By on January 25, 2010

People buy cars they don’t need with money they don’t have to impress people they don’t like. That’s why hardly anybody in Europe is buying the Chevrolet Cruze, which has been on sale over here since last summer. It’s an affordable car that you might need but you won’t want, and which won’t impress anybody at all, because it’s just not that desirable. Allow me to explain…

The Cruze uses GM’s global Delta II platform, which is also the underpinning of the new Opel Astra as well as (in basic structure) the Chevy Volt. We Euros get Cruzes built in Korea but you in North America will have yours made in Michigan. It’s a conventional sedan, though in Europe at least, a hatchback and station wagon will follow.

The Cruze is Jetta-sized, but I’d say it looks better: less bloat, lower beltline, crisper shapes, good proportions. It manages to be both distinct and clean, with the major exception being the odd “headband” across the grille that encloses the recklessly large Chevy bow tie. If that is supposed to look sporty in a Jane Fonda, 1980’s aerobics way, it serves its purpose.

The interior is good, within the cut price idiom. For a Daewoo, the Cruze is short on depressing Korean genericness and long on generic-but-OK GM stuff, such as the standard cow’s tongue steering wheel and annoyingly deep-set instrument pods. It’s a bit fussy but not in a particularly creepy way, and I actually liked the cloth-befitted dashboard – fabric being generally preferable to dead cow. Finish and the selected plastics are quite OK. 

What is really good is available space: the Cruze has plenty for four. This is more than a commuter car: I could deal with sitting in the back for hours on end and the trunk could handle all my trip luggage too (as it has a capacity of 16 cubic feet). Oddly, GM likes to stress that the trunk has indentations enabling space for two golf bags – I didn’t know that golfers were a cheap-car-buying demographic yet.

Not to forget, the Cruze has fared very well on the newest Euro-NCAP crash tests.

This is a really cheap car, so I’d gladly accept an interior that isn’t quite VW-standard if it saved me thousands. (You can get one like my tester for €15k, which is around 30% less than a comparable Jetta in Germany. And entry-level Cruzes start at €12k, which is the average price of cars that are two sizes smaller).

But some things just aren’t worth a low price. Case in point: the Cruze’s engine. The 1.8L machine produces 140HP of which I could only feel around 105 actually doing any work. And what little output it could muster produced more than its share of an unlovely noise. It’s an old-school engine that has somehow found its way into a new car, and it ruins the experience. Picture a car that feels well-made but which at highway speeds has a gruff, obtrusive, strained sound coming from its engine department: that’s what the Cruze I drove was like. (I also spent an hour in a Cruze equipped with the 110HP 1.6L engine. It’s slightly sweeter, but the sound is still gruff, and it’s so weak you have to thrash it all the time, so it’s not an alternative). Apparently the Diesels are the pick of the bunch, but they come at a steep, three-grand price premium. At a reported 25MPG, the tested 1.8L is not exactly economical either.

I didn’t like the overly snatchy brakes or the late-action clutch, either. And speaking of snatchiness, the ignition lock is snaggly.

In contrast to the engine, the Cruze’s ride and handling are perfectly acceptable in the grand scheme of things. The Chevwoo doesn’t communicate like an Euro-market Focus or cosset like a Renault Megane but it felt capable at a wide range of jobs – city, highway, high-speed (110 MPH) autobahn. The bias is definitely on comfort, but the ride-handling compromise is quite good. And wind and ride noises are pleasantly low.

But back to the engine problem: how can it be that a major car company introduces a new global model with a dud motor? Well, I’m going to speculate that this is the product of a major planning malfunction; it’s the only explanation I can think of. Somewhere along the line, somebody upstairs at GM may have realized that the Cruze had as much interior space as the poorly-packaged, larger yet cramped Opel Insignia / Buick Regal. And that it beats the similar Opel Astra on several counts – but all at a seriously lower price. How to protect the Opels from the Chevys? How to keep the Daewoo off Buick’s neck?

