The Cruze's body has nice creases and subtle bulges, too, showing the kind of thought that typically goes into more expensive cars. At the
same time, smart styling is becoming de rigueur for compact cars -- just look at the gorgeous new models at Hyundai if you need proof -- so in that context it doesn't seem as impressive.
One thing that sets the Cruze apart is the number of air bags crammed into the cabin. There are the typical dual-stage air bags in front,
but there are also front and rear side-impact bags, head curtain air bags mounted on the roof rail, and even air bags in front to protect
the passengers' knees.
Pricing starts at $16,995 with a 1.8-liter Ecotec engine, but the 1.4-liter turbocharged engine is much better. It starts at $18,895 in
the Cruze LT, and pricing reaches the max in the LTZ model ($22,695) with features like leather seats, a remote-control starter and ultrasonic parking assist.
Granted, the Cruze is just the latest in a long line of GM compacts that have claimed to be taking aim at European and Japanese cars. It
has a bunch of ancestors that were experts at puffery.
But the Cruze is GM's closest attempt yet at matching -- and in some cases beating -- the quality and features in its overseas rivals. It's
an encouraging sign that GM is making cars that should be on the cross-shopping list for anyone considering a Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla.
What was tested?
2011 Chevrolet Cruze 2LT ($20,675). Options: Compact spare tire ($100). Price as tested (including $720 delivery fee): $21,395.
Why buy it?
It has a surprisingly high-quality feel at a reasonable price. Its sharp looks and driving dynamics let it compete head-to-head with
compact Japanese cars.
Why avoid it?
To get it with the best engine, you've got to pay nearly $19,000.