Compact Car Review: 2012 Chevy Cruze

The Chevy Cruze was one of the first products to come from the born-again General Motors. Flashback to 2008: the economy was in a steep nosedive and buyers were scarce. Many people did not actually think GM would survive another year. But as corporate execs shuttled down to Washington in their private jets to beg Congress for a bailout, there were plans on the table for a new compact car that would replace the aging Chevy Cobalt which had only lukewarm reviews at best compared to some of the foreign compacts on the market. This new car was going to have to be a game changer if GM was to survive.

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The Cruze is very much a global car – versions of it are assembled and sold in various countries including South Korea, India, China, and Australia. For the North American market, production would take place at GM’s Lordstown Ohio plant – home of this car’s predecessors Cobalt and Cavalier. The chassis platform was engineered by GM Opel in Germany and GM’s South Korean Daewoo division handled much of the design. The initial renderings were completed in 2008, and the production vehicle was ready for market as a 2010 model. The design has remained the same and continues through the 2014 models; the one I reviewed was a 2012 model but this first generation design carries on with only minor changes.
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Exterior styling is rather conservative; the goal was to build a car that looks and feels more upscale than its price. One of the things I hate about new car designs is the black plastic fillers on the lower bumper where fog lights would reside on an uplevel trim. The Cruze has them, and if you don’t opt for the higher level trim it’s a rather unattractive look. The key fob is huge on this car – one of the biggest I’ve seen. So big in fact, that to cut down on the size they made the key part fold back into the side of the fob just like a pocketknife. Its not going to be comfortable to carry this around in your pocket.

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Inside, the seats are somewhat firm – you get no power adjustment on base models and height is adjusted via a crank on the side of the seat cushion. Oh, how old school. The center console is quite small; the twin cupholders sit very low aft of the shift handle. The storage box lid has an armrest which is adjustable forward, again because the console is low. But the caveat here is that with the armrest slid forward and your elbow on it, it does not lock in place so a slight movement of your arm could cause the armrest to slide backwards. Not major, but a small thing. Another annoying feature is the driver information center. The information is displayed between the speedometer and tach, but the menu controls are actually on the left side (turn signal) steering wheel stalk. There’s a “menu” button which switches between trip/fuel and vehicle information, and then scrolling through the parameters in each selection is accomplished by twisting the stalk. Most cars have these controls on the steering wheel where you don’t have to take your hands off while driving to access different information, or they have it on the center stack. Air Conditioner & audio controls are typical buttons & dials but the setting will be displayed on a narrow screen in the center stack with time and temperature as default. In a departure from normal, the power door lock switch isn’t on the door. There’s apparently no room with the power window and mirror switches. It is located on the dashboard in the center stack.

I had the opportunity to put about 1,000 miles on this car from the busted up streets of Jackson, Mississippi to the butter smooth interstates of Texas and driving this car was my biggest disappointment. Cruze is powered by a 1.8 litre 4 cylinder putting out 138hp or a 1.4 turbo which only gets you a little more low end torque. The one thing it does smoothly is, well, cruise. Dropping the accelerator for more power yields a slight pause followed by a downshift that you can feel and the engine screams up to the high side of the rpm scale. Release the gas and the engine will take a couple seconds to wind back down. Also, when driving slowly for example trolling parking lots you can definitely feel the trans downshift & slow the engine down. Its not very smooth unless you’re operating this car very leisurely. It does, however, get very good gas mileage. I was able to average about 38mpg on full highway driving and about 30mpg around town. The curb weight (3,093lbs) and dimensions (length: 181in., wheelbase: 105.7in.) put the Cruze at the higher end of the compact class so it could benefit from a more potent engine. Power steering is achieved electronically and the brake system is fitted with drums on the rear wheels, probably a cost saving measure. The ride is on the stiff side; this car is made of 67% steel so its quite rigid.

My overall impression is that this car achieves a more upscale look and feel than previous models of the same class (Cobalt) but underneath there are probably better options in the compact segment that give more power and better quality. Market reception to the Cruze hasn’t been stellar; in its first model year it was rated quite low in reliability. My vehicle had 37,000 miles on it and the inside rearview mirror had a vibration over rough roads or with the radio on. To address the power issue, GM has made the turbo engine standard in the uplevel LT model, keeping the 1.8 for the base model. This car isn’t going to save GM but as their first model out of reorganization it’s a step in the right direction.

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