Of course, the turbo plus a manual transmission equals an irresistible force for automotive journalists. When you spool up the engine and dump the clutch, the tires shriek as the engine growls, but not much else happens. Low-rolling-resistance tires don't exactly dig into the pavement, making the car step carefully forward.
Chevrolet gives the Cruze an electric power-steering unit, helping overall fuel economy. The tuning offers little road feel, but strong boost makes it easy to turn. The ride quality is reasonable, matching what you'd expect for a car in this class. Chevrolet saves a little money by fitting the rear wheels with drum brakes, as opposed to the disc brakes in front.
In the cabin, Chevrolet seems to take the attitude that inexpensive cars must suffer the low-tech treatment, refusing to offer a navigation option such as can be found in competitors like the Honda Civic and Ford Focus. But Chevrolet can justify that omission with the inclusion of OnStar.
The Cruze, being a new model, comes with the latest version of OnStar, which downloads turn-by-turn directions and provides them in a monochrome display on the instrument cluster. That display dominates the center of the cluster, pushing aside speedometer and tachometer. It also shows trip computer data, but no audio information.
The monochrome radio display in the center of the dashboard is also quite large, useful for browsing music libraries and satellite radio channels. You can view lists of artists and albums from a connected storage device, such as an iPod or USB drive. As with other GM stereos, it will actually index music on a USB drive based on ID3 tags, rather than merely displaying folders and files as most other systems do.
But in keeping with the budget character of the car, the audio system is limited to six speakers, with no premium upgrade available. The audio quality is shallow, with neither rich bass nor glistening highs. This system's saving grace is that it's not powerful enough to rattle door panels.
A Bluetooth phone system is an option in the Cruze Eco, and comes in a package with the USB port. This system doesn't offer phonebook download or sophisticated voice command, merely letting you place calls by saying a phone number.
But Chevrolet also lets you pair a GPS device with the car through Bluetooth, which would amplify route guidance instructions through the audio system, a nice addition. This connection should work for Bluetooth audio streaming if your GPS device plays music and has Bluetooth connectivity.
Most of the advanced cabin tech in the Cruze Eco comes through OnStar. There are OnStar's usual concierge and safety features, and this version of the system also works with the OnStar smartphone application, allowing tricks like remote start and unlock.
Unlike some of the competition, Chevrolet is not pushing new cabin tech in the small-car market with the 2011 Cruze Eco. The stereo is generally mediocre, although it is nice how it indexes music. The Bluetooth phone system offers few features. But OnStar saves it from being a complete clunker in the cabin.
The Cruze Eco may be a nondescript car, but it earns design points for its practical body, with comfortable headroom and a trunk made deep by the absence of a spare tire. Likewise, the cabin tech interface is very good, with large displays on both the instrument cluster and dashboard.
The engine isn't the most advanced around, lacking direct injection, but with its turbo and low displacement it creates reasonable power and turns in excellent fuel economy. The manual transmission also contributes through its gear ratios, but Chevrolet could have gone higher-tech with a dual-clutch transmission.
|Model||2011 Chevrolet Cruze|
|Power train||Turbocharged 1.4-liter 4-cylinder, 6-speed manual transmission|
|EPA fuel economy||28 mpg city/42 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||32.5 mpg|
|Bluetooth phone support||Optional|
|Disc player||MP3-compatible single CD|
|MP3 player support||iPod integration|
|Other digital audio||USB drive, auxiliary input, satellite radio|
|Audio system||6-speaker system|
|Driver aids||Park distance sensors|
|Price as tested||$19,615|