2011 Chevrolet Cruze LTZPosted on March 16th, 2011
Turbocharging makes it magic
By Nina Russin
Imagine that the great and mighty Oz had given Dorothy and her travelling companions a car to fulfill their collective wishes. If that car was a Chevrolet Cruze LTZ sedan, the gang would have left happy, saving the wizard the embarrassment of being discovered behind his magic curtain.
The Lion would get his courage from the Cruze’s turbocharged four-cylinder engine, with exceptional low-end torque. The Tin Man’s heart would warm to the sedan’s environmental friendliness, with 38 mile-per gallon highway fuel economy.
The Scarecrow would feel smarter, thanks to value pricing and standard safety features which include front, side, side curtain and front knee airbags, stability and traction control, and four-channel antilock braking. A programmable information system would enable him to diagnose any mechanical problems along the way.
Standard OnStar with turn-by-turn directions would help Dorothy find her way home to Kansas.
In case you are wondering why I’ve re-spun Frank Baum’s classic children’s tale, it’s to point out the resemblance between the journey through Oz and an average week on the roads for a family of four. The challenges to keep on track can seem overwhelming. Families with active lifestyles who need the compact proportions and enhanced fuel economy of a passenger sedan will find a lot to like in the new Chevrolet Cruze.
Four grades and two thrifty engines
The LTZ is the most upscale of four available Cruze grades, which also include the Eco, base LS and mid-grade LT. There are two available engines: a naturally-aspirated 1.8-liter four-cylinder and turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder block, paired with either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission.
Base price for the LTZ is $21,975, not including a $720 destination charge.
The LTZ comes standard with the 1.4-liter turbocharged block, rated at 138 Hp. The exhaust-driven turbocharger enables the engine to deliver peak torque, 148 foot-pounds, at extremely low engine speeds. This translates to excellent acceleration off the line and in the 20-50 mile-per-hour range drivers use for merging into high-speed traffic. Turbocharging also reduces parasitic power loss at altitude.
The test car is equipped with a six-speed automatic transmission. Large overdrive gears boost gas mileage during steady state cruising, accounting for the sedan’s exceptional fuel economy on the highway. My average gas mileage for the 150-mile test drive was just over 30 mpg: about two miles-per-gallon better than the EPA estimate.
The Cruze seems pretty well balanced front-to-rear for a front-wheel drive chassis. I was able to maneuver through some challenging turns without experiencing understeer. The car doesn’t dive excessively during hard braking.
The electric power steering pump which replaces a traditional mechanical system is lighter and more compact. In this case, it seems well tuned to the vehicle, providing ample assist at low speeds with good on-center response on the highway. The chassis overall feels much tighter than the Cobalt: the car it replaced. Higher torsional rigidity enhances the car’s steering response.
The suspension consists of an independent MacPherson setup in front with a torsion beam in the rear. The suspension worked well on the test drive, keeping the chassis flat on a challenging two-lane road.
The larger wheels which come standard on the LTZ give the sedan a more ample footprint, enhancing performance. I would be interested to see how well the car handles on the rough urban street surfaces typical in the Midwest.
Over-the-shoulder visibility is quite good. I had no problems monitoring traffic several lanes in either direction on the highway. The rear glass is deep but somewhat narrow. I would recommend the optional rear backup camera for those buyers who can afford it.
Four-wheel disc brakes with four-channel antilock braking stop the car in a firm, linear fashion.
Engineers did a good job of isolating passengers from wind and engine noise, but there is noticeable road noise from the LTZ’s larger wheels and tires.
The Cruze’s stylish interior is one of the most obvious improvements over the car it replaces. Fit and finish is excellent, with attention to key touch points such as the steering wheel and center stack controls.
The leather seats which come standard on the LTZ are on the hard side with modest side bolsters, and ample lower back support. New rotary controls on the steering wheel make it easy for the driver to use the Bluetooth interface, audio system and cruise control.
Temperature and audio controls in the center stack are easy to reach from either front seating position. The Cruze comes standard with wiring for satellite radio and three months of XM service. I found the digital information display easy to read in bright sunlight.
While there isn’t an abundance of legroom in the second row, children and smaller adults should be comfortable. A floor tunnel further limits legroom in the center position.
Twelve volt power points up front and behind the center console recharge portable electronic devices, while auxiliary and USB ports in the center console bin interface with iPods and MP3 players. Both rows of passengers have ample access to cupholders.
An optional power sunroof ($850) on the test car brightens up the interior. Other options on the test car include an audio upgrade ($445) and a compact spare tire in lieu of an inflator kit.
Second-row seats fold flat in a 60/40 pattern to extend the cargo floor for longer items such as skis or snowboards. While it might be possible to shoe a bicycle inside the Cruze, those buyers will be better served by one of Chevrolet’s crossover or sport-utility vehicles.
The Chevrolet Cruze comes standard with front, side, side curtain and front knee airbags, stability and traction control, antilock brakes, rear parking assist, a six-month OnStar subscription, daytime running lamps and tire pressure monitoring.
Chevrolet builds the Cruze at its Lordstown, Ohio assembly plant.
Likes: An affordable midsized sedan with excellent fit and finish, a peppy turbocharged engine and excellent fuel economy.
Dislike: A spare tire is not standard equipment.
Model: Cruze LTZ sedan
Base price: $21,975
As tested: $24,415
Horsepower: 138 Hp @ 4900 rpm
Torque: 148 lbs.-ft. @ 1850 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: No
Fuel economy: 24/36 mpg city/highway
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