equipment inspections. Such checks range from torquing lug nuts to confirming the car has a spare tire. And it was the spare tire check that started this test off on the wrong foot. That is because the spare was resting in a half-inch pool of water. The trunk liner was soaked. We had a leak. Less than a day into our ownership, the Cruze was headed back to the dealer.
Our gut reaction was anger toward the selling dealership, Allen Gwynn Chevrolet. We first sought to remedy the situation by trading our leaker for a new car. But we decided instead to give the dealer a chance to fix it. As Consumer Advice Editor Phil Reed relayed, "The dealership handled the problem well. The salesman and service manager committed to resolving the leak quickly and communicated their progress with multiple phone calls." The service manager called us the next day: "We found the leak and caulked it. Then we soaked the hell out of it. It held tight." He asked for the rest of the day to further dry the trunk. After two days out of service the Cruze was back, good as new.
Shifting to the Right Foot
We took note when the now-dry Cruze returned to our garage. After jokes of car washes, showers and the Old Spice commercial guy faded, the peanut gallery remarked, "That's a good-looking car," which was quickly met with a "Still a rental if you ask me." Another editor noted, "Those wheels are better than most cars in its class. Nice job, Chevrolet."
The economy car segment today is a place for manufacturers to maximize space and give owners the sense that they've got good value in their purchase. Inside the cabin is where economy cars often remind us why they are so affordable. Not in the Cruze. Senior Automotive Editor Brent Romans offered nothing but praise. "Pretty classy. It looks upscale with the two-tone dash, navigation system and metallic trim. For an economy car, the materials used are pretty impressive, with soft-touch in the right places and very little shiny plastic," Romans said.
Compact sedans aren't known for comfort. This driver seat had gobs of travel fore and aft, yet the gangly still managed to bang our knees on the center stack every time we drove the car. However, the seat cushions themselves were adequately comfortable and supportive. Rear-seat room was smaller for its class, though it satiated even the grumpiest of passengers over moderate distances. Overall, the interior left a good impression.
Behind the Wheel
On the open road we found the Cruze quite agreeable. Inside Line Editor Ed Hellwig had a "Wow, this relatively inexpensive sedan actually feels like it has a real suspension" realization after his first drive in the Chevy. He continued, "The Cruze absorbs bumps and potholes with a reassuring firmness that you don't get in a lot of sedans in this class. It muffles hard hits and soaks them up like it could take a beating for many years to come." These attributes garnered the Cruze "not bad for a road trip" acclaim. To test its roadworthiness we sent it to Las Vegas and Phoenix early in our test. It performed great.
Where the Cruze stood tall on the open road, it occasionally stumbled around town. This is where our initial praise began to waver. Associate Editor Mark Takahashi observed, "The timing and feel of the gearchanges 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." No matter our driving techniques, the transmission often seemed a bit confused in everyday situations. It was frustrating, until a recall notice arrived.
As a first-year car, we expected some minor recalls while the bugs were flushed out. Our expectations were met by some notable items early in the test. A mailer came first.
GM sent a letter informing us of recalls for a transmission reflash, to lube a strut assembly and to affix a new VIN label. The latter two were technicalities but the first was very familiar. We visited the dealer. After the reflash our Cruze shifted far better than before, although some stop-and-go situations remained a bit awkward. Other recalls during our test, both ominous but neither affecting our vehicle, included one for improper steering shaft installation and one for a detachable steering wheel.
We experienced just one other issue with our Cruze. The radio suffered a minor freakout. Just as one editor (to remain nameless) was belting out the chorus to Eddy Grant's classic, "Electric Avenue," the radio went to static. Two verses later he realized the radio wasn't working, so he turned it off and back on. No luck. A complete restart of the car was necessary to fix the issue, which oddly, never resurfaced.
Our test began with questions as to how the Cruze would fare in the highly competitive compact sedan segment. After 12 months and more than 27,000 miles it's Judgment Day.
The Cruze had a lot going for it. From a cosmetic perspective it was attractive enough to deflect the rental car stigma. Interior materials quality far surpassed that of previous GM compacts. Maintenance settled into a predictable routine following a rough start. And at $48 every 10,000 miles it was also affordable.
Beneath the surface the Cruze continued to shine. Its suspension was impressive, as if somebody actually spent time to develop it rather than go the economy route. As we delved into the powertrain, our excitement reached a plateau. The 1.4-liter turbo wasn't the most powerful engine in its class, which we were willing to forgive in exchange for superior fuel economy. But it didn't deliver on that.
Fuel economy is a big deal in this segment. EPA estimations set our sights on 24 city/36 highway, or an average of 28 mpg for our new Cruze. By test end we averaged just 25 mpg. Our best single tank was a mere 32 mpg. GM's efforts to match the transmission calibration to EPA testing missed the mark. Not only was fuel efficiency below par, but its everyday drivability was compromised. Even after the transmission reflash, the Cruze didn't feel quite dialed-in around town. It was not a deal breaker, though it did require practice to minimize awkward shifting.
Bottom line? This Chevy was better than any GM compact preceding it. Depreciation (based on a private-party sale) was 23 percent, suggesting increased resale demand as well. Ditching the Cobalt for the Cruze, GM moved up the compact sedan hierarchy from tailpipe to B-pillar. Was middle of the pack enough to get our attention? Yes. But with the new Elantra and Focus out there, it's not quite enough to get our money.
|Total Body Repair Costs:||None|
|Total Routine Maintenance Costs (over 12 months):||$94.69|
|Additional Maintenance Costs:||None|
|Warranty Repairs:||Reseal trunk to prevent leak, transmission reflash, new VIN label, strut lube|
|Scheduled Dealer Visits:||2|
|Unscheduled Dealer Visits:||3|
|Days Out of Service:||3|
|Breakdowns Stranding Driver:||None|
|Best Fuel Economy:||32.1 mpg|
|Worst Fuel Economy:||16.9 mpg|
|Average Fuel Economy:||25.3 mpg|
|True Market Value at service end (private party):||$19,960|
|What it sold for:||$18,000|
|Depreciation (% of original paid price):||23 percent|
|Final Odometer Reading:||27,816 miles|
Edmunds purchased this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.