As we close the first half of 2009 with glimmer of hope for the automotive industry, we will be greeted by a new Chevrolet model in July 2009 - the Chevy Cruze. The Cruze has been a hot seller in China. Earlier this year, GM China broke their monthly sales record, part of which is attributed to the well received Chevy Cruze by Chinese customers. In fact, GM-China is so optimistic that it targets to double GM-China's annual sales from the current 1 million units to 2 million units within the next 5 years, with the Cruze being among the key models