Across the vast and majestic gulf of time and space, the jimmies rustled softly when I had the nerve to review a rented FIAT 500L with four thousand miles under its affordable alloy wheels.
“OMG,” I was told, “after that monstrous amount of vicious rental abuse, which probably included everything from ‘sparking’ to ‘mudding’, there is no way any car would be anything but a floor-pissing mess.”
Imagine my terror, therefore, when I arrived at Louisville’s airport three days ago and saw this:
With nearly fourteen times the mileage of that poor abused FIAT, surely this Cruze would be a complete fright show, right?
A few years ago, I attended the Cruze preview and wrote this:
The 2011 Chevrolet Cruze is a good car, although at least part of its goodness comes from the fact that it isn’t really that small. It’s well-positioned against the Civic and Corolla. I believe that it beats both of those cars in significant, measurable ways. This is what it is: a good car, a bold car, a car for which no purchaser need make an excuse or feel any concern. This is what it might be: great. That’s for the buyer to decide. This is what it is not: American.
How right was I? Only the most dedicated of GM PR people and Source Interlink publications continue to maintain the facade that the Cruze is anything other than a warmed-over Daewoo. Nor it is a small car: it weighs within seventy pounds of a Honda Accord and feels more solid than its fellow Ohio-assembled sedan on the roll. The question that I had at the time was how well the materials and assembly would hold up.
So here’s a gallery of detail photos I took. Remember, this car has fifty-five thousand miles of uncaring rental abuse on it:
What do you see? I’ll you you what I see: materials that last. From the cloth on the airbag cover to the touch points where the steering-wheel leather wraps around the spoke, this car is just flat holding up. The seats have no cracks: I can’t say that about the pampered 46,000-mile examples on my Porsche Boxster Anniversary Edition, which has been Lexoled and garaged its entire life. The cloth, vinyl, and leather are staying colorfast. The shiny plastic hasn’t faded, cracked, or indulged itself in that weird sparkly delamination that a lot of modern aluminum-alike plastic seems to get after a few years.
How did it drive? Well, my initial judgment might have been clouded by the fact that I was getting out of a 1981 Impala, but the next day I drove the newest and most premium-aspirational midsizer on the market and when I returned to the Cruze my opinion hadn’t changed. It drives like a new car. I’m pretty sure the tires were replaced at some point, since the tread was deep and even across the surface of all four, but there weren’t any wrench marks on the suspension under the vehicle so I’m guessing it’s never even been properly aligned.
Smooth, silent, and heavy, just like you always get with a Cruze. Half a lifetime’s worth of hard riding hadn’t changed its fundamental qualities. I never heard a rattle and I never heard a squeak. As always, the gutless normally-aspirated four had to reach for fifth and fourth on even moderate hills in Kentucky and there was a concomitant thrashing from deep beneath the Daewoo-sculpted bonnet, but the transmission was sure and strong in the shifts, never slipping or lurching or betraying any signs of abuse.
As I drove the big little Chevy from Lousiville to Montgomery, AL and back, the usual virtues and faults declared themselves. The audio and Bluetooth system in the 2012 LT model left a lot to be desired. The seats aren’t really that comfortable, even if they are hard-wearing. And a few traffic incidents that called for heavy braking reminded me that I’ve never liked the way this car stops. But it remains a competent highway companion. The difference in noise and fatigue between the Cruze and a Civic, Focus, or Elantra is significant. No wonder the Buick people thought this would make a great Buick; it’s a great Buick even when it wears a Chevrolet emblem.
At the end of the trip, I checked the self-reported economy:
That’s just a bit better than what I’d expect from my V-6 Accord on a route like this, but the hills really hurt this car on economy because it’s underpowered. What the Cruze needs is sort of a P-51 Mustang thing. That plane needed the Merlin engine to shine; this sedan would truly shine with the Honda 2.4 under the hood. Economy, performance, and enjoyment would all soar.
I have to admit it: when I saw what I’d drawn from the rental fleet, I was excited because I’ve been waiting to see how the Cruze would do with some mileage on it. Would it fall apart, J-car style, or would it retain its construction and quality? It’s reassuring to see that the latter is the case.
At that launch event nearly four years ago, I heard Scott Burgess “interviewing” a few of the GM engineers. “Why don’t you guys take more credit for what you do on these cars?” he asked. At the time, I chuckled loud and long because anybody could see the the contributions of the American team were pretty much limited to the bumpers and the placement of bowtie emblems. But after a few years, I’m inclined to wind that cynicism back a bit. The American team did have responsibility for supplier selection and assembly design here in Ohio. The design may have come from their Korean small-car overlords, but at some point in the process somebody had to look at everything from the piston rings to the shift lever and give it the imperial thumbs up or down.
When they had to, our guys delivered. Years and miles after that delivery and its own delivery, some of them no doubt beneath the whip of the callous or deliberately hateful, the Cruze keeps on keeping on. Would I recommend one as a used car now? Absolutely. Get the ignition fixed; the rest of it’s ready for prime time.