The Chevrolet Optra is the automotive equivalent of cheap chocolate—it’s sweet at the beginning but leaves a bitter, cough syrup-like aftertaste. In an odd marketing twist, Filipinos bought the Optra in droves, perhaps driven by curiosity over the Chevrolet brand and the affordable price tag. Well, in the end you only get what you paid for and soon there were countless people who complained about the Optra’s propensity to be lackluster. You name it, it didn’t do it well. Soon, interest waned and the Optra was lost in the bowels of automotive dullness. Thank god.
With the Optra’s supernova rise and fall from the Filipino buyer’s grace, you have to understand the daunting task that lies ahead for Chevrolet’s all-new compact car: the Cruze. After all, the Cruze is a global car designed and engineered to replace market-specific compact cars to one that can exceed expectations anywhere it’s sold. Under the marching orders of General Motors vice-chairman Bob Lutz, the Cruze can’t just be “good enough”; it must be “best in class”. It took more than 6.4 million kilometers of testing and 221 prototypes to get to the Cruze you see on these pages; and let’s get the cat out of the bag: there’s no reason why you should get a Toyota Corolla.
Comparing the new boy to the respected king is tall order indeed, but the Chevrolet Cruze has what it takes. First of all, it’s got the looks. Designing the Cruze was certainly a challenge since it had to cater to a global audience, but Chevrolet pulled it off. Overall, the Cruze is striking and timeless with a bold face and a coupe-like roofline. The design looks deceivingly compact with its taut and tightly drawn bodylines, but in reality it’s longer and wider than most compact cars in the market. Although there are a lot of things to love with Cruze’s design, the main exception is actually the rear lamp cluster which apes the Honda Civic a bit too much. This is a very minor offense, and easily correctable in a future facelift.
Inside, the Cruze is a testament to excellent fit and finish. Without seeing the bowtie badge on the steering wheel, you can easily mistake the quality of materials in here for a brand with three initials and a propeller for a logo. Overall, the Cruze has a twin cockpit motif as seen in cars like the Camaro and Corvette. Such sportiness deserves no hint of beige, and thankfully the Cruze has none. Nonetheless, the Cruze remains airy and welcoming. Particularly likeable is the way the Cruze plays around with grays and blacks. Also welcome are the knurled rubber coatings on the big round knobs on the audio and climate controls as well as the soft-touch plastics on the switches and stalks—it lends the Cruze a truly luxurious feel. Splashed around the cabin are several metallic and aluminum-like accents. The one on the center console ups the ante by adding a nice billet texture.
Unlike most compact cars with compromised seat comfort, the Cruze has supportive seats with long cushions for great thigh support. There’s absolutely no fatigue whatsoever no matter how long the drive or how traffic the road maybe. Typical of European cars, but unique to the Cruze, the front seats are allowed to almost kiss the rear to increase the available front seat space. This means a bit of caution must be exercised when someone is sitting at the back. That said, the rear knee space is actually very good and the seat pitch is excellent. However, if you plan to squeeze three at the back all the time, the middle person would have wished the Cruze’s center tunnel isn’t as large. At least everyone gets three-point seat belts.
Coupled with the nice, supportive seats are the Cruze’s gauges which are deeply recessed but large and legible. The driver information system nestled between the speedometer and tachometer is particularly lovely especially when seen with the chrome ring surrounds. The three-spoke steering wheel is meaty and nice to the touch. For the best driving position, the Cruze has a tilt/telescopic steering wheel where even the ignition fob moves for optimal key twisting. As nice as the driving position of the Cruze is, getting familiar with the control locations may take more than 30 seconds. For instance, the central door locks are located on the center console and the headlamps are operated via a knob as opposed to the much more familiar left stalk. Even the power folding mirrors are operated by moving the joystick down rather than pushing a different button. Again, these are rather minor nuisances, and if you’re much more familiar with European makes, you’ll get the hangs of things much faster.
