• Apr 19, 2010
2011 Chevrolet Cruze – Click above for high-res image gallery

Chevrolet's mainstream, high-volume compact car was derisively referred to as the Cadavelier not so many years ago. It was considered one of the most uninspired entries from any automaker in the segment. The Cobalt was a major step forward, but still wasn't near the top of its class. In the words of soon-to-retire General Motors vice-chairman Bob Lutz, the Cobalt was developed under the old philosophy of making cars "good enough."

Under Lutz's tutelage, GM's product development team has shifted to a philosophy of making its products "Best in Class." Transitions like this don't happen overnight, though – especially in the car business with its long lead times. While some would argue about whether GM's newest offerings are segment leaders, there is no doubt that almost every recent GM introduction has made tremendous progress.

GM will launch a replacement for its one-and-done Cobalt later this year in the shape of the new Chevrolet Cruze. We were invited to the GM Milford Proving Ground to learn more about the Cruze and get a first drive on the track. Read on to find out if it indeed has a shot at being best in class.

Ever since we first saw the Cruze just before the 2008 Paris Motor Show, GM has been saying that it is not a direct replacement for the Cobalt since it is larger and more upscale than the outgoing compact. In fact, the Cruze is less than one inch longer than the Cobalt and an inch taller. The biggest difference lies in its wheelbase and width, where the new sedan has an advantage of 2.4 and 2.8 inches respectively. Chevrolet will promote the Cruze as offering near mid-size space in a compact package with a compact price.

The Cruze is built on GM's new global compact platform (a.k.a. Delta II), which it shares with the Opel/Vauxhall Astra, the Volt, upcoming models including the Orlando and the next-generation Opel Zafira. Development of this platform was truly a global effort, with work being conducted around the clock from 2006 onward in South Korea, Germany and the United States. The Cruze is already on sale in more than 60 countries after launching in South Korea and China in late 2008, and it will go on sale in North America in the fourth quarter of this year.

The Cruze engineering team focused on several areas during development including refinement, safety and efficiency. We'll be taking a closer look at the safety story in a separate, more in-depth piece, but the car has been designed to meet all divergent safety requirements for each market in which it's sold and does so with one common structure. Crash tests in the Korean, Chinese and European NCAP programs have all yielded five star safety ratings, with the European Cruze scoring best-ever results in its segment in the EuroNCAP. The Cruze is also the first compact with 10 standard airbags, including front knee airbags and even rear seat outboard side airbags.

Remarkably, it does this without getting ridiculously heavy or resorting to the thick visibility-sapping pillars found on the Buick LaCrosse. GM has not announced the weight of the Cruze, but one engineer did say that loaded models would be in the 3,375-pound EPA test weight class, so that would likely put it somewhere between 3,125 and 3,375 pounds. The new body structure is also substantially more rigid than previous Delta platform vehicles. It now has a natural frequency of 42 Hz in bending and 40 Hz in twisting, an improvement of between 10-to-40 percent.

GM offers several different engine and transmission options for the Cruze in other markets, but the U.S. model will be the first to be equipped with six-speed units across the board. The new in-house developed-and-built M32 six-speed manual (below, left) will see its first application in the compact, as will an all-new six-speed automatic. The new 6T40 automatic transmission (below, right) is particularly compact and will eventually find its way into smaller GM cars around the world.

On the engine side, North America will only be getting the 1.8-liter inline four-cylinder engine, which is standard in the base LS model, and the new 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder for the LT, LTZ and ECO models. While both produce similar power (136 horsepower for the 1.8 and 138 hp for the 1.4), the smaller turbocharged engine has a substantially fatter torque curve hitting 148 pound-feet at 1,850 rpm (123 lb-ft at 3,800 rpm for the 1.8) and staying there throughout most of its operating range. (Update: The 1.4-liter turbo uses port fuel injection rather than direct injection. GM was able to meet its performance and efficiency targets for the engine without the extra cost of DI. GM engineers don't rule out using DI on future iterations of the engine.)

The turbocharged 1.4-liter engine (below, right) also has some interesting design features. Unlike many modern engines, it retains a cast iron block. However, this is a thin wall casting that has almost no weight penalty over an aluminum design because it doesn't need any cylinder liners. As you go to smaller engines, the benefits of the lighter material shrink because of the extra material that must be added for durability reasons.

