NAME: 2011 Chevrolet Cruze 2LT
PRICE: $20,675 (base) - $21,890 (as tested)
STATS: 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine; 138 hp; 6-speed automatic transmission; MPG city/highway: 24/36
FUN FACT: The original Cruze was a small crossover manufactured by Suzuki in Japan.
THE BACK STORY: As part of General Motor's new direction, it claimed it was focusing on cars that were as feature-filled, and fun to drive as they were economical. Coming from a company that buttered its bread with SUVs and pick-up trucks, it was harder to believe than when Soulja Boy told us he wanted to rap better. GM's past crop of small cars made the claim even harder to swallow: How was the Aveo or the Cobalt going to compete with the Honda Civic and the Toyota Corolla? To quiet the naysayers, Chevy brought over one of its most popular global cars, the Cruze, to go head-to-head with the competition. We took one out for a weekend to see if it could claim the small-car crown...
• It looks great: The problem with most small cars is their middle-of-the-road exterior design. Not the Cruze. It's not cutting-edge by any means, but it's the most thoughtfully designed car in its segment. When you outfit it with the optional 17-inch alloy wheels and get the front fog lights, it really looks more premium than its sticker.
• Surprisingly able powertrain: When it comes to the engine, you can get it in two flavors: a 1.8-liter four-cylinder model or a 1.4-liter turbocharged version, both of which put down 138 hp. Not bad at all. Especially when paired with the 6-speed automatic transmission (the only car in its class with that as standard).
• Great fuel economy: We drove the 1.4-liter turbocharged version with a 6-speed transmission. According to Chevy, this model should get an average of 30 mpg. We can vouch for that. Even when heavy-footing it, the Cruze managed to sip fuel.
• Nicely appointed interior: The Cruze's interior is surprisingly spacious for a small car. Our friends had no trouble sliding in and out of the backseat, though we only recommend having two of your boys back there. The materials—leathers, plastics, rubbers—are nice and soft to the touch and actually feel like quality, not bargain-bin pickups.
• Bargain for the price: Chevy's campaign for the Cruze centers around the fact that it has more standard features than all its competitors. As far as we can see, that's true. Standard in the Cruze are seat warmers, three months of OnStar turn-by-turn directions, Bluetooth, and daytime running lights. Most of those things, especially the seat warmers, are options we'd expect in mid-sized sedans.
NOT SO DOPE:
• Odd gear changes: We like the 6-speed transmission and the 1.4-liter turbo'd engine, but we constantly found it to be in the wrong gear.
• The entertainment system is, well, not: We know it's a low-priced compact car, but we think Chevy could have spruced up the radio/entertainment system. The blue screen looks like a complete afterthought, giving you not much information while driving. We also wish it showed the time in every setting, as trying to go back to the main screen to peep the clock was difficult while on the road.
FINAL SAY: It's not the most fun car to drive; it's not the fastest in its segment. But as far as full packages go, the Cruze looks to be the best bet for the money. You'll average great gas mileage while driving a car that doesn't look it was designed by an accountant. Our only wish? That Chevy built a Honda Civic Si-fighter.