On the subject of audio systems, the Cruze has definitely the segment’s best. Besides the steering wheel mounted controls (which are a joy to use), the Cruze has a 6-disc changer that accepts both audio and digital music files. On top of that, it even has an auxiliary jack and USB port for iPods and thumb drives. The sound quality is top notch with ample bass and crisp treble. Additionally, any audiophile will tell you that the secret to a good sound system is to isolate unwanted noise and the Cruze does just that with excellent NVH isolation. As good as the sound system is though, be forewarned that the closeness of the buttons requires you to sometimes glance away from the road to change a track or source; but if you don’t mind pressing the ‘mute’ or lowering the volume until the Manny Villar ad ends, then you’d do just fine. Or you can always use the steering wheel controls.
Wanting to shed the notion of American cars as gas guzzlers, Chevrolet engineers went back to the drawing board and gifted the Cruze with a brand-new drivetrain: a 1.8-liter 4-cyliner engine from the Ecotec family and the segment’s first 6-speed automatic. On paper, the Cruze certainly doesn’t burn the pavement with its 138 horsepower and 175 Nm of torque. In reality though, it’s still pleasant to drive on a day-to-day basis. The only time you’d clamor for more horses would be if you hit the highways often. As it is though, the Cruze needs to keep the revs up just to maintain a decent speed on a long straight. In short, the Cruze does best as its namesake suggests: cruising. The transmission is tuned for that as well: going for fuel efficiency rather than downright performance. As such, it shifts early as possible keeping the revs as low as possible all the time. For instance, at 100 km/h, the Cruze keeps the revs at just 1,500 rpm. The shift quality is smooth and consistent though there’s a slight tug when moving from idle. This is perhaps due to the Cruze’s idle-neutral mode which shifts the transmission automatically to neutral when the vehicle comes to a stop and engages the gear when the brake is released.
Having a solid rear axle may suggest that the Cruze isn’t the sharpest knife on the handling block, but rest assured Chevrolet engineers have incorporated some interesting features. A typical torsion beam set-up for example has a V-shaped beam joining the trailing arms, while on the Cruze there’s a steel tube with a pinched central section. This means the beam itself provides the roll control function of an anti-roll bar resulting in a spirited but planted handling. In fact, the Cruze can take anything you can throw at it with aplomb.
The suspension is able to keep all four wheels on the ground and in the right direction while soaking up everything without the slightest hint of stepping out or excessive bounciness. The ride is on the firm side and that makes you feel more of the low speed rumbles, but it’s still comfortable overall. Meanwhile, the steering provides a good balance of effort whatever the situation from maneuvering at low speeds to cornering near the limit (we happened to lap the Cruze around the Subic International Raceway). And when things do get scary, the Cruze does come standard with stability control. The brakes are just as good as the steering with sufficient stopping power and solid pedal feel.
Overall, the Cruze has shown that Chevrolet is dead serious about being the best in class in the compact car segment. Be it in the styling or the driving or the fit and finish, the Cruze continually showed that it’s a hundred times better than the Optra. If there are still any doubters out there on whether or not the Cruze is a true-blue Chevrolet, doubt no more. The Cruze is will definitely eradicate any bad memories of the Optra and at the same time, it elevates the compact car segment to an all-new level.
2011 Chevrolet Cruze 1.8 LT
|Body Type||4-door sedan|
|Engine / Drive||F/F|
|Under the Hood|
|Layout / # of Cylinders||Inline 4|
|BHP @ rpm||138 @ 6,300|
|Nm @ rpm||175 @ 3,800|
|Fuel / Min. Octane||Unleaded / 93~|
|Dimensions and Weights|
|Curb Weight (kg)||1,315|
|Suspension and Tires|
|Front Suspension||Independent, MacPherson Strut|
|Rear Suspension||Torsion Beam Axle|
|Front Brakes||Vented Disc|
|Anti-Lock Brakes (ABS)||Yes|
|Traction / Stability Control||No|
|Steering Wheel Adjustment||Tilt/Telescopic|
|Steering Wheel Material||Leather|
|Folding Rear Seat||Yes, 60/40|
|Power Door Locks||Yes|
|No. of Speakers||6|
|Steering Wheel Controls||Yes|