After several years of hype, Chevrolet is releasing images pictures of its US-market Cruze compact in advance of the New York International Auto Show. The Cruze has been on sale around the world for nearly a year now, though the US launch delay has actually been a blessing in disguise, thanks to early transmission problems and a recall for fuel supply pipes. Now that Chevy’s next small thing has had its teething pains, the Daewoo-developed compact is being shown in a dizzying array of trims and packages for the US market. Chevy hopes that the Eco trim level will bring some much-needed enviro-cred to the brand, by offering a 40 MPG (freeway) version powered by a turbocharged 1.4 liter engine. To match that long-established mileage goal, Chevy had to make a number of modifications to the Cruze, including
- A lower front grille air shutter that closes at higher speeds to improve aerodynamics and opens at lower speeds to optimize engine-cooling airflow
- The upper grille has more “closeouts” to improve aerodynamics
- A lower front air dam extension, extensive use of underbody panels and a rear spoiler enhance aerodynamics
- A lowered ride height improves aerodynamics
- Unique 17-inch lightweight aluminum wheels
- Ultra-low rolling resistance 17-inch Goodyear tires.
Not available until the fourth quarter of this year, the Cruze Eco will accelerate to 60 MPH in about ten seconds with a manual transmission and about 9 seconds with the automatic option. No word on the cost of the package.
Non-Eco-model Cruzes will be trimmed as LS, LT and LTZ models, which start with a base 1.8 liter NA engine (136 hp, 123 lb-ft), which Martin Schwoerer’s German-spec Cruze review calls “an old-school engine that has somehow found its way into a new car, and it ruins the experience.” LT and LTZ models join the Eco in being powered by the 1.4 Turbo engine, which offers a mere 2 hp upgrade from the 1.8, but includes a much-improved torque rating (138 hp, 148 lb.-ft).
There have been rumors of an SS-trimmed Cruze (possibly in coupe form), but as GM’s Mark Reuss has put it, The General is “not trying to peanut-butter SS for everything.” That’s what the RS package is for. The appearance package will be available on LT and LTZ models, and is described in GM’s presser thusly:
Complementing Cruze’s sporty proportions is an optional RS appearance package for the LT and LTZ trim levels, which bolsters the car’s styling with unique fascias, rocker moldings, rear spoiler and fog lamps. An uplevel instrument cluster is also part of the package and includes chrome accent rings in place of the standard silver finish, as well as opaque cluster bezels that allow the cluster’s ice blue backlighting to shine through – providing a sporty nighttime appearance.
“For customers who want even more personality and presence in their vehicle, the RS appearance package builds on the already bold face and coupe-like proportions of the Cruze,” said Michael Simcoe, executive director, North American Exterior Design.
Which means you’ll have to wait for the SS version to get that famous red-stitched interior… or an engine that makes over 140 hp.
Will the Cruze reverse GM’s perennial compact-segment curse? It certainly looks to be a far better car than the Cobalt it replaces, and a 40 MPG Eco version could become GM’s first legitimately competitive green car (depending on its final price point). The open questions? Will the public appreciate the Cruze’s styling more than GM’s developers do? Will the base 1.8 engine perpetuate the impression that GM cheaps out on small cars (even when the better 1.4 has been federally subsidized)? Will Ed Whitacre’s volume obsession make a fleet queen out of the Cruze? Are those global launch-hurting defects all worked out? Will consumers willingly let go of their memories of Cobalts, Cavaliers and Vegas and look to Chevy for small cars? Anything’s possible, and if Chevrolet is going to pull itself out of its bankruptcy hole, it had better hope that it gets the answers to these questions right.