2011 Chevrolet Cruze LS

2011 Chevrolet Cruze LS 2011 Chevrolet Cruze LS
Short Take Road Test

What we have here is some genuine grammatical monkey business: a Cruze with no cruise. Such are the peculiarities of product planning in the economy-car segment, where sticker price is even more of a motivator than in other, less-necessity-driven classes. Case in point: the latest Volkswagen Jetta, which has been critically maligned for its beancounter design but is selling better than its more-upscale predecessor.

But back to the cruiseless Cruze. To get cruise on a Cruze, you must start with an LT or Eco, both of which base at $19,175, and add the Connectivity Plus Cruise (not “Cruze”) package for $525. The car seen here is the entry-level LS model. Base price: $17,275. Add an automatic transmission, extra-cost paint, a spare tire, floor mats, and the connectivity package (Bluetooth phone, USB audio, and steering-wheel-mounted audio controls), and you get an as-tested price of $18,850. Speed control aside, the Cruze LS comes with a decent amount of equipment compared with the competition, all of which come in a similar trim level and have a price within a few hundred dollars of one another. Standard items include ABS, stability control, remote keyless entry, A/C, and power windows and locks.

Lovely Interior, Dreary Powertrain

The Cruze compares well with its competitors on paper. Remember this, as it’s a recurring theme. The interior, however, is one place where the Cruze excels. We were glad to discover that the upper-class plastics we saw in higher-spec Cruzes are present in the LS. The dash is soft-touch, and the door armrest is wrapped in padded vinyl. There’s a center armrest, albeit placed slightly more rearward than is comfortable to make room for cup holders. The seats manually adjust for front and rear height. We’ve previously criticized the big-pixel radio display in the Cruze, but it does offer one key feature: When you change the climate-control settings, the manual dials show up on the screen. At first this seems a bit silly, but it actually helps keep your eyes up closer to the road.

How inspired you are to pay attention depends on how much you enjoy driving. For the average commuter, the Cruze is all that and a bag of chips. Those inclined to make every day a Fangio day will be disappointed, though. We begin with the engine, a 1.8-liter four making 138 hp—the same count as the uplevel 1.4-liter turbo in every other Cruze model. Torque, at 125 lb-ft, loses to the turbo by 23 lb-ft, and the Cruze LS needs 9.4 seconds to make the 0-to-60-mph sprint. That’s 1.4 seconds slower than the turbo Cruze, and the 1.8-liter’s output is among the lowest in the class.

But those numbers are merely information. Behind the wheel, the Cruze feels even duller because of a transmission that prefers high gears to forward progress. Dip your foot deep into the gas pedal, and you’ll get a one-gear downshift. If you actually want to move—say, into traffic or out of somebody’s way—the accelerator needs to be floored to provide high-level motivation. Shifting in manual mode doesn’t offer much improvement, as the system is slow to respond. The low-rev regimen did reward the Cruze with an as-tested 27 mpg, which is exactly what the EPA says the Cruze should return in combined driving. The government’s city and highway estimates are 22 and 35 mpg, respectively. The one area of excellence is a 167-foot 70-to-0-mph stopping distance. Otherwise, this Cruze’s ride and handling failed to impress.

The Difference between Paper and Reality

That brings us back to that bit about comparing well on paper. Despite the attractive exterior and high-class interior, some of the Cruze still feels as if it were designed by the old GM, which would engineer cars to a benchmark that, by the time the GM product came out, had already been advanced by the competition. This could be due to the fact that the Cruze is already old, having debuted in the rest of the world back in 2008. The Cruze is so much better than the Cobalt that Chevy is justified in ditching the old name, but that’s not saying much. And if you’re shopping on price, as many of the buyers in this segment do, the Cruze will make you a happy customer. But if GM wants to make it to the top of the economy-car pile, it needs to improve the intangibles, such as driving enjoyment.