Instead of letting the brands fight it to the finish in the way (for instance) that VW does with Skoda, GM seems to have cheapened the Cruze by installing an obsolete engine. (Obviously, GM has some good small engines on tap; why else wouldn’t they use one? Cost can’t be that much of a factor.)

I have to tell you that it’s a personal thing for me: just as I don’t trust a man who dyes his hair, or I don’t trust a banker, or a teetotaler, I don’t trust a car maker that willingly adulterates one car in order to protect another.

Porsche did it with the 914 and with the Boxster in order to protect the 911, and thereby earned the distrust of first Setright and then Clarkson. (And just look what has happened to Porsche in the mean time). GM does it with the Cruze, so why would I buy one, or recommend it to anybody I know?

I mean, everybody makes mistakes, but to install a crummy engine in a new global car on purpose sounds like what a company would do that is trying to pull one over you. Just think of what kind of unseen short cuts they might be taking, quality-wise.

If you wanted to be generous, you could forget this possibly petty matter of trust. Instead, you could say that this is a pretty decent, useful small car that will hopefully be equipped with a much better engine when it leaves North American factories next year. But as it is right now, there are around a dozen better cars on the market, most made by trustworthier companies.

[Editor’s Note: The US-spec 2011 Cruze will offer an available 1.4 liter turbocharged engine in addition to the 1.8 liter base engine tested here]

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52 Comments on “Review: 2011 Chevrolet Cruze (German-market Spec)...”

  • avatar

    Sounds like the car is going to be a pretty good value to the Corolla crowd. Of course, it’s going to get hammered on sites such as this, as it’s not a $18K 3-series (and it’s GM, oh my)but to those who are of the car-as-appliance crowd, it’s going to be darn good.

    Can’t wait to see a test with the 1.4.

  • avatar

    It’s got a dud motor because of GM’s “good enough” product planning. They don’t try to excell at anything, just be “good enough”, it’ll win awards at intro then get blown into the weeds when the next gen focus, civic, etc comes out. Just like with the Cobalt.

    And boring motors are part of GM’s small car DNA. Hence the cavalier’s pushrod I4 that was used as the base engine for almost its whole life.

  • avatar

    I’d like to see the 1.4+ turbo as well. Anyone here think it will get at least 25/35 ?

    • 0 avatar

      GM’s been claiming 40+ highway EPA, I think with the 1.4T, but I’ll believe it when I see it.

      My personal opinion is that the Cruze will be a far better car for its market than the Cobalt or Cavalier ever were, but it won’t be class leading. Toyota can afford such a middle-of-the-road car, but GM can’t.

    • 0 avatar

      I have no doubt that the 1.4T will get at least 40 highway from the EPA. GM wouldn’t have touted this number unless their internal testing found they could hit it. Real world could be a different story. TrueDelta has a survey for that.

      Reliability could be helped by the fact that the Cruze is already being produced elsewhere–GM can work its still common first-year bugs out with the European cars. Once it’s on sale here, I hope to have some quick reliability stats for it.

      Biggest challenge will be the Ford Focus. It’s styling is much less bland, and it will almost certainly be much more fun to drive.

      The Cruze’s largest avantage: the cloth on the IP does take the interior up a notch.

      About the Car Reliability Survey:

    • 0 avatar

      Reliability could be helped by the fact that the Cruze is already being produced elsewhere–GM can work its still common first-year bugs out with the European cars.

      I’d hope so, but bootstrapping production can still be problematic, even if you’re building the car elsewhere. Supplier-sourced defects can rear their ugly head, as can differences in how each plant does Q&A.

      The Ford Focus’ North American introduction was a horrific example of this.

  • avatar

    “Picture a car that feels well-made but which at highway speeds has a gruff, obtrusive, strained sound coming from its engine department:”

    Reminds me of the Ford Contour with the 4-Cylinder.

    So it sounds like the “insert GM car name here” is not all it’s cracked up to be, yet again. It’s cool enough to be called Cruze and not Cruise though. That has to count for something.

  • avatar

    Good economy and value. Nice interior and loads of passenger and cargo space. Of course it’s from GM so I expect the obligatory bashing. But coming from this site it sounds like a glowing review!

