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Motoring: Cruze-ing to the top

Nauman Farooq | Interrobang | Sports | January 17th, 2011

The Chevrolet Cruze is GM's new econo-car, and it has to be the most highly advertised car in the company's history. You can't miss its ads even if you tried. The ads are full of information about the car, how it is the most crash-tested car in GM's history, and how it has been voted Car of the Year in India. But, we are not in India, we are in Canada, so how does this car fare here against all its rivals?

To find out I booked one for a week to see what the fuss is all about, and to be honest, things didn't get off on the best of starts.

I for instance, find its styling quite boring and predictable. It looks like something that came into the market about 10 years ago. It doesn't have any hint of futuristic styling. It is conservative and safe, and I guess that is what the majority of the econo-car buying public wants. I think otherwise, but I am not buying a car at this moment.

Things do improve when you get inside though. First, it has a roomy interior. Even passengers in the back won't complain much. So it was designed to fit average humans, not contortionists. Then there is the quality. Everything looks and feels well screwed together and even more impressively, everything is in the right space. This is an easy car to just jump in and get to know. I like that.

What I liked even more was the way it drives, and that really was a big surprise. While GM has had some decent luxury and sports cars over the years, their economy cars have been anything but decent. Drive a Cavalier or a Cobalt and you get the feeling that their engineers had only built soap boxes.

The people behind the Cruze, however, seem to know what a car is and built it accordingly. In fact, they might have just made one of the best economy cars in the business.

The first thing I like is its powertrain. There are two engines on offer, a base 1.8-litre, four-cylinder, that produces 138 hp, or you can get the upgrade motor, which is a 1.4-litre, turbo-charged, fourcylinder, which also makes 138 hp.

Why are there two engines that produce the same power? That is because the 1.8 is a garden variety four-cylinder that will just do the job. The 1.4 turbo is much more advanced and is not only smoother, but also quite a bit more fuel-efficient. Plus since it is a turbo, it is quicker too. My test car had the turbo motor and I just loved it.

Helping this motor is a wonderful six-speed automatic gearbox (which sends power to the front wheels) that is both smooth and responsive. Trust me, it is truly surprising to find an American economy car that performs this well.

It gets better still. The ride comfort is extraordinary. You might think I have lost my mind when I say it absorbs the bumps as well as a Mercedes-Benz, but it does. I would intentionally drive over bumps and cracks in the road to see how it would deal with different harsh surfaces, and it never once made me cringe.

Any complaints? Just a few. First is the heating system. Because it has a small engine, it takes time for it to generate heat. So on a cold day when commuting within the city, by the time the heater started working properly, I was at my destination. On a long drive that wouldn't be a problem and once warmed up the heater is fine. I also wish heated seats were standard on the LT trim, because that would help with the slow heating issue.

I also have a problem with its trunk, or to be specific, its trunk hinge. It has a very old fashioned C-hinge system which intrudes into the trunk. That is very 1970- ish and all cars should be rid of this feature and replaced with hydraulic struts.

They are priced well too. A base LS model starts at just $14,995, while an LT model is yours from $19,495. So that puts it in the same category as the Toyota Corolla, Mazda3 and the Kia Forte. All these cars are excellent and choosing between them will be very tough. I would say my pick would be between the Forte and the Cruze.
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