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2011 Chevrolet Cruze Road Test

2011 Chevrolet Cruze Sedan Road TEst
Big fuel Scores from Small Engine

By Bob Plunkett

On West Military Drive in the San Antonio suburb of Westwood Village, a traffic light flicks to green as our cue to rack the six-speed gearbox into the first slot and gently depress the go-pedal on a Cruze Eco model dressed with Chevrolet's bow-tie badge.

The Eco -- short for "Economy" -- is a fuel-thrifty trim variation of Chevy's new mid-size four-door sedan which achieves the big fuel economy mileage scores of a small compact-class economy car.

Cruze's estimated fuel consumption numbers from Chevrolet reach up to 40 miles per gallon when running at legal speed on a highway.

Cruze Eco edition of model-year 2011 employs GM's new turbo-charged Ecotec four-in-line engine displacing 1.4 liters and carrying dual overhead cams (DOHC) and double continuously variable cam phaser (DCVCP) controls.

It produces 138 hp at 4900 rpm plus 148 lb-ft of torque at 1800 rpm and achieves the highest fuel economy scores when linked to a six-speed manual transmission, although Chevy also offers a six-speed automatic transaxle with electronic controls, the Hydra-Matic 6T40 by GM.

Two other Cruze trims -- LT and LTZ -- carry the 1.4-liter Ecotec engine with the 6T40 six-speed automatic.

However, a price-leader model -- Cruze LS -- stocks a naturally aspirated 1.8-liter Ecotech four-pack with DOHC and DCVCP. The 1.8 Ecotech delivers 136 hp at 6300 rpm with torque of 123 lb-ft at 3800 rpm.

Pricing skews to affordable figures, with the MSRP on Cruze LS with standard six-speed manual transmission dropping to $16,275.

Despite that low number, Cruze LS carries plenty of preferred equipment -- air conditioning, a remote keyless entry device, power controls for windows and door locks, a driver information center and a six-speaker audio system with AM/FM/XM/CD/MP3 plus auxiliary jack.

It also comes with a long list of passive safety equipment -- front seatbelts with pretensioning apparatus, backseat restraints with anchors to mount a child's seat, smart multi-stage frontal air bags and side air bags for front and rear seats along with curtain-style air bags tucked in the ceiling for outboard seats on two rows, even air bags aimed at the knees of front-seat riders.

And Chevy loads every Cruze edition with active safety systems -- anti-lock brake system (ABS), traction control system (TCS), GM's StabiliTrak electronic skid controller with rollover sensing and a tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS).

MSRP for Cruze Eco tallies to $18,175.

The Eco edition uses the 1.4 Ecotec turbo engine and a six-speed manual shifter, 17-inch forged alloy wheels with 215/55R17 ultra low-rolling resistance tires and an aero kit on the body to improve aerodynamics and reduce fuel burn.

Price points for Cruze 1LT edition run up from $18,175.

Cruze 1LT stocks the 1.4 Ecotec turbo engine with the 6T40 six-speed automatic, 16-inch steel wheels with silver-painted wheel covers and 215/60R16 all-season blackwall rubber on the ground.

Cruze 2LT -- priced from $20,675 -- adds luxury content like leather upholstery, leather binding the steering wheel and shifter knob, heat elements in front buckets and six-way power controls for driver's seat, a remote vehicle starter, audio controls mounted on the steering wheel, Bluetooth phone connectivity plus a USB port with audio interface, and 16-inch alloy wheels capped by 215/60R16 all-season blackwall tires.

Top trim version Cruze LTZ begins at $21,975.

Cruze LTZ also has the 1.4 Ecotec turbo and six-speed automatic, the leather upholstery and heated front seats from Cruze 2LT along with the remote vehicle starter and Bluetooth plus USB port, yet LTZ also gets automatic climate controls, a cabin auto-dimming rearview mirror, ultrasonic rear-parking assist device, four-wheel disc brakes and 18-inch flangeless silver-painted alloy wheels with 235/45R18 ALS tires.

Any LT or LTZ Cruze model lists an optional kit of sporty body parts for $695. The RS Package installs rocker panel moldings, unique front and rear fascias, front foglamps and a rear spoiler.

Stand-alone optional equipment for Cruze extends to an in-dash navigation system with 40-gig hard drive, premium 250-watt Pioneer Audio system with nine speakers and the ultrasonic rear park assist.

Layout of Cruze's cabin amounts to a pair of bucket seats in front of a bench for three with rear seatback split 60/40 and folding to expand the trunk's cargo capacity.

Cruze's wheelbase length stretches to 105.7 inches long while the width of the body extends to 70.7 inches and the distance from the prow up front to the back bumper tallies to 181.0 inches -- more than 15 feet.

These spatial hard points translate to a mid-size passenger compartment of surprising scale -- 95.0 cubic feet of room for passengers with headroom up to 39.3 inches, legroom to 42.3 inches in front and 35.4 inches in back, shoulder room to 54.7 inches and hip room of 53.0 inches.

Passengers riding up front do not feel squeezed together as you might in the typical economy compact, due to a tall wrap of windows and larger seats.

Driver sits in a form-fitting bucket which adjusts to fit even a large frame, with seat height in tall stance to set up excellent visibility through the large windows. The controls -- handy in positions either left on the door, right on the console or ahead on the instrument panel -- set in logical positions or operate easily.

Surfaces on dash and doors and button controls feel refined, even sophisticated, due to soft-touch plastic panels and silver-rimmed knobs of good-feel rubber.

Exterior styling of Cruze also shows sophistication with its taut but smooth exterior design.

Up front, the bold monochromatic prow features oversized multi-lens headlamp clusters flanking a broad grille bisected by a single bar.

Sculpted rails sweep up a massive raked windshield and over the arching roof that tapers through fast-sloping rear pillars to the brief deck of a blunted tail, while on flanks the wheel wells near front and rear corners bulge in arches ringing the wheels.

The front-wheel-drive (FWD) platform underpinning Chevy's 2011 Cruze is new to North America but it's already on a number of compact-class vehicles marketed by GM in more than 60 countries around the globe.

Chevrolet Cruze for Sale at