Chevrolet Cruze 1,8 LT Auto (2009) Driving Impression

Chevrolet Cruze 2009

You may take General Motors’ announcement that Chevrolet is its world brand with a pinch of salt. You may even ignore the alarming rumours that Opel is to be sold off, if you want to. But here’s a fact you can’t deny. Right now, right here, there’s no C-segment Opel sedan in sight for South Africans. The Chevrolet Cruze is it. The fact that it’s essentially an Astra underneath rubs further salt into the wounds of Opel fans but in the long-term that doesn’t really seem to concern General Motors too much. Far more important is the fact that the Chevrolet Cruze will have to be a lot better than its previous effort, the Optra, to stand up against current market leaders from Toyota, Ford and Honda. Can it cut it?

Masculine looks for Chevrolet Cruze

It helps that the Chevrolet Cruze doesn’t look anything like its Optra forebear. Boasting the longer and wider platform of the latest Astra, the Cruze is an attractive machine in a segment that isn’t really known for styling excellence. Up front there’s the trademark dual-port Chevrolet grille, which works better on a compact sedan than you may think. The headlamps are particularly interesting because they flow directly into the fender creases. In profile the Chevrolet Cruze is masculine, with large 17-inch alloy wheels filling the wheelarches nicely, and the sloping rear pillars lending it a sense of sportiness. At the rear it is decidedly more conservative, but nevertheless attractive.

The interior represents a major step forward for Chevrolet. Gone are the acres of dull grey plastic, replaced by a neat “twin-cockpit” design with a flowing centre section, contrasting trim pieces of good quality and particularly sporty instrumentation. One senses that Chevrolet’s interior designers have worked hard to give the Chevrolet Cruze an upmarket cabin through its detailing, and in general the efforts have paid off. The instrumentation is crisply backlit in blue and chrome ringed. Soft-touch sections of the facia are nice to touch. And a neat V-shaped, silver-faced centre section groups the controls for the audio and ventilation systems. The latter controls are, however, possibly set slightly too low.

With the same range of seating and steering wheel adjustment on offer than what you’d usually find in an upmarket German car (no surprises, it’s an Opel remember), the Chevrolet Cruze boasts an excellent driving position. The seats, too, are very good, offering good under-thigh and later support. At the rear things are not quite as rosy. Legroom is acceptable for this type of car, but no more. This may come as a surprise, given the relatively long (2 685 mm) wheelbase, but remember the slope of that rear window. Undoubtedly this has forced Chevy’s designers to push the back seats slightly forward, compromising space to some extent. The positive spin-off is a very large boot.

Lethargic performance

So far, so good. Unfortunately, the drivetrain of this model undoes much of the positive impression created thus far. It’s not that the 1,8-litre four-cylinder engine doesn’t have enough power. Rather, the problem appears to be the six-speed automatic transmission’s inability to “harness” the power there is. Throttle response is slow, but eventually the message reaches the transmission which results in a frenzy of activity as it attempts to locate the most suitable gear ratio. By the time it has engaged this ratio and the engine screams to the red line, the moment of need will have gone. So, not a great car to drive if you’re in a hurry, then.

Thankfully it is considerably better as a cruiser. Once up to speed, gentle but decisive throttle pressure is all that’s needed for the  Chevrolet Cruze to shift down and gain pace for overtaking. In this kind of environment, it is vastly more impressive.

Fuel economy? Well, around town the Chevrolet Cruze 1,8 LT can be quite thirsty, because you’ll be flooring it in frustration rather often. Here you can expect to average around 10,5 L/100 km. Expect this figure to drop significantly on the open road, though.

Loaded with features

When equipped with Chevrolet’s top-line LT specification, the Cruze’s standard features list is long. Included in the mix are; climate control, auto lights and wipers, electrically adjustable and heated side mirrors, rear park-distance control, leather upholstery, cruise control, an audio/CD system and four airbags. Interestingly, traction control is fitted but a full electronic stability system (ESP) is not.

Although the Chevrolet Cruze doesn’t feature a multi-link rear suspension set-up, which theoretically would’ve endowed it with superior ride/handling characteristics, the fitted torsion bar arrangement does a good enough job. The damping is good, with the Chevrolet Cruze treading a fine line between suppleness and firmness, the latter part of the equation lending the Chevy admirable stability in faster corners. We did, however, notice some thumping noises from the suspension, and road noise levels are quite high and speed. Some extra NVH refinement, or under-body noise damping, seems to be required.

Chevrolet Cruze - Verdict

Wow, what a big step forward from Optra! The Chevrolet Cruze is a properly up-to-date C-segment sedan offering considerable charm. In 1,8 LT Automatic guise, however, there are some misgivings, mostly around the easily confused transmission, but it is clear that in essence the Chevrolet Cruze is a good car. To further sweeten the deal, Chevrolet has also added a long warranty and service plan, making the Cruze a very strong candidate from an ownership point of view.

We like:

  • Handsome design
  • Build quality
  • Standard features
  • Ride/handling
We don’t like:
  • Poor engine/transmission combo
  • Performance
  • Fuel economy
Fast facts

Engine: 1,8-litre, four-cylinder, petrol

Power: 104 kW @ 6 200 rpm

Torque: 176 Nm @ 3 800 rpm

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Wheels: 17-inch alloy

Top speed: n/a km/h (200 km/h est)

0-100 km/h: 10 seconds

Fuel economy: n/a litres/100 km (8 L/100 km est.)


Also consider:

  • Honda Civic 1,8 i-VTEC VXi Auto: A fair bit more expensive, but also significantly more impressive to be honest. Though the Honda’s styling and interior designs are acquired tastes there’s no argument to be made about its quality, spaciousness and refinement.
  • Toyota Corolla 1,8 Exclusive Auto: Better than you may think... The large-capacity Corolla is often overlooked but if you’re in the marked for a spacious sedan with good power and quality back-up, you can’t really go wrong here. But it’s only a four-speeder…
  • Ford Focus Sedan 2,0 Si Auto: Looks more upmarket since the facelift, but the changes haven’t really moved the interior forward. Still, the pricing is good, and the Focus is a spacious, comfortable cruiser that just lacks that final bit of polish and features where it matters most… inside.