2011 Chevrolet Cruze

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With all of GM's recent promises of improved quality, efficiency, dependability and value, I was curious to see what the brand-new 2011 Chevrolet Cruze would bring to the table.

At first glance, I was impressed by the well-designed body panels adorning the compact sedan's frame. There were points and curves in the panels to add dimension and style, something that previous renditions of economy cars deliberately bypassed to keep the sticker price low.

The five-seater performed well in the acceleration and maneuvering categories, and I'd even go as far as saying it was fun to drive in a weaving-through-traffic-and-squeezing-into-tight-parking-spots way. During my test week I was able to run the Cruze through some snow- and ice-covered roads and had to put in extra effort to get even the slightest sliding action.

While the gas gauge needle was slow to move, I was surprised to find I only averaged 17 mpgs with my city driving in the Cruze. The 15.8-gallon tank certainly made it seem like it was taking longer to empty, but the numbers don't lie.

With a starting MSRP of $16,275 for the base LS model, the Cruze delivers a great value. I test-drove a Cruze 1LT, which starts at $18,175, but my test car cost $20,240, so my experience certainly was anything but "base."

EXTERIOR

The Cruze looked distinguished for a little car with an affordable price tag. There are lots of points of interest going on in the front, including the checkmark-looking headlights and chunky grille with low-slung front bumper. My test car didn't come with fog lights, but others do and they add even more masculine prowess to the front end.

While many drivers will appreciate the weightiness and solid feel of the Cruze's doors, my family couldn't stand them. They were so heavy it became burdensome for us because we had to rush into the car, trying not to get hit in the rear by the quick-slamming doors. They were particularly hard to deal with in tight parking spaces, where I wanted the doors to remain halfway open, but they just wouldn't do it. When the kids had the doors wide open, there was no way they could reach the doors to shut them.

The trunk was enormous. I was saddened that I had already done my grocery shopping for the week. That cargo area was beggin' to be loaded!

The Cruze comes with a 138-horsepower, turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine that's paired with a six-speed automatic. The Cruze takes regular gas and gets an EPA-estimated 24/36 mpg city/highway. There's a second engine choice – a 136-hp, 1.8-liter four-cylinder – that's standard on the base LS trim. It gets 22/35 mpg.

SENSE AND STYLE

Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Fair

Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Some

INTERIOR

For its price, the Cruze is well-appointed. I was tickled to see an auto-headlight feature and a turn-by-turn navigation display in the instrument cluster. Both are great features for this price range. However, I nearly cried when I hopped into the Cruze after scraping ice off the windshield in 20-degree temperatures and realized heated seats were not on the menu of the upscale cloth inserts in my test Cruze. To get heated seats, I'd need to move up a trim level to the 2LT.

The cloth seats earned a seven out of 10 in the comfort category. The seats weren't very adjustable and were quite firm. Even so, I never exited the Cruze with any sore muscles or the need to stretch out a kinked-up body.

My test car had a woven-cloth trim across the dash that added color to the interior, but I think I'll stick with plastic, metal and wood as my dash preferences. I kept wondering what would happen if I spilled coffee on the cloth trim.

The simple layout of both the instrument cluster and center stack made it easy to navigate. However, the placement of the power lock button threw me because it was beneath the stereo controls in the center stack and not on the interior door space where I'm used to seeing it. While there wasn't a huge center console for storage, there was a perfect perch for my cell phone or iPod and a cubby large enough to carry lip balm, tissues and other day-to-day needs.

In the backseat, my kids and I were big fans of the fold-down armrest with built-in cupholders. However, no one in my family of four liked the seat belt buckles in the second row. The recessed seat belt receptors made buckling up a complete hassle. Every. Single. Time! With all the whining coming from my kids about them, I was seriously tempted to just hop back in my own car whenever a trip with the kids was in order.

IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT

Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Fair

Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample

SAFETY

The 2011 Chevy Cruze has been named a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institution for Highway Safety. To earn this safety award, a car must receive the top score of Good in front, side, rear and roof-strength crash tests as well as have a standard electronic stability system.

Besides standard stability control, the Cruze also has antilock brakes, traction control and 10 airbags, including seat-mounted side-impact airbags in the four outboard seats, side curtain airbags in both rows and knee airbags for the front row. I'm thinking they couldn't fit any more airbags into this compact if they tried!

My only safety-related complaints about the Cruze pertain to the second row. The two sets of lower Latch anchors and the seat belt buckles need to be easier to use. The seat cushions get in the way of the Latch anchors.

My boys' booster seats fit well in the back seat, but the whining over the hard-to-use seat belt buckles was tough to listen to. A forward-facing convertible fit well in the Cruze, but I had to move the front passenger seat all the way forward to get the rear-facing convertible to fit properly. The rear-facing infant-safety seat fit well behind the driver's seat, but remember I'm on the shorter side.

 
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