To say that the Chevrolet Cruze is merely an important car for General Motors is a massive understatement. In reality, it is the proverbial silver lining for the company, the first of its new-generation cars and the first of a raft of new models that GM has planned for India in the hope that it will catapult the company from the sidelines of the industry to the centre stage.
The Cruze was styled inside out at GM DAT in Korea and is the result of a development programme that spanned over 27 months. During this time, 221 GM-built prototypes were tested in Australia, Canada, China, South Korea, Sweden, The United Kingdom and the United States. So it means that the India-built cars will boast European quality, safety, refinement and dynamics – all of which it needs in generous quantities if it has to take on the Japanese and the Europeans already established here. The Cruze comes in with a few key advantages – there’s a powerful diesel engine on offer and an equipment list one has seen only in cars that cost an arm and maybe a leg. AutoCar (Sept. ’09) reports...
Design & Chassis
The new Chevvy Cruze is a clear step ahead of any Chevrolet we have seen in India. It’s aggressive, sharp and taut and its angular headlights, gaping split grille and sharp chin give the Cruze fantastic presence. Run your eye along the side and it’s the striking coupe roofline with that steeply raked rear windscreen that grabs your attention. Keep looking and you’ll also notice the very BMW-like swage line that runs from the front wheel arches right up to the tail-light. It’s the rear styling that comes as a bit of an anti-climax. It does look good, with its twin LED-filled tail lamps and the thick chrome bar between them but does not really live up to the sense of anticipation you get after the striking front and side styling.
There’s no doubting what’s under the taut skin though. This is the first GM model to be built on the latest Delta 2 platform. The monocoque shell is constructed by using high-strength steel for the main load-bearing body parts and helps the car meet forthcoming legislation that includes the US rollover rules – GM says the structure can withstand 2.5 times its own weight. The fuel tank is mounted low between the rear wheels for protection during a heavy rear impact and other safety features include a collapsible pedal box, ABS and two airbags.
Noise and vibration are kept at bay using an isolated front sub-frame, separated from the body by four rubber mountings. The suspension itself follows the staple layout of MacPherson struts up front and a twist beam axle at the rear. There are big disc brakes all around though. Also the Indian cars have specially developed JK Vectra tyres with a softer sidewall to improve the secondary ride or comfort over sharp ridges and ruts.
The stunning exterior styling also carries on to the insides. There’s a distinct twin cockpit theme which makes separate spaces for the driver and the passenger. It’s got a keyless system dubbed PEPS for Passive Entry, Passive Start. All you need to do is keep the key fob in your pocket, press the clutch and push a clumsily located start-stop button on the left of the steering wheel. Pulling the door handles automatically unlocks the car while a touch sensor on the door handles locks the car. Of course the key fob has to be within range.
The V shaped design looks original and there’s a hint of a driver-focused cabin here. The manual adjust driver’s seat is comfy and superbly bolstered and there’s good thigh support. The thick-rimmed steering wheel is nice to grip with toggle-type steering mounted switches that have a nice tactile feel. In fact all the switches are well damped and feel expensive and in particular the large knobs for the air con controls which have a grippy, rubberised finish and nice chrome highlights. This is also the first Chevy to come with the right-hand-drive configuration for the wiper/headlight stalks which also have a meaty feel.
Unfortunately as much as the switchgear impresses, the interior plastics disappoint says AutoCar (Sept. ’09) as they are simply not up to the class standard. The Cruze’s plastics around the door pockets have sharp edges; the cubby-hole on top has an ill-fitting cover and the glossy black finish on the centre console looks pretty cheap. Even the seat material does not feel as rich as its rivals.
Space in the rear is decent if you need leg room and under-thigh support is also very good even though the seat squab is a bit short. Storage space in the cabin is generous with four decent sized door bins, a big glove box, cup and bottle holders, a lined dash-top box and a central storage cubby, which all help to make this a practical car to live with. However where the Cruze really scores is with all the gizmos it comes with. Apart from the PEPS system, you get a six-CD changer, aux-in-port, a large screen that displays multiple functions and an on-board computer which calculates a range of parameters from average speed to real-time fuel consumption. There’s cruise control also. The massive equipment list which includes a sunroof and alloy wheels is one of the Cruze’s strengths. The Cruze is certainly more loaded than any other car in the Rs. 12-15 lakh range.
Engine & Performance
The engine is a familiar unit, the same 1991cc common-rail turbo-diesel from the Captiva and it makes an identical 148bhp and 33kgm of torque. It’s got the same variable geometry turbo, a common-rail system that delivers fuel at 1600-bar to the cylinders, has four valves per cylinder and a single overhead camshaft to open and close them. The big difference is the ECU calibration and the fine tuning of the intake and exhaust length.
The Cruze, like its name is happy on the highway. Fifth gear keeps the engine spinning right in its powerband, making it easy to maintain three-digit speeds. There are not too many bumps that can throw it off-line. The steering weights up nice and gives one confidence but it does not have the ultimate feel or precision of others in its class. There’s a fair bit of diesel clatter when the engine is idling and it gets pretty vocal when it is nearing the redline.
In the city, it’s not so smooth. Sharp bumps thud through into the cabin but these are more heard than felt. At lower speeds, the ride is slightly on the stiffer side and the suspension offers a flat and consistent ride with no heaving and pitching. The easy to twirl steering is a boon in town especially while parking because the Cruze’s 4597mm length will show up in the tight confines of the city.
The Cruze is difficult to drive economically. The turbo-lag calls for frequent gear-changing in town and greater throttle inputs. So in this light, the 10.2kpl city figure achieved by AutoCar testers (Sept. ’09) is pretty impressive. Highway cruising though delivered a more frugal 14.1kpl and with a 60-litre tank, one can cross several states before tanking up.
To Sum Up
The Cruze could be the game-changer for GM. It’s a car that is truly aspirational and one you want to own rather than need to have. The sharp styling, trendy interiors and stonking performance will appeal more to individuals than families.
Sure it does not have the ultimate quality of a VW or a Skoda or the finesse of a Civic but the fact that it’s the quickest diesel this side of a BMW makes it phenomenal bang for your buck.