  • avatar
    Kristjan Ambroz

    I also think Chevy has inherited the relatively tarnished reputation of Daewoo cars in Europe, so relatively few people buy it and even those tend to run from it as soon as they possibly can. The cars might be getting better but it will take buyers a long time to follow.

    And it’s not like strides equal to Hyundai’s have been made over the last 10 or so years – aka a Hyundai i30, the car’s natural competitor will still be better at a similar price.

  • avatar

    This is interesting – my rental car evaluations of GM products within the past decade always presented a few consistent themes – good powertrain, even if everything else was just okay or even questionable. Can’t we fix what was broken without breaking what worked?

  • avatar

    Past GM-Daewoos used Daewoo powertrains rather than GM’s own. Is that the case here (eg, is the engine an evolution of the E-Tec 1.6) or is it the Ecotec 1.8L from the Astra (which, in and of itself, is a “meh” engine, but the EcoTecs in general are pretty good).

    ETA: Assuming Wikipedia is correct, this is another E-Tec, and not one of the mainline EcoTec. So the reason is probably because it’s a GM-DAT car, and it’s cheaper to just use existing Daewoo engineering resources.

    • 0 avatar

      I think it uses the Daewoo Modular engine, the engine developed by Daewoo and Porsche before GM took over.

      This is the same series of engine as used in the Aveo. It was modular in that 3,4 and 6 cylinder variants were designed (in the Matiz, Aveo and Tosca/Epica).

      It has a ‘profiled camshaft’ engine (rather than VVT) which means it dies in the a** after hitting peak torque (to reduce emissions – after peak torque in a standard engine the amount of unburnt fuel increases after peak torque. In a VVT engine this is dealt with by advancing valve timing so the inlet valve is opened earlier).

      The US model appears likely to use a GM engine developed by Powertrain division.

  • avatar

    The more things change, the more they stay the same. Judging by several detailed reviews of Cruze, it is no different than the typical incompetent GM excuse for a small car. Cavalier, Cobalt and now Cruze.

    If they keep it ultra-cheap, it will probably sell quite well in the US and Canada. Americans love cheap…

  • avatar

    Wouldn’t the 1.8L engine in this car be the same one that was in the Saturn Astra (previous generation Opel/Vauxhall Astra)? It is rated the same, and comes from the same manufacturer, right? That engine, of course, was always the “complaint” from journalists here in the US… they love the car, hate this weak engine.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s a different engine, but the result was the same. The Astra’s engine was a 1.8L variant of the EcoTecs we’re familiar with; this is a larger-displacement and slightly-updated version of the Aveo’s powerplant.

  • avatar
    Mark MacInnis

    Same GM, different day….

  • avatar

    Well, I’m going to speculate that this is the product of a major planning malfunction; it’s the only explanation I can think of.

    I don’t trust a car maker that willingly adulterates one car in order to protect another.

    OK – now imagine that your speculation is incorrect. Would you trust a car maker that makes this kind of error, unwillingly? After all, it is your speculation that damns GM here. You don’t really have any facts to back up that speculation, right?

    The engine sucks – I get it. But you are taking this fact and stretching it beyond what you really know.

    The fact that GM puts obsolete engines into new cars, isn’t a recent phenominae. Every manufacturer does this when they can in order to save on costs. Or, perhaps they just believe in using a known engine on an important new launch, instead of an untested engine. There is some good things regarding reliability that comes with old technologies.

    To damn GM over the engine, and accuse it of doing so for nefarious reasons without all the facts behind the decision, isn’t being very fair.

    Even with a great engine, I’m not sold on the Cruze, btw.

    • 0 avatar

      “Or, perhaps they just believe in using a known engine on an important new launch, instead of an untested engine. There is some good things regarding reliability that comes with old technologies.”

      That’s a good point. It might explain why Ford waited a year to put new engines in the Mustang. They had to have known what the Camaro would be packing.

    • 0 avatar

      Gm didn’t have much choice.

      The plants in Korea are set up to make Daewoo engines.
      GM didn’t have the time or money to re-equip the plants to make a GM engine (they were going broke at the time).