Engine weight is also kept down by using a composite intake manifold and a single-piece cast aluminum front cover with an integrated water pump. Parasitic losses are reduced by using a variable displacement oil pump to only produce as much oil pressure as needed rather than building excess and then using a bypass to bleed it off. Instead of a traditional screw-on oil-filter, the 1.4 has a cast-in housing with an integrated cooler and a replaceable paper cartridge filter that comes out from the top. This reduces oil spillage during changes and has less waste material during disposal. The manual-equipped 1.4-liter model also gets a dual mass flywheel, which helps to dampen vibrations from the four-cylinder engine.

The Honeywell supplied turbo itself is integrated into the exhaust manifold to minimize energy loss and lag, which helps with the engine's responsiveness. Coolant flow is maintained through the turbo bearing area after engine shutdown to prevent the oil from cooking and prematurely destroying the turbo.

The Cruze's front suspension is a fairly conventional MacPherson strut setup, but the electric power steering (EPAS) is now rack-mounted rather than column-mounted for better feel. Hydraulic bushings are used in the lower control arms for better ride and isolation and hydraulic load-bearing engine mounts are also used to keep noise and vibration from being transmitted into the passenger compartment.

At first glance, the torsion beam rear suspension looks pretty unimpressive, but chassis engineers have incorporated some interesting features. Because the Delta II platform is designed to be sold in markets around the world with various bodystyles, flexibility was needed to tune the suspension for various applications. A typical torsion beam setup has a lateral V-shaped beam joining the trailing arms. The Cruze (and other Delta models including Astra and Volt) has a steel tube with a pinched central section, and GM uses a patented helical welding process at the outer ends to connect the beam and control arms.

The beam itself provides the roll control function of an anti-roll bar. By varying the thickness of the steel in the tube, the engineers can adjust the car's rear roll stiffness. The tube can also be rotated for different vehicles to change the orientation of the pinched section. By doing this, the roll steer effect of the rear axle (the angle of the wheels as they move up and down that affects the handling of the car) can be changed. A Watts link has also been incorporated to help manage the lateral position of the wheels, the first such application with a torsion beam axle in a production car. A lateral link from the rear end of each trailing arm is attached to the central crank mounted to a sub-frame. As lateral loads build, the linkage puts a counter-acting force on the opposite wheel to keep the whole setup centered under the car.

Minimizing noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) was also a top priority throughout development of the Cruze. Along with the usual array of sound-deadening mattes, the engineers have also used features typically found on more premium cars like acoustical windshield glass and triple door seals. During the body build process, expanding foam is injected into hollow sections of the doors and body structure. When the body goes through the curing ovens after painting, the foam expands to fill those areas so that it can dampen out vibrations.

GM provided three Cruze models for us to drive at the Milford Proving Ground ,along with a Toyota Corolla and two Honda Civic sedans for comparison. One Cruze was a loaded LTZ model with the six-speed automatic transmission, 18-inch wheels and sport suspension setup. Another was a mid-level 2LT automatic with 16-inch wheels and touring suspension, while the third was a manual transmission Eco model. All were powered by the new 1.4-liter turbo. These were engineering development cars and didn't necessarily have all the final trim and graining in the interior, so we'll withhold final judgment on interior fit and finish until we can get our mitts on a production example. We were told, however, that the NVH package and mechanical bits were pretty much finalized on these cars.

Given the relatively modest growth in external size, the Cruze is quite roomy inside, now being classed as a mid-size car by EPA standards. Four adults can easily fit comfortably in the front and back. Like most other recent GM cars, the front seats are quite comfortable and supportive with adequately long seat cushions for decent thigh support.

While fit and finish on our test cars wasn't representative, the layout was. The arrangement of controls is very good, with knurled rubber coatings on the big round knobs for the audio and climate controls. The gauges are large and legible and a full driver information display sits in between the speedometer and tachometer, just as it does on other GM vehicles.

We were allowed to lap the ride-and-handling loop at Milford in all of the cars as well as check out acceleration and braking in the vehicle dynamics area. The first car we tried was the Eco model, which GM expects will get a 40 miles-per-gallon highway rating from the EPA. In addition to a lowered ride height and some weight and aerodynamic tweaks, the ECO also gets different gearing than other Cruze models. Typically with these fuel economy specials, the gearing is set up just for maximum efficiency and acceleration is leisurely. However, the Cruze engineers actually opted for a shorter first gear ratio (4.273:1 vs 3.818:1 on the base model) in order to provide better off-the-line performance. Third through sixth gears are all taller than base models, as is the final drive ratio to provide lower engine speeds when cruising.

The Cruze Eco feels surprisingly responsive accelerating away from a start and driving around at urban speeds. Most drivers won't find this car at all unpleasant to drive on a day-to-day basis. The manual transmission was also a pleasure to use with slick transitions from gear to gear and no notchiness at all. The clutch take-up was also smooth and progressive. The broad flat torque curve of the turbo engine is something that American drivers will appreciate, making the 1.4-liter engine feel like a significantly larger engine.

