Chevrolet on the ball with Cruze Station Wagon
Chevrolet is looking to go places by moving into the compact estate car segment, says motoring editor Andy Russell.
Chevrolet is a long established and huge global brand. The company, which last year celebrated its centenary, is the world's fourth best-selling car-maker and the biggest in General Motors.
As one of the fastest-growing brands in the world, it is looking to top five million sales this year.
For all that global success it is still a relatively small player in Europe despite a record 517,800 sales last year for a 2.61pc market share.
But Chevrolet, which replaced the Daewoo brand, is looking to really go places in Europe by moving into new market segments, so widening its appeal, with 10 new cars in 18 months. It is also developing brand awareness through its footballing links with children's charities and tie-ins with Liverpool and Manchester United – 'Chevrolet' will adorn Man U's shirts for seven years from 2014 – taking it to a global Premiership audience of 4.8 billion.
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Hence the reason Chevrolet launched the latest addition to its range – the estate version of the Cruze, its most successful model with 1.5 million sales since launch in 2009 and riding high in the world touring car championships where it is close to its third consecutive constructors' title – at United's Old Trafford ground.
The Cruze Station Wagon, which joins the saloon and hatchback, is an important move for Chevrolet for the compact family car C-segment is the biggest in Europe taking nearly one in five sales and of them a quarter will be estates which are becoming increasingly popular.
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The compact estate is a market you can't afford to ignore especially in the UK with lucrative fleet sales and the hope is that a combination of value pricing, high specification and a five-year 100,000-mile warranty will make it attractive.
On the subject of being attractive, the Cruze Station Wagon is a smart-looking, well-proportioned estate car. And you'll also like the amount of space inside for both passengers and loads.
With the 60/40 split rear seat up there's a useful 500 litres of boot space to the window line with little trays each side and shallow underfloor storage compartments to stop small items rolling about. The rear seat backs drop flat easily to nearly treble load space to 1,478 litres while a low sill makes light work of loading and unloading large, bulky items.
The interior has a quality appearance despite much of the plastic being hard to the touch but at least it's not all cheap-looking and shiny and the fit and finish is good. That said, I'm not a fan of the fabric fascia panel above the glovebox – even less so if I had sticky-fingered children – and the matt, brushed aluminium-effect highlights in the range-topping LTZ look much more upmarket than the shiny, plastic metallic-effect trim in mid-spec LT.
There are 124PS 1.6 five-speed manual and 141PS 1.8 automatic petrol engines and 130PS 1.7 six-speed manual and 163PS 2.0 automatic turbo diesels.
Only the smaller petrol and diesel engines were available at the launch event. For all its power the 1.6 petrol needs to be revved hard to get it going but the new 1.7 turbo diesel is impressive and should appeal to private buyers and business users.
It pulls smoothly from low revs, only feeling flat if the revs drop below 1,500rpm, and has good mid-range punch for safe, swift overtaking. Even with a lot of gear work over a demanding, hilly Peak District route and a motorway blast I saw a respectable 54mpg overall.
The suspension, tuned specially for the Station Wagon, is firm but supple enough to soothe away poor road surfaces. The trade-off is confident handling with a stable, well-planted feel on twisty roads with good steering feedback.
There's enough legroom for adults front and back but, while the front seats are shapely and supportive, the rear bench is flat and hard. A clear fascia, sensible controls and a sound driving position mean you soon feel at ease behind the wheel.
Entry-level LS includes stability and traction control, air-conditioning, remote locking, electric front windows, heated door mirrors and follow-me-home headlights. LT adds cruise control, electric rear windows, 16in alloy wheels, front fog lamps, steering wheel audio controls and rear parking sensors. LTZ gets Bluetooth, USB port, automatic wipers and headlights, self-dimming rear-view mirror, 17in alloys, aluminium-effect fascia trim, satellite navigation and rear parking sensors with camera.
The Cruze Station Wagon is a welcome addition to the Chevrolet range opening up a new sales market – one that it just can't afford to be missing out on.