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GM's new Cruze missile driven

2009-09-23 12:17
Vehicle Specs
Manufacturer Chevrolet
Engine 1.6-, 1.8l, 2.0 TDI
Power 80kW @ 6 400r/min, 104kW @ 6 200r/min, 110kW @ 4 000r/min
Torque 150Nm @ 4 000r/min, 176Nm @ 3 800r/min, 320Nm @ 3 200r/min
Transmission Five-speed manual, six-speed auto
Zero To Hundred 12.5-, 10 sec
Fuel Tank 60l
Fuel Consumption 6.7-, 6.8l/100km
Weight 1 285-, 1 298-, 1 315kg
Boot Size 500l
ABS Yes, with EBD
Airbags Four or six (LT)
Tyres 205/60R16, 215/50R17
Front Suspension MacPherson struts
Rear Suspension Torsion beam
Service Intervals 15 000km
Service Plan 3 year/60 000km
Warranty 5 year/120 000km

Lance Branquinho

It’s one of the most originally named cars to be launched in years, but can the Cruze shore up Chev marketshare in the most forbidding of segments?

Let’s not skirt around the issue, being a GM employee anywhere in the world during the last few months has been a trying experience.

The company has gone bankrupt and been bailed out by the US government and its restructuring has seen a raft of industrial capacity rationalisation following through.

Perusing the Cruze image gallery or watching the video clip you are probably thinking,” Nice looking car, pity it’s made by GM.”

Well, even as local GM boss Steve Koch heads off into retirement, the company, despite painful layoffs and the loss of Hummer H3 production, is investing massively in local content.

Currently GM’s Port Elizabeth facility is being tooled up to produce three new models, with an additional R400 million worth of vehicle and parts distribution  infrastructure guaranteeing dealers can service local customers seamlessly.

It appears then (despite the grounding of GM’s corporate jet fleet internationally) that domestic operations are mostly unaffected. GM dealers are still retailing large numbers of Corsa bakkies to small businesses and courier companies.

Karoo farmers are still trading in their umpteenth KB250 for an upgrade and grown men with distressing, shoulder length hair, are still trying to catch their newly acquired Lumina SS products on opposite lock around traffic circles.

Astra though, has fallen by the wayside - or has it really?

The new Cruze, GM’s C-segment four-door sedan offering, is built on the Delta II platform , which shares wheel spacing architecture with the latest Astra, shown at Frankfurt last week.

GM admits the case for reintroduction of the Astra model line-up is strong (whilst Insignia is a non-starter locally), despite a five-door Cruze configuration being in the making too.

For the now though, GM will attempt to claim market share from Toyota’s Corolla, Ford’s Focus, VW’s ageing Jetta, Honda’s avant garde Civic and Hyundai’s Elantra – not exactly a line-up of utterly rubbish cars.

GM says it has meticulously researched the market and positioned Cruze to find unexploited niches, with keen specification and competitive pricing factored in.

The Cruze range spans five models, featuring three engines (1.6 and 1.8 petrol and 2l compression ignition power) and as many trim derivatives – entry level L, mid-spec LS and premium LT spec. 

GM is serious about cannibalising some Corolla sales. Cruze is well equipped and backed by a 3-year/60 000km service plan.

German chic?

The C-segment’s sedan offerings are not the last word in visual appeal – Focus four-door, Civic sedan, Toyota Corolla, all of them, are hardly particularly pretty or well proportioned cars.

Conceived in GM’s German design studio, Cruze features Chevrolet’s new signature front styling arrangement – which might soon compete with Audi’s nose styling for the honour of most elaborate grille in motoring.

Indulge the idea if you wish, but Cruze looks like a miniaturised Lumina, shrunken and sharper after a cold-water cycle in the styling wash bay. Those pronounced front light clusters, which anchor the bonnet’s strong curve-lines towards the A-pillar, echo some of classic Detroit muscle car surfacing.

Chevrolet calls it a four-door coupe, but we think classing it up with Merc's CLS and the Aston Martin Rapide is a bit of an overstatement. Admittedly, Cruze’s arching roofline and steeply raked windshield are differentiating styling cues in a market segment of middling mediocrity.

The wide-body stance and prominent golden bow-tie across the grille endow the Cruze with a distinctly American presence.