The roughly three-mile long Milford ride loop consists of a variety of turns and surfaces, including smooth asphalt and concrete, rumble strips, railroad crossings, humps and dips and broken pavement typical of some of the worst of Michigan roads. One series of right-left-right curves features some very rough, bumpy pavement that can easily upset a car while cornering. The Cruze took everything we threw at with aplomb. The suspension kept the rubber on the road through those rough pavement corners and soaked up everything without a hint of stepping out or excessive vertical motions.

This particular series of corners illustrated the biggest dynamic difference between the Cruze and its competitors. In the same section at similar speeds, the Honda's multi-link rear suspension always seemed to step sideways while the Corolla had under-damped vertical motions. The Cruze was also much better isolated than the other cars. While we could hear what was going on below, the noises were much more muted, providing just enough feedback to act as a warning signal while still allowing a conversation in normal speaking voices.

It was also a real pleasure for us to see the progress being made with newer low rolling resistance tires. Not that long ago, putting such tires on a car would result in handling that felt like you were constantly driving on ice. By contrast, the Cruze Eco always felt confident and in control. The new rack-mounted EPAS system provided a good balance of steering effort whether maneuvering at low speeds or cornering near the limit of adhesion.

Similarly, everything else was quieter in the Cruze – including engine and wind noise. This was particularly true compared to the Civic. Winds were gusting about 25-30 mph during our evaluation and the Civic was shockingly loud inside. By comparison, the Cruze was downright serene. Even though the interior materials of these prototypes was not fully representative, it still looked far better than the interior of the Corolla, which reminded us more of recent Chrysler vehicles than the high-quality cabins that Toyota built its reputation on.

Back on the dynamic front, the two other models we drove exhibited similar handling characteristics to the ECO with the touring suspension 2LT being marginally softer and the sport LTZ having slightly more precise steering response and feedback. The biggest difference from the manual-equipped Eco we drove was the new six-speed automatic transmission, which shifted seamlessly and never exhibited any abrupt behavior. The only real complaint we could make was a bit of sluggishness off the line.

This lag was only momentary and most drivers are unlikely to notice. In fact, it's not much different from what we've experienced in many recent cars that have Normal and Sport shift modes. The Normal mode is typically tuned to maximize EPA numbers with slightly less aggressive throttle and transmission response, while Sport modes typically leap off the line a bit faster. Unless you floor the accelerator, you are unlikely to notice anything untoward.

One additional feature new to the 6T40 automatic is an idle-neutral mode. When the vehicle comes to a stop, the transmission automatically goes into Neutral and then re-engages the gear when the brake is released. This reduces load on the engine, adding another incremental improvement to fuel economy. We looked for any signs of this shifting when driving and were unable to detect the transmission's activity.

Overall, our brief exposure to the Cruze showed us that General Motors is serious about being best in class in the compact segment. At first blush, the Cruze has all the makings a huge improvement over the Cobalt, and memories of the Cadavelier will hopefully soon fade. The biggest problem for the Cruze will likely be the new 2012 Ford Focus, which we haven't driven yet. The new Focus is a bit smaller than the Cruze, although is also aiming for a class-leading interior and its styling is arguably more exciting than the Cruze. Regardless, we think there's plenty of room in the compact segment for both cars to succeed, perhaps at the expense of Toyota and Honda.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 4 Years Ago
      so what if its a daewoo remember what you use to think about kia and hyundai they all used to be **** boxes same with those ford escort hatchbacks oh whoops i mean 5.0's. Cars are different these days, if daewoo can bring it to the table and make a car that rides better, and is literally more sound than the honda or the toyo, then more power to em, and more power to chevy for bringin it to the u.s.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I've never heard the name "Cadavelier", but I always thought the only things cavalier about the Cavalier was the attitude of the engineers that designed it and the people that built it.

      The Cobalt may be five years old, but it's still light-years ahead of the Cavalier.
        • 4 Years Ago
        True, though as someone who has to drive a Cobalt (standard sedan) regularly (it's my gf's car), I can tell you it's like a 2-and-a-half star hotel compared to the cot-in-a-urine-soaked-alley that was the rental Cavalier I kept somehow ending up with. (Really? A physical lever to adjust the mirror... that breaks off with normal use!?)

