Chevrolet Cruze

Debut: 2015
Maker: General Motors
Predecessor: Cruze Mk1 (2009)

 Published on 3 Jun 2016 All rights reserved. 

US version Cruze

The first generation Chevrolet Cruze was a breakthrough. It was the first truly global product for the American brand, being sold in not only America but also Europe, China, Korea, Australia (okay, under the name of Holden) and many other places. GM set an ambitious sales target of 1 million units annually. It didn’t quite meet that target, but it managed a respectable 700,000 units at its peak and eventually more than 3 million copies over its lifespan. Having tasted the first success, GM wants to go a step further with the second generation. Although Chevrolet is no longer marketed in Europe, the growth in China and Americas could easily absorb the losses, thus the new Cruze has potential to better its predecessor. This time around, GM upgraded its effort by reshuffling its development task. While the Mk1 was developed by GM Daewoo in South Korea, the Mk2 has most of its engineering work led by its European operation, i.e. Opel, in Germany. GM never said so openly (the official tag line is always “developed by GM’s global R&D team”), but in an engineering seminar taken place in Germany 2 years ago, the engineering details of the new car was revealed, and it was known the high-strength steel chassis was developed in Germany. No wonder the car was caught testing many times at Nurburgring.

However, the styling and packaging of the car are likely to be responsible by the design and engineering staffs of local divisions. Take the American version for example, its bold, Malibu-style front end can be designed by
only American, isn't it? Meanwhile, the more civilized look of the Chinese version pictured below is more likely to come from the Shanghai studio (alright, purely my guess). Both cars share the same sleek profile which achieves a good Cd of 0.29. The Chinese car has a shorter, 2662 mm wheelbase against the American car’s 2700 mm. Thanks to the longer wheelbase, the American car is claimed to offer 50 mm more rear knee room than the last generation.

Chinese version Cruze

Regardless of version, the Cruze is built upon the Opel-designed D2XX platform, which also serves the latest Opel Astra. 72 percent of its monocoque body is made of high-strength steel, compared with 58 percent of the old car or 53 percent of the latest Hyundai Elantra. Besides, another 3 percent is aluminum content. The rigidity of body-in-white is increased by 27 percent, while weight is down by 52 kg. Meanwhile, equal effort has been spent to trim weight from other major components. For example, the new 6-speed automatic transmission is 11 kg lighter than before, while the all-alloy 1.4 turbo engine is 20 kg lighter than its iron-block predecessor. Overall, the whole car is said to be 113 kg lighter.

Having said that, the Chevy is still 100 kg or so heavier than its European cousin. Why? Because it has more weight spent to the sedan boot as well as more sound deadening materials. While the Astra is not quite the most refined European hatchback, the American Cruze is probably the quietest compact you can buy in America, more so than the new Honda Civic. The Chinese version isn’t as good in this respect because it was hurried to the market in early 2015. The American version wisely spent an extra year to improve its NVH suppression and ride composure, which is evident in the real world driving.

On the downside, neither version feels as agile as the lighter Astra. The Chinese Cruze and the premium models of American Cruze ride on torsion-beam plus Watts link at the rear axle like Opel, but their suspension tuning is slightly softer. While grip is abundant and body movement is well controlled, the light steering is not as responsive or as engaging. The loose gearchange of the manual gearbox also hampers its driving pleasure. The car is more about refinement, safe and predictable handling.

Lesser models of the American Cruze, which are expected to account for the majority of sales there, skip Watts linkage in the rear suspension in a bid to save cost, so their body control is looser still. Predictably, their suspension and steering
tuning and tire choices are biased further towards the comfort side, which is admittedly good news to average buyers. All in all, keen drivers would find more driving pleasure on Mazda3, Ford Focus, Volkswagen Golf or Honda Civic.

On more challenging roads, the multi-link camp rivals would also display more ride composure, whereas the less sophisticated suspension of Chevrolet just bottoms and bounces on large bumps. Nevertheless, on normal roads its rigid chassis and remarkable NVH engineering can more than make up for the weaker suspension design.

The new 1.4 Ecotec turbo engine is also developed in Rüsselsheim and shared with Opel Astra. This all-aluminum unit is served with up-to-date technology like dual-VVT, direct injection, hollow crankshaft, integrated exhaust manifold, variable oil pump and automatic stop-start. It produces 153 horsepower and 177 pound-foot of torque, sufficient to propel the car from zero to 60 mph in less than 8 seconds no matter with 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic transmission mated. Being a downsized turbo engine, its throttle response is inevitably a bit soft at low rev, but the power delivery is smooth and linear. It feels quite gusty from 2000 rpm upward, giving the Cruze a brisk feel in most situations and easier overtaking. Fuel economy is also remarkable in the real world.

Admittedly, part of the fuel economy gain is down to gearing. The 6-speed automatic transmission on the American car is tuned for fuel economy, so it tends to upshift early and keep rev low. This also lowers engine noise and boosts cruising refinement. The Chinese car employs a 7-speed dual-clutch instead, but its shift pattern is similarly biased towards higher gears. Moreover, its gearshifts are pretty slow. Not a world-class DCT.

Apart from ride refinement and engine, another strength of Cruze is design. Both versions are stylish enough to be ranked quite high in the class, but the American car has more character thanks to its sharper front end and the availability of 18-inch wheels (though so equipped will downgrade ride quality somewhat). The fast roof line is not unlike Hyundai Elantra or Honda Civic, but the Chevy looks sleeker than both, almost like Volt. On the flipside, the drawback is reduced headroom for rear passengers. It can marginally fit a 5 ft 11 guy under the sloping roof, although the long wheelbase of the American car offers very good legroom (the Chinese car is much tighter, but still enough for that 5 ft 11 guy). Up front, space is more generous. The driving environment is pretty light and airy as the fast windscreen has its base pushed forward thus result in a stronger sense of spaciousness. The dashboard design is up to date, if not especially tasteful or upmarket. The materials and build quality are competitive without being outstanding. The MyLink infotainment system and its touchscreen are easy to use.

Overall, the new Cruze is competitive in the class, especially for those not seeking driving thrills. It is not good enough to stand out from the crowd though. There are quite some cars better to drive, some roomier and some better built. However, it has no particular weakness either, so its success or not will depend very much on pricing, marketing and whether people like its bold new look.

Length / width / height
Valve gears
Other engine features
Max power
Max torque
Suspension layout

Suspension features
Kerb weight
Top speed
0-60 mph (sec)
0-100 mph (sec)
Cruze (China)
Front-engined, FWD
Steel monocoque
Mainly steel
4567 / 1786 / 1454 mm
2662 mm
1399 cc
DOHC 16 valves, DVVT
150 hp
173 lbft
7-speed twin-clutch
F: strut
R: torsion-beam, Watts link
1300 kg
130 mph (est)
8.0 (est)
Cruze (US)
Front-engined, FWD
Steel monocoque
Mainly steel
4665 / 1795 / 1460 mm
2700 mm
1399 cc
DOHC 16 valves, DVVT
153 hp
177 lbft
6-speed automatic
F: strut
R: torsion-beam
1330 kg
132 mph (c)

Performance tested by: *C&D

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