Chevrolet on Cruze control
Andy RussellCars like the new Cruze are raising Chevrolet's profile, says ANDY RUSSELL.Chevrolet is making great inroads into shedding the old Daewoo image.While its range still has a couple of models that used to wear the Daewoo badge, Chevrolet has been stamping its 'marque' with a line-up rejuvenated by the likes of the Captiva sport utility vehicle, Aveo supermini and Epica and, more recently, Cruze saloons.Andy Russell
Cars like the new Cruze are raising Chevrolet's profile, says ANDY RUSSELL.
Chevrolet is making great inroads into shedding the old Daewoo image.
While its range still has a couple of models that used to wear the Daewoo badge, Chevrolet has been stamping its 'marque' with a line-up rejuvenated by the likes of the Captiva sport utility vehicle, Aveo supermini and Epica and, more recently, Cruze saloons. And the new year sees the Spark city car.
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With each newcomer you see Chevrolet raising its image and it says a lot about the latest models that while the marque's sales are down year on year in a severely depressed market it has not been as hard hit as some big-name brands.
The Cruze is its new entrant into the highly-competitive C-segment dominated by the Ford Focus and Vauxhall Astra. OK, just the fact that it is available only as a saloon - there's no hatchback or estate - means it is not going to sell in huge numbers but, nevertheless, Chevrolet says it's the brand's most important new car yet in terms of raising the bar when it comes to quality, design and refinement.
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Styling-wise, I have to say that, as saloons go, it's smart with a definite sporty air to its bold, well-proportioned lines and the fact that it has taken over from the Lacetti in leading Chevrolet's charge in the World Touring Car Championship won can only boost its image.
The Cruze gets 113PS 1.6 and 141PS 1.8-litre petrol engines and 125PS and 150PS 2.0-litre turbo diesels.
It may be on the pace racing in WTCC, but while the 1.6-litre petrol engine develops a healthy 113PS it needs to be stirred into life with the five-speed gearbox to keep the revs up and the downside is that things become quite vocal. Let the revs drop or change up too early and it feels decidedly flat - with four people on board you put your foot to the floor and not a lot happens.
That said, once wound up it cruises comfortably at motorway speeds, and drive it gently and you reap the reward of decent fuel economy - while I could not match Chevrolet's claimed combined figure, 37mpg overall in mixed driving is not to be sneezed at.
Dynamically, the Cruz is Chevrolet's best offering yet. It handles well enough on twisty country roads with not too much body roll through corners but the light steering is over-responsive until you get a feel for it. And it's a shame that the driving experience is let down by the ride quality. It rides on smooth, main roads with acceptable comfortable but on poorly-surfaced B-roads the ride is too sensitive, making the Cruz feel fidgety and unsettled with some suspension noise and tyre drone.
Climb inside and you can see why Chevrolet says the Cruze raises the perception of the brand. Given that it is a keenly-priced car, the interior doesn't feel so. Yes, the plastics are hard to the touch but the textures are appealing - I particularly liked the fabric panels on the doors and fascia matching the seat trim - with the light and airy interior nicely colour co-ordinated. Storage is plentiful with a decent glovebox, four doorbins and lidded compartments on top of the dashboard and between the front seats so there's space for all those odds and ends. With a driver's seat and steering wheel that both adjust up and down and back and forth, it's not difficult to get comfortable.
It's also pretty spacious inside with good legroom and adequate headroom in the back for six-footers, and there's a roomy, well-shaped boot boosted by 60/40 split rear seat backs fold flat on to the cushion for added practicality and long loads.
The dashboard works well with smart ice blue backlit dials - a big speedometer and rev counter flanking smaller temperature and fuel gauges and the information display - while sensible, no-nonsense switches, buttons for the radio/CD and rotary knobs and big buttons for the heating and ventilation systems are user-friendly on the move.
Equipment-wise, the Cruze is good value. Even the entry-level S model gets remote central locking, follow-me-home headlamps which stay on for a while after being switched off, electric front windows, six airbags and stability control while air-conditioning adds �450. Big-selling LS gets air-con as standard along with 16in alloy wheels, a chrome edged radiator grille, front fog lights and reverse parking sensors while range-topping LT includes cruise control, climate control, automatic anti-dazzle rear view mirror, upgraded stereo, electric back windows, chrome detailing, 17in alloys and the optional integrated satellite navigation.
As budget cars go, you can do worse than the Cruze - it's well priced and well equipped but not the most entertaining of drives.
Chevrolet Cruze 1.6 LS
ENGINE: 1,598cc, 113PS, four-cylinder petrol
PERFORMANCE: 0-62mph, 11.8 seconds; top speed 115mph
MPG: Urban 31.4; extra urban 51.4; combined 41.5
BENEFIT-IN-KIND TAX RATE: 19pc
INSURANCE GROUP: 4E
WARRANTY: Three years/60,000 miles
WILL IT FIT IN THE GARAGE: Length 4,597mm; width (excluding mirrors) 1,788mm; height 1,477mm