        Good riddance to the Cavalier, and here's hoping we can trade her damn-near-zero throttle response Cobalt in for a Cruze before the value drops too hard...
        • 4 Years Ago
        "Cheap, bare-bones 2.0T, 6-speed, Brembos and good handling. I'm surprised simplecar doesn't own one. :P"

        the turbo cobalts are by far the bang for the buck champ, they are faster than the current evo and sti
        • 4 Years Ago
        I owned a 5 speed 84' Cavalier. The gear box felt like it had been opened and a can of peanut butter and bolts had been dropped in. My left leg was HUGE too after fighting the impossible clutch.
        • 4 Years Ago
        My first car was a 1985 Cavalier Type 10 (the sporty one before they introduced the Z24).

        It was only 4 years old when I got it but it felt like a 10 year old clunker (it was my mom's car).

        It was a 3-speed auto, I couldn't get the tires to squeal for the life of me and I would get my ass whooped by K-Cars.

        The driver seatback would recline (fall) with slight pressure, the headlights had a short and had to be turned on by punching the edge of the hood a couple of times a night, same with the dashboard lights ...

        Anyway ... it took one hell of a beating and it had lasting memories. I wish I still had a picture of it.
      • 4 Years Ago
      The looks and lines are fair enough for a compact car and I'm sure that soon enough rental fleets and high schoolers across American will have their hands on these.
      • 4 Years Ago
      This is a very attractive vehicle, and that compliment is coming from someone who has owned many Hondas and a recent Hyundai. Now if they could just make this in a two door hatchback with adult size doors, they would have something.

      I am a bit perplexed as to why GM would use a torsion beam with such a new and otherwise technologically advanced platform and drive train. By the time they added that Watt's linkage, they have the complexity of an independent suspension, without the full benefit of the ride quality and control. In fact, a multi-link or double wishbone with coil-overs would probably save significant space, allow improved ride quality, and give serious bragging rights over competing vehicles in the "cheap car" segment. Quit trying to save a few bucks and you might just ...make a few extra bucks. As it is, I won't buy a vehicle with a solid axle or a torsion beam, popular as they may be among the manufacturers. I drive a lot of highway miles, and some occasional back roads, and I want the ride quality. And I'm willing to pay the extra bucks for it, if it even costs extra for such components. And I certainly wouldn't pay $40,000 for a Volt with a torsion beam suspension. That is simply a joke.

      So make mine a two door hatch with a fully independent suspension, and we'll be in business.

      • 4 Years Ago
      I love how in most GM supplied photos the radio is tuned to WRIF.

      • 4 Years Ago
      It's too bad that once the new Focus comes out the Cruze will be a distant memory. The Focus has the looks, the content, and a proven chassis. Oh did I mention the looks?! The Cruze has a way too bland exterior for this segement.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Would you PLEASE stop talking about the Focus? How many times are people going to make the same point? The focus has more futuristic styling but the Cruze is NOT ugly. Not by a long shot. WHy in the world do people think the ONLY car that will be compared to the Cruze is the 2012 Focus? Have you ever heard of cars like the Corolla, Sentra or Civic? What about those cars? The cruze will be the newest compact on the market when the Focus debuts so common sense dictates that it stands a better chance than the older cars when it comes to competing with the new Ford. While its POSSIBLE that the Focus will be better than the Cruze the Chevy is still superior to every other sedan in this class.

        Every article I see about this car brings out nervous Honda fanboys who extol the virtues of the 2011 civic that is yet unseen. Saying GM shouldnt brag about beating out the 2010 civic because its over 4 years old is stupid. That is the Honda compact that is for sale now and likely will be on sale for another year or more. I've heard nothing about this all new civic and no one has posted any spy shots thus far. Even if it is coming out there is NOTHING Honda has shown lately that would indicated the civic would be a world beater. Remember, the 2006 model basically used a carry over engine and added a 5 speed auto. Honda doesn't even use 6 speeds on its higher end products like Accord so I have a hard time believing the new Civic will come out with a benchmark powertrain and class leading mileage. In fact, I can't think of one current Honda that leads in mileage. Until we see specifics on the new civic the fact remains that the Cruze looks like a near benchmark product.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Aside from the Solstice and Camaro, GM has some of the least inspiring car designs out there. Am I the only one that feels this way?
        • 4 Years Ago
        GM cars I'd be OK to have in the garage:

        Caddy CTS sedan, coupe & wagon
        Hummer H2
        GMC Acadia, Yukon Denali
        Buick Enclave
        Chevy Traverse, Tahoe, Avalanche, Corvette
        Saturn Outlook

        The full-size GM trucks (Yukon, Tahoe, H2, Avalanche) look great wearing 26s, and the current CUVs (Outlook, Traverse, Acadia, Enclave) are class-leading 3-row haulers.

