It truly is a small world after all when General Motors' cornerstone division produces a vehicle for both European and Asian markets before firing up production on our shores. Welcome to the global edition of the Chevrolet Cruze.
Bringing the Cruze to market in this fashion is currently the big thing for North American automakers. Ford's upcoming Fiesta sedan and hatchback that will be assembled in Mexico and Buick's Canadian-built, Opel-based, 2011 Regal four-door have already had their European launches and other models from both automakers as well as from Chrysler will likely follow similar paths.
The Cruze sedan, which arrives later this year, is intended to eventually replace the Cobalt as Chevrolet's compact conveyance. It doesn't stray too far from that model's overall dimensions, but a 2-inch gain in wheelbase combines with a nearly 3-inch increase in width for a 9 percent bump in passenger room (claimed to be greater than either the Honda Civic sedan or Toyota Corolla) as well as a slightly larger trunk.
Space gains aside, the Cruze's design closely emulates that of other Chevy sedans, especially the midsize Malibu's horizontally split front grille and short rear deck. Fortunately, some extra creases along each side plus more pronounced fender flares provide a welcome dose of character that distinguishes the Cruze from the rest of the stable.
Checking out the interior reveals a highly attractive seating area that wouldn't look out of place in a more expensive sedan. There are plastic pieces to be sure, but they're more than offset by plenty of soft-touch coverings for the wraparound dashboard and silvery painted trim for the steering column, door-mounted speaker surrounds, steering wheel and shifter.
To quiet the Cruze, the headliner is made from a woven fabric backed by several layers of special sound-absorbing material. The doors also contain fiberglass insulation between the sheetmetal and the inside panels and recycled blue-jean fabric -- we kid you not -- is used to absorb sound from various rear structural components.
Given the added size and fancier seating area, it's surprising that the Cruze's standard and optional powerplants are so diminutive. The base LS is equipped with a 1.8-liter four-cylinder that produces 136 horsepower and 123 pound-feet of torque. Move up to the LT and LTZ versions and a diminutive 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder makes 138 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque. Both generate less output than the outgoing Cobalt's 2.2-liter four-cylinder that makes 155 horsepower and 150 pound-feet of torque.
Connected to either powerplant is a six-speed manual transmission, or optional six-speed automatic.
The two engines have yet to receive their official government-issued fuel-consumption numbers, but Chevrolet fully expects the turbo engine to achieve up to 40 mpg on the highway.
Base and optional equipment for all trim levels have yet to be announced, but, along with the expected air conditioning and basic power-operated accessories, you can expect a class-leading total of 10 air bags, including driver and passenger-side knee air bags and rear side-impact air bags. In addition, the standard stability control, which is intended to prevent a skid or spin, also includes rollover-sensing program that will direct the airbags to deploy if the system detects that the car is about to tip over.
Notable options will include a premium Pioneer-brand sound package, Bluetooth hands-free communications, navigation system, leather-covered seats (heated in front) and 17- or 18-inch wheels (16-inchers are standard).
The Cruze represents a concerted effort by Chevrolet and parent General Motors to capitalize on the company's considerable design and technical expertise in the production of automobiles that offer North American, as well as worldwide, appeal. As Chevy's volume leader, the Cruze is ahead of the curve, which is crucial as the competition gears up hot new offerings in this growing category. There's a Cruze, but there's no coasting.