  • avatar

    If everything’s good but the engine, that bodes well for Volt on the same platform…. I can’t imagine even GM managing to install gruff electric motors.

    I’d also imagine a gruff engine is more offensive in Europe’s autobahn and spotless highway blessed wealthy core, than in the periphery, where decent size for a decent price might carry the day.

  • avatar

    Performance only so-so? Well, how much does it weigh? I found a value for that in the Indian market Cruze… 1520kg, which works out to about 3340lbs. That’s nearly 600lbs heavier than a Corolla LE with automatic, as I recall.

    If it does arrive that heavy, I think you can kiss the rumored good gas mileage good-bye… especially in city driving. It will take a lot more energy to get the thing rolling.

  • avatar

    I’ve read the engine complain in other reviews. Don’t remember which one equipped on each review.

    25MPG sucks.

    I bet that given the proper engine, it would steal some sales from big players. Price is very good.

  • avatar

    Sounds like the Cruze is cruizin’ for a bruizin’. What a waste this car is. Another GM “Avis special” if there ever was one. Looks like the “bad old” GM is alive and still kicking.

  • avatar

    If they price the Cruze right, it’ll sell on the interior appointments and roominess. Especially if the 2011 Focus goes up in price as much as I think it will (based on the high Fiesta pricing). Most buyers won’t care about the 1.8 engine, those that do can get the 1.4 turbo.

  • avatar

    GM just doesn’t get it. The have not been getting it for the last 40 years and they still don’t get it. This Cruz needs to be a knock-out punch for GM to get back into the game, not that it ever was in the small car game. This car had to compete head on with the Civic and Corolla and be better than both of them in absolutely ever respect.

    It is not.

    The motor in the Civic is smooth as butter, revs like there is no tomorrow and the car, even in base form, is a delight to drive. Honda sells loads of them and gets a darned good price for them. People will pay a premium to buy a Civic and the Cruz will not draw buyers from the Civic for the above reasons.

    The Cruz is still behind the 2009 Corolla. If one is attempting to compete with the car as a refrigerator model, one cannot beat a Corolla. The cars are comfortable, reliable and have excellent resale. Great motor, smooth and flexible. Great pricing, too, you can drive away for like $300 a month.

    Now how is GM going to price this? Will they undercut their competition with set sticker prices, like they do, or will they come in high and then discount. I would wager the latter.

    So here we have a decent little car. It would have been a real winner in 2005. This car will replace Cobalts but not Corollas or Civics.

    • 0 avatar

      I’d say this might give the Corolla a fair run at launch, but fall quickly behind when Toyota rolls out the next update, as usual. I completely agree that the Civic, interior warts and all, will doubtless outclass it, along withe the Golf. The real risk they are running here is that the Cruze could be prominently cross-shopped against the Forte instead of more prestigous competition, as value buys, not objects of desire. The Cruze will not have a 10 year warranty, standard bluetooth or piano black trim I’ll bet, and will likely lose, and need discounting to move metal. Business as usual, unless of course the American version is better than this.

  • avatar

    I would put Toyota on that mistrusted manufacturer list with there blatent attempt to hide mutliple defects in there cars such as the current massive recall due to 19 deaths so far involving accelerator wear, sticking floormats or whatever they want us to believe. But back to the car on topic, why doesn’t Gm put the far superior 2.2 Ecotec as in the current Cobalt as at least an option on the larger Cruze? Why are the engine displacements getting so small? The 155 HP VVT 2.2 feels quite lively in the current Cobalt and in XFE trim provides easy 40 plus MPG on the open road. My friend has a 2009 and this happens all the time! The new Cruze was only able to acheive 25 overall with a smaller engine which tells me that it is underpowered for this vehicle and not a good design to start with. I’m not too impressed with the tiny 1.4 turbo either as it will have the same HP 140 and only a tiny bit more torque than the base 1.8 so I’m not sure where GM is going with this car. I also have to snicker at how GM manages to put a 16 cu. ft. trunk in a small compact like the Cruze yet there flagship supposedly full size LaCrosse only comes with 12.8-13.3 trunk sizes depending on model. Is it me or do they hire high school drop outs that make these moronic decisions? Changing the name for a third time ranks right up there with stupid is as stupid does.