A selection of 16- and 17-inch standard alloy wheels (which are mercifully simple in design, easy to clean and soft on the eye) roll in the Cruze range’s wheelarches, shoring up this latest Chevy’s appeal in the styling stakes even further.

The entire range features touch surface exterior colour-coding, with some additional chrome garnishing available for the door-handles as an option.

Interior design could be class leading - lacks a left footrest for those long-distance drives though. Well equipped none the less.

Stocked inside

Cruze’s cabin architecture and trimmings are thoroughly contemporary in design too – even sporting some faux Jaguar XF-esque blue hued backlighting for instrumentation.

The centre console flows neatly, infotainment controls are prominent (ventilation one’s less so, mounted too low down and obstructed by the gearlever) and the recessed engine and road speed dials are a neat touch.

If you tally up the trinkets on each trim derivate, the Cruze’s value offering is impressive.

Entry-level 1.6 L cars feature dual front and side airbags, single-slot CD front loader infotainment (augmented by an auxiliary jack), electric windows all-round, a trip computer and height adjustable driver’s seating.

Telescopic steering column adjustment, six-slot CD loadability, steering wheel satellite controls and rear passenger head restraints are added over the L trim for the LS models. LTs are further buoyed by both cruise (or is it cruze?) and climate controls, leather seats, automatic rain-sensing wipers and park assist.

Cruze claims 500l of bootspace, which is only bested by Jetta and Focus in class, and both those vehicles haveonly  space-saver spares. Cruze sports a full-size sparewheel, residing underneath the boot floortrim.

Dynamically able (about)

Despite the Delta II platform, don’t expect Ford Focus or VW Jetta rivalling multi-link independent rear suspension addled ride refinement or dynamic ability.

Cruze’s wheel attachments are traditional front-wheel drive fare – MacPherson struts up front, and a compound axle (rear: torsion beam) at the rear. Power steering is electrically controlled and, unlike Toyota’s Corolla for instance, the 1.8l Cruze models sport traction control – though we’d prefer stability assistance instead.

Powering the Cruze range are three undersquare, torque bias, engines.

Entry-level 1.6-litre power features double-overhead camshaft valve-gear, producing 80kW at 6 400r/min and 150Nm of peak rotational force at 4 000r/min - numbers which are, essentially, par for the class.

The 1.8-litre engine is worth 104kW at 6 200r/min and 176Nm at 3 800r/min, whilst the Captiva sourced 2-litre turbodiesel (110kW/320Nm) should become available towards the very end of this year or early 2010.

All three engines drive the front wheels via a five-speed manual transmission, with the 1.8l offering six-speed electronically controlled automatic gear actuation too.

Despite the Cruze range being quite trim (median model mass is 1 299kg), alacrity is not an adjective readily applied to the dynamic experience.

The cars ride with an admirable level of dampening for local road conditions, yet the drivetrains are a collection of mostly unhappy marriages.

We sampled the range at sea level and 1 000m of altitude, and gearing down from fifth to third became practically a fait accompli for long inclines in the 1.6-litre models.

For a company with such deep American motoring roots, mismatching the six-speed planetary gear shifter is quite bizarre.

A particularly vexing mechanical mismatch was the 1.8-litre engine and six-speed transmission. You’d assume such a surfeit of ratios would herald seamless progress, well no, not really.

The six-speed transmission kicks down without a modicum of refinement and enjoys operating the 1.8l engine at the most acoustically intrusive of crankshaft speeds. In short, it’s maddeningly noisy when enthusiastic driving demands are made.

Brakes are superb though (even if the 1.6L makes do with drums at the rear), 380mm rotors managed by four-channel ABS and EBD hydraulics.

The transmission foibles are a shame though, because the rest of the Cruze is quite likeable.

It rides quite well, the power steering is neatly calibrated (not too light), cabin feel thoroughly modern and styling appreciably different to the usual Japanese C-segment fare.

Is GM’s aim of retailing 350 Cruzes a month an embarrassingly bold conjecture or curiously conservative market posturing?


Cruze 1.6 L: R174 192
Cruze 1.6 LS: R186 126
Cruze 1.8 LS: R204 133
Cruze 1.8 LT Auto: R244 440

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