General Motors has been desperately trying to crack the compact cars market for years. The Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic have retained their crowns in the segment by beating off previous GM attempts such as the Cobalt. When it comes to being successful in the compact market, you need to have several things: great fuel efficiency, passable cabin room, and affordable pricetag, and at least a little bit of style. The 2010 Chevrolet Cruze looks to be the best positioned GM model to have a shot at succeeding.
We’ll look at the Cruze in the order of criteria outlined above. First up is fuel economy. The Cruze, which is currently available in European markets, comes with a four-cylinder engine with displacements ranging from 1.6-liters to a 2.0-liter diesel. These models have modest fuel efficiency ratings and overall driving response from the engine is sluggish at best. For the Cruze’s introduction to the American market, a 1.4-liter turbocharged gasoline engine is in the works, which should feel more responsive and get great fuel economy. GM is currently estimating 30 mpg in the city, and if that pans out, then the Cruze has got the fuel economy requirement nailed.
Next up is the cabin room. For the compact market, nobody expects miracles when it comes to cabin room. There is only so much you can do with a certain amount of space. The Cruze does provide a bit relief to backseat passengers, however. While the Cruze is a compact, it pushes the definitions of the class and will likely be the largest vehicle in that market segment. This translates into cabin space that allows more head- and leg-room in the backseats and also gives those in the front seats decent space. Once again, the Cruze lives up to the criteria.
As far as price is concerned, a baseline Cruze will likely start at about $16,000. The Honda Civic starts at $15,000 and the Toyota Corolla is about the same. The starting price for the Cruze is a little bit higher, but the extra space it affords will probably cause many buyers to look past the extra $1,000. Also, once extras and other packages are installed, the Cruze will probably even out with the Civic and Corolla, but GM has not released any official American pricing for the Cruze, so that can’t be determined yet.
As for style, the Cruze does that surprisingly well. The Cruze actually looks to be inspired by European vehicles, with shoulder bumps above the wheels and a clean back-end that wouldn’t look all that out of place on a German car. Also, the front end is suitably aggressive, giving the Cruze an impression of speed. Lastly, the wheels are fit towards the outside of the wheel housings, giving the car a wider stance.
So how does the Cruze stack up? Pretty well. The styling is attractive, the price point is only a little bit higher than the Civic and Corolla, and the cabin space is better than you would expect from a compact. The only point of concern right now is the engine. If the Cruze hits the streets with an efficient turbocharged four-cylinder, then it will probably be a pretty good success. If they continue with the uninspiring 1.6-liter and 1.8-liter engines, the driving experience will likely fall flat.
One last caution: the Cruze that is currently available in Europe will likely see a few changes once the car gets ready for American markets. Key among these changes is that the Cruze will start to be manufactured in America and it will be tuned to appeal to the preferences of American drivers. If Chevrolet can preserve the current perks of the Cruze and adopt it to the American market without making too many problems, then they could have a real winner on their hands.