    • 0 avatar
      Mirko Reinhardt

      Volkswagen’s 1.4 turbo is a very sweet engine. So is their 1.2 turbo with 105hp, which moves a Golf just fine, thanks to a fat torque curve.

      GM’s 1.6 turbo (non-DI, IIRC) is crap though – just loads of turbo lag and lousy fuel economy. Let’s see whether they get the 1.4 right.

  • avatar

    “People buy cars they don’t need with money they don’t have to impress people they don’t like.”

    You nailed it.

    • 0 avatar

      My own variant of that has always been “People buy cars they don’t need with money they don’t have to impress people who don’t care”.
      Same idea.

    • 0 avatar
      Martin Schwoerer

      To be quite honest, this bonmot isn’t my invention. But what to do, I can’t remember who said it first. And googling it didn’t reveal anything certain enough. I’ll buy a beer (or what we in Frankfurt drink, an apple cider) for anybody who can find the proper source.

    • 0 avatar

      “Too many people spend money they haven’t earned, to buy things they don’t want, to impress people they don’t like” is attributed to Will.

      Either Will Smith or Will Rogers.

      Looks like Will Rogers.

      I’ll meet you at Wagner, Schweizer Str.

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    Got it Bertel! Say when and I’ll be there.

  • avatar

    1.8L, 4 cylinder and it only gets a combined 25mpg!? That’s ridiculous in today’s car market. You can do that with the larger and slightly more powerful Mazda6 with the base 4 cylinder engine or better still in a Mazda3 with the base 4 cyl (~140 hp) or a Toyota Corolla with its 4 cylinder (admittedly less power but also less weight), much better from the Corolla.

  • avatar

    Martin, this is a nice review, and the first paragraph is especially great. I nominate it for the GM Literary Award. It almost seems there is a field of stupidity that some engineers and designers sometimes tap into, which results in product features that defy common sense.

  • avatar
    Christy Garwood

    Hi Martin, thanks for reviewing the German Cruze. In the USA, the Chevrolet Cruze will be built in Lordstown, Ohio.

  • avatar

    Once again, GM had the opportunity to hit one out of the park, and instead, they barely make it to third base…why oh why can’t they just go all out and make a superb car with no corner cutting? The engine, brakes and some interior components sound like they are awfully unrefined. I thought that they were trying to get away from that shit.

    • 0 avatar

      Wanna have some fun? Read the fanboys’ defense of the Cruze and what a game changer it is over at GMI. I think that the lack of true IRS on this car is a disadvantage. The consensus over there is “name a car in the class that has IRS”, then change the subject when I name the cars. Same for standard rear disc brakes (drums are standard on the Cruze). I know you can’t say GMI without GM, but how clueless they are. “Close enough” seems to be close enough. OR, why build the car if you can’t make excuses for it?

    • 0 avatar


      That is funny. I can say that I noticed a big difference between the cars that had IRS and those that didn’t (biggest loser = Corolla, b/c it didn’t come with a correspondingly lower price) when I was recently test driving in this class. The rear drums are far less of a big deal IMO, but still are really most appropriate in the class below where the Cruze will be playing.

      Not that it couldn’t work out though. If they go the primitive route and deliver a knock out low price, then GM is putting Kia and Toyota on notice (until the next Corolla update at least). If they price it high teens/low twenties, where the premium class competition is, they will lose on brand reputation and test drive experience, and will end up discounting heavily and make no money on this small car…again. The other option is to go low tech, but premium interior (isn’t that what VW is planning with base model new Jetta’s for NA?), and that is potentially a sweet spot in the US market (helllllooooo Lexus ES, I still hate you).

  • avatar
    johnny ro

    Great thinking, writing, lets USA see what others think.

    If all it needs is a better motor off shelf to be really decent overall, well there is some new hope. Fresh ray of sunshine in Hell. You maybe don’t know what its been like over here these last 40 years under GM.

