2012 Chevrolet Cruze LTZ Turbo Review
By Graeme Fletcher. National Post
Looking back over the years, Chevrolet has dumped some truly awful cars on an unsuspecting car-buying public. The list reads like a worst of the worst – the Vega, Monza, Citation and, more recently, the Corsica/Beretta. Dreadful is how history will remember each and all. It was such that it was impossible to put Chevrolet and leading edge in the same sentence. Today, it is a very different story. There’s the 638-horsepower Corvette ZR1 and the electrifying Volt, both leading edge albeit for very different reasons.
The Cruze is another car that’s helping to restore the shine to Chevrolet’s apple. True, it is not the most stylistically gifted car in the world, but, in top-line LTZ guise, it has a degree of road presence that was simply not there with the previous Cobalt. It has a poised look even if the signature bow tie is too big.
Inside, the Cruze marks an equally big departure from the things that once defined General Motors. The old cobbled-together look has gone away in favour of an integrated finish and decent materials. As is to be expected, there is a lot of plastic, but it’s nicely textured and offset by the fabric inserts on the dash and doors.
Toys? They are aplenty in the LTZ – everything from automatic climate control, a nicer set of instruments, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror and cruise control to the usual power toys, heated front seats and Bluetooth are in place and, for once, logically arranged rather than having the controls dotted about the cabin in a haphazard manner. One item worthy of note is the nine-speaker, 245-watt Pioneer sound system – the clarity is remarkable considering this is an entry-level ride. Likewise, the inclusion of a leather-clad, six-way power driver’s seat and tilt and telescopic steering wheel speaks to the upscale intentions of the LTZ.
The rear seat is on par for the compact course – there’s plenty of headroom but limited legroom. The fact there is a central tunnel means the seat is best suited to a pair of adult riders. The 15-cubic-foot trunk is more than accommodating – it features a large opening that’s nicely squared off and 60/40-split folding seats.
Where the base Cruze LS is powered by a prosaic 1.8-litre engine – many have complained about the manner in which it strains to move the front bumper – the rest of the range, including the LTZ, benefits from GM’s 1.4L turbocharged four-cylinder. While both engines make essentially the same horsepower (136 and 138, respectively), there is a world of difference in the torque numbers. Not only does the turbocharged mill bump the torque output from 125 pound-feet to 148 lb-ft, it does so at significantly lower revs – 1,850 rpm when it’s teamed with the automatic transmission versus 3,800 rpm. It makes an enormous difference. The launch is far crisper and the mid-range has much more purpose.
In the end, the turbo cuts the run from rest to 100 kilometres an hour by 0.7 seconds to a respectable 9.7 seconds. Likewise, the passing 80-to-120-km/h passing time, at 7.4 seconds, is much better. The bigger bonus in all of this is that the refined performance actually comes with better fuel economy – 1.4 and 0.4 litres per 100 kilometres city/highway, respectively. Go figure: better economy, better performance and no need to pump premium fuel. It begs the obvious question – why is the turbocharged engine not standard fitment? It boils down to the need for an entry-level offering.
The six-speed automatic transmission works well with the turbocharged engine. In a previous test, I noted a herky-jerky hesitation until the transmission was fully warmed up. There proved to be no such malady this time around. The shifts were seamless and, when the gas is nailed, the kickdown proved to be suitably fast.
While the lesser Cruzes are very much middle of the road in terms of handling, the LTZ feels appreciably sharper. There is less body roll and the steering has a crisper feel. Part of it boils down to the tester’s up-sized P225/50R17 tires. When compared with the P215/60R16s, there’s noticeably less understeer because of the firmer sidewalls and wider tread. Helping matters more is the LTZ’s sportier suspension and 10-millimetre-lower ride height. It all adds up to a dialled-in ride that cedes little in the comfort department. This is where the Cruze proved to feel very refined. The ride quality is right up there with the best in the class — it takes a pretty gnarly piece of tarmac to upset the suspension’s composure in spite of its sportier intentions. Similarly, the inclusion of four-wheel disc brakes in lieu of the regular front disc/rear drum setup on the lesser models improved things again.
The Cruze is a different car for Chevrolet. The LS is reminiscent of the company’s earlier offerings and, frankly, lagging much of its key competition. Throw in the turbocharged engine and it becomes a match for them all. If there is a hitch, it’s price. While the base Cruze LS starts at $15,655, the LTZ commands $25,990 plus little extras such as premium paint.