The Chevrolet/Opel conundrum continues to trouble General Motors. As the company starts to emphasise Chevrolet as its global brand, Opel is expected to play more of an upmarket and niche role. Yet, at the same time, the German car maker has to make available its technologies and expertise to the Bowtie. The result? Cars that are strikingly similar, yet with Opel priced higher. Is it a strategy that can work? Many commentators suggest it can’t, but for the consumer the benefit is a range of Chevrolets that offer excellent build quality and good pricing. A car such as the new Cruze hatchback can do much to up the brand’s profile in South Africa, even though it could come at the cost of the rebuild of Opel…
Smart looksThe Cruze hatch certainly has good genes. It gets the front-end of the recently updated Cruze sedan (note the more sharply angled fog lamp surrounds), as well as the striking profile of the Opel Astra hatchback. The result is a handsome and upmarket-looking hatchback that also appears quite different to anything else on the market. Like the Astra it is based upon, the Cruze has short overhangs and a relatively long 2 685 mm wheelbase. It is more than 80 mm shorter in body length that the sedan and rides on neat 16-inch alloys. With its long, sloping roof and stylish rear lamps, the Cruze hatch is particularly attractive from the rear.
Given its underpinnings and donor vehicles, the Cruze’s interior doesn’t bring any surprises. It’s a spacious car, with good rear leg- and headroom, the latter improved by an extended rear roof section. The boot too, is handily sized at 413 L.
Most impressively, the facia design and finish it among the best in this segment, with a leather-wrapped steering wheel and even attractive cloth inserts of the facia. As with all Cruze’s the V-shaped centre section with its neatly integrated controls and the sporty instrument pods catch the eye. It’s car that feels and looks more upmarket than its badge and even its price would suggest. And Chevrolet has been fairly generous with the standard features, too. Included are; air-conditioning, electric mirrors, radio/CD player, stylish multi-function steering wheel, cruise control and height-adjustable driver’s seat. The safety package is also very comprehensive, and includes six airbags, rear Isofix child seat mounts and ESP (electronic stability system).
Lazy performanceThe overall impression of refinement continues once you start driving the Cruze, but besides being quiet and smooth, as well as economical (6,7 L/100 km), the engine disappoints in the performance stakes. It delivers a good 91 kW and 155 Nm, but the vehicle’s weight, gearing and the fact that the torque arrives only at 4 000 rpm, conspire to give it quite lazy performance. The 0-100 km/h time of 12,8 seconds is certainly among the worst of its peers. But, for a lot of people this will not be of much importance and the aforementioned attributes of refinement and economy will be far higher rated. Regarding the five-speed transmission – it generally provides nice shifts, but perhaps a sixth is needed for more economical cruising.
On the road, the Cruze hatch is an impressively sorted motorcar. The NVH (noise, vibration, harshness) is truly impressive, with the cabin being quiet and even wind noise being kept at bay in a manner which would befit a larger, more expensive car. With generous rake and reach adjustment from the steering wheel (another upshot of having Opel as a sibling), as well as a height-adjustable seat, the driving position should be spot-on for most.
The seats and quietness are not the only reasons why the cabin is such a comfortable place to be. The suspension is impressively sorted – even though there is no multi-link rear suspension as on the Golf, body control is good and the Cruze manages to iron out road imperfections very well with its suppleness. Given its relatively lazy performance, dynamic sharpness is obviously not a high priority, but nevertheless, the Cruze is a stable, confident handler with good steering weighting and confidence-boosting braking. It should make for a great all-rounder – city slicker and family car.
Chevrolet Cruze Hatchback - VerdictThe Chevrolet Cruze is a very good new offering in a very competitive segment – remember, it is up against Golf, Focus, Civic and, not to mention, Astra. Aesthetically it is an appealing alternative, and its best attributes of refinement, built quality and comfort will go down well with a large portion of shoppers in this segment. Does it, however, bring anything new to the segment? Would it not have been better for General Motors to focus its efforts on making Opel as competitive as possible in a segment where it already has a long history, and Chevrolet doesn’t? From the sidelines we’d suggest it is a good car, but that the Astra is at least as good, and stands a better chance with proper support. General Motors may have come up with a good car, but we’re not sure it’s good General Motors itself…
- Good looks
- Rear cabin space
- Standard equipment
- Comfort levels
Fast FactsEngine: 1,6-litre, four-cylinder, petrol Power: 91 kW @ 6 000 rpm Torque: 155 Nm @ 4 000 rpm Transmission: Five-speed manual Wheels: 16-inch alloy Top speed: 190 km/h 0-100 km/h: 12,8 seconds Fuel Economy: 6,7 L/100 km
- Opel Astra 1,6 Essentia: Shares its underpinnings with the Chevrolet Cruze and is arguably even better looking. Similar equipment levels, as well as power, and yet the Opel the feels the nippier car.
- Volkswagen Golf 1,6 Trendline: The Volkswagen is a pricier product, and truthfully if you can stretch this far you can just as well go for the 1,4 TSI model, which has the better engine. Still, really classy product.
- Toyota Auris 1,6 Xi: The new Auris is a vastly more appealing product than before, with an interesting interior design and quite dramatic exterior. It’s also livelier than its rivals here, and boasts a good standard specification.