2012 Chevrolet Cruze LT Road Test Review

Trevor Hofmann - CAP staff
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If you wanted to be cynical it wouldn't be out of the question to chalk up Chevy's success with the Cruze to marketing alone. Can you remember a new car campaign blitz as relentless? While getting the word out has no doubt played an important part, it would be a big mistake to think that the Cruze is now rubbing shoulders with Civic, Corolla, and Mazda3 on the compact sales chart only because of constant advertising. After all, it's an extremely good car.

Extremely good? Yup. And I'm not just talking about an "extremely good car" that will merely serve as a trustworthy appliance for getting you from A to B. The Cruze does it all with grace, poise and style, not to mention a high level of comfort.

Grace. Whether base or top-line LTZ, the Cruze' cabin fights way above its weight class, surrounding with visual delights normally only seen in higher end cars. The feel is as rich as the look with better than average materials, some plastics even soft to the touch. Nicely damped switchgear that accesses a surprising array of standard and optional equipment puts that quality feel at your fingertips, while unseen features like a full assortment of airbags, standard ABS, plus traction and stability control will hopefully remain unnoticed.

Poise. City traffic is easy to negotiate in the Cruze, thanks to light yet positive steering and a suspension setup that balances comfort and sport nicely. It's fully independent, unlike some in this class, with MacPherson struts up front and a unique compound crank setup with a Watts Z-link in the rear. The Watts system is lightweight, comfortable and agile, plus it's compact, benefiting trunk space that is generous at 425 litres (15.0 cubic feet). Chevy says the Watts setup improves handling by more fully supporting lateral forces, and while I couldn't see what was going on underneath while driving it certainly felt stable when tossing it through the curves and comfortable while trekking through inner city back alleys with their treacherous potholes and bumps.

Style. Well, styling is a personal issue, but I like what Chevy has done with its compact sedan. The Cruze doesn't break down any barriers, but then again it doesn't erect any either. Critics might label it as "inoffensive" trying to denote something negative in its simple, clean lines, but you the people have spoken as noted by the car's aforementioned popularity. Understated elegance with a dash of sport is what you wanted, and those extra splashes of chrome certainly give it a large car look despite its compact dimensions.

But don't let its conventional clothes fool you into thinking the Cruze isn't forward thinking. Under the hood is an impressive drivetrain in any trim above base. And that's not to say there's nothing wrong with the bottom-line 1.8-litre four-cylinder. It makes 136 horsepower and 123 lb-ft of torque, which is adequate for a car costing $16,990 including freight. I just like how the higher-end engine loses 400 cubic centimeters and gains a turbo for better performance and much better fuel economy. It only makes 2 more horsepower, but more critically it puts 25 additional lb-ft of torque down to the front wheels, for a total of 148 at a super low and ultra-tractable 1,850 rpm. And as good as that feels as the gas pedal gets pressed, the 1.4-litre option is more about fuel economy with an estimated rating of 7.8 L/100km city and 5.2 highway for the 6-speed manual and 7.8 and 5.2 for the 6-speed manual automatic. I drove the special Eco trim level last year, which boasts an even more impressive set of numbers estimated at 7.2 city and 4.6 highway with the manual and 7.7 and 5.0 with the auto.

The car I drove more recently was a 2012 Cruze LT, a model that starts at $21,990 shipping included. It's a well optioned trim level that adds the aforementioned powertrain upgrades, plus an auto up/down driver's window, heated power mirrors, air conditioning, cruise control, floor mats, and XM satellite radio to the already nicely featured base LS model, which comes out of the box with power windows, keyless entry, tilt and telescopic steering, automatic headlights, variable intermittent wipers, driver information centre, AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio with aux input, OnStar, premium fabric upholstery, 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks, and more.

My tester came with the $495 Connectivity Package that includes Bluetooth wireless and a USB slot, the former a must-have in some markets and fortunately available on the just-above-base Cruze LS with the 1SB Package too. I'm guessing Bluetooth will soon be standard on all Cruze models, and all cars for that matter.

You can add more items to your Cruze LT, such as a leather-wrapped steering wheel, powered seats, 9-speaker Pioneer audio, a moonroof, remote start, illuminated sill plates, fog lamps, and alloy rims, plus if you move up to the LTZ at $27,425 including freight, the Cruze becomes a veritable luxury car with all of the items already mentioned as well as a premium instrument cluster, automatic climate control, heated leather seats, rear parking assist, a sport-tuned suspension, 17-inch alloys, and new this year, proximity sensing keyless entry with pushbutton ignition.

What don't I like? Well, you might not notice this but the rear centre seat no longer has a headrest, improving rearward visibility at the expense of safety for taller centre passengers (think about how you're going to use your car before worrying about this as it's not a factor for all but large kids), and front seat adjustment no longer includes the manual tilt feature on the lower cushion.

You do get Chevy's superb powertrain warranty, mind you, at 5 years or 160,000 km, and an extremely good car, standard.
©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Sedan, Chevrolet, 2012, Cruze, $10,000 - $19,999, $20,000 - $29,999, Compact,

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