    Americans won’t notice the grumbly POS motor. Plus you are driving manual, you are an oddity at best, Mr. Euro. American’s won’t select manual transmission, if available, and that will soften the clunky motor.

    You didn’t say much about personal electronics connectivity. Etc.

    They will notice 25 MPG as being less than advertised by others.

    Please say more about the cider stuff?

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    *Micheal, thanks very much for the compliment.

    *Christy, I stand corrected.

    *johnny ro, I appreciate your kind words. About personal electronics connectivity: even the 1.6 Cruze had a nifty aux connection in the middle armrest compartment. The standard CD sounded pretty good and had thought-out user interfaces. HVAC controls felt solid and well-oiled, nothing to complain about from me. I spent a few minutes in a new Astra a moment after driving the Cruze; the Astra in contrast was fussy and over-buttoned. All things being equal, the Cruze is nicer than the Astra: better visibility, more upright windshield, less overwrought interior, BTW.
    Re Cider: We had friends from South Africa here the other day, they said the stuff we call Appelwei tastes like vinegar. But I think it’s the world’s best. Astrurian Sidra and French Cidre are too sticky; English Cider gives me a headache. Admittedly, I haven’t yet tried the New England stuff that Ben Franklin’s cohort loved. Apfelwein from the Grisons region in Switzerland is pretty good too, but not quite my fav.

  • avatar

    I too dont trust GM n Porsche n a few others like Toyota for keeping cars down on power. Nissan, Hyundai, and Ford are doing somewhat better.

  • avatar

    Sounds like G.M. has a lot right with this car. Why not stick with the “proven” 2.2L and 2.4L Eco-techs in addition to the 1.4L engine they are looking at using? From my personal experience with the 2.2L engine it is reasonable good on fuel while having decent torque and power (along with being reliable).

  • avatar
    Mr. Gray

    I think Syke hit the nail on the head when he said that among the “car-as-appliance” crowd, the Cruze will do just fine. Most people don’t think about their cars enough even to notice if the engine sucks.

    However, GM had better be able to deliver superior fuel economy with this model if they want to be competitive in a segment where 1mpg could mean the difference between success and failure.

  • avatar

    Made in Lordstown. Home of classics like the Chevy Vega & labor strife…..

  • avatar

    Thanks for the review Martin. I’ve been curious about this car for awhile – it sure looks alot better than the Cobalt it’s replacing. It’s a shame US automakers don’t put more effort into their small engines. Historically it made sense since none of the domestics could figure out how to make a small car that brought in profit, but it seems like now would be the time to start changing that.

    Your theory of not wanting to cannibalize Opel’s sales is interesting, but if that is the case there is no reason the North American models should get the same outdated 1.8 liter – the Astra was sold here only briefly as a Saturn, and did not do especially well. The turbocharged 1.4 could be interesting, but if the car really does weigh 3300 lbs as KixStart said, I don’t see this being a very pleasant car to drive in the city.

  • avatar

    “Chevwoo” . Oh my God…that’s good!!!

  • avatar

    I wonder why US manufacturers don’t keep some of the Euro version features on the US version.  Things like fender mounted signal repeaters, yellow blinkers on the rear end, rear fog lights and folding mirrors.  I guess it’s all about keeping costs down but wow the Euro cars seem to have more going for them in the features department then their US cousins.  There are US cars I would buy but without yellow rear blinkers or folding mirrors I’ll go with an Audi or BMW over Cadillac or Buick.

  • avatar

    In the 80’s GM held back with some of their cars so the Camaro would still look good, I’m not surprised that they’re still doing it.
    And 25mpg is just miserable for an engine that small, my Horizon has a 2.2 and can get a decent 30mpg. If anything the Cruze sounds underpowered (like the PT Cruiser and 80’s VW Vans) so the engines extra thirsty when put to work.

  • avatar

    The cruze is based on a mediocre Korean is not surprising that it is not competitive.

  • avatar

    “Just think of what kind of unseen short cuts they might be taking, quality-wise.”

    How prescient was that??!!

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