        The Corvette is a tremendous bang-for-the-buck achievement, along with the CTS.

        Of course, the rest of the stuff needs a little more work, but I sure wouldn't mind getting a Cruze or LaCrosse the next time I'm at the Avis counter...
      • 4 Years Ago
      ~3200lb in a small 4 cylinder economy car?

      GM, you already lost me. Seems as if it'd be slower than the old ecotec 2.2 Cavalier, which was.. pretty damn punchy actually.

      I was hoping for a good power to weight ratio. There's no way in hell now :P
        • 4 Years Ago
        Well if it's any indication, my e36 is about 3200lb, has a 2.8 I6 motor and probably 200lbs of noise deadening material.. oh yah.. and a ~200lb differential out back.

        the 2010 6 cylinder mustang is about 3400lb with a 4.0 in front... another huge rwd beast

        Maybe they should take out the brick pack before they sell it in the USA :P
        • 4 Years Ago
        Good point on the weight, however, crash and emissions regs have taken their toll on platform weight. On more expensive platforms, you can get away with using high-strength in more of the chassis to keep the wieght down, but on a car at this price point, I don't think there's much that can be done.
        • 4 Years Ago
        I dunno, dude. the Base Civic and Corolla are still in the 2700lb range.

        The 2008+ Focus is ~2600lb.

        The CR-Z is somewhere from 2400-2600lb and it's got a hybrid 1.5L powertrain for chrissakes.

        Not acceptable. I'll wait for the new focus..
        • 4 Years Ago
        3200lbs.... Then add in 500-600lbs of batteries and electric drivetrain on top of the ICE drivetrain, and you end up with a ~3800lb Chevy Volt.
      • 4 Years Ago
      This car sounds kinda interesting. I am in the market for a new car in 2011, I originally only had the new Focus on my list for compact cars; but this is starting to sound like its worth a test drive.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I'm confused by the bit about the oil filter... you'll access it from the top? I might by it so I don't have to crawl under the car to change the oil!
        • 4 Years Ago
        The way I read it, you'd still have to get under the vehicle to DRAIN the oil, but there's no longer a screw-on oil filter. Instead, there's a changeable paper filter accessed from above.
      • 4 Years Ago
      No one reviews cars properly, The UK version Cruze has instrument dials that are unreadable in sunlight or when wearing sunglasses (same dials in US ) best dials are on the much maligned Dodge Caliber,the rear suspension lacks Watts linkage and is a bone shaker. The interior plastic , carpets & so-called leather steering wheel are absolute rubbish of the worst possible quality,The trip odometer is combined with the hopelessly inacurate fuel consumption display, should be independant ,The rainsensing wipers do not work as required. Only 6 airbags poor quality windscreen. No powered foldback door mirrors No tyre pressure monitor, No chilled drinks locker , no self closing doors , poor fuel consumption, poor sales so large discounts with free servicing. My next car will not be a Cruze.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Because what it sounds like is youve seen this car that was built overseas. The Cruze has a standard 10 airbags so the one you seen didnt come from lordstown ohio the home of the cruze. GM also announced there setting aside millions of dollars for future upgrades on the cruze which will start as early as 2011 when there bringing out the sports package. GM knows there are more than a few cars in the small car market due for a facelift like the civic. So why show all the goods right off the bat. This cruze will be around for a long time
        • 4 Years Ago
        Quite frankly the main reason for buying the crap Cruze Euro version was because it is the only car that I know of with Diesel Automatic at a realistic price in the UK where gas prices are too high.. A short test drive by a salesman over a smooth road did not reveal the bone shaking rear suspension & other defects. and I did not realise how much I would miss the excellent features of the Dodge Caliber. Sensible instrument dials etc. etc. etc. Had the Caliber been available with auto diesel I would have bought my third one.
        • 4 Years Ago
        This is the same problem that Chevy had with the first two years of the NBS Silverado, the cluster was not readable in bright sunlight or when wearing dark sunglasses - a major safety concern.
        • 4 Years Ago
        sounds like you dont review cars properly either. Because before you make a decision on a car you should test drive it and make your own opinions on it. Not from some pics and reviews when the car hasnt even been made in the U.S. yet. They will be on the dealer lots very soon as were running about 10 cruzes per day and that will increase till we start full production in july. but bottom line, wait to see it in person, drive it, and if doesnt meet your strict requirements then cool, its not for you, go check out the buick lacrosse or some foreign car and send your money to the japs.
      • 4 Years Ago
      great writeup. man that civic is looking LONG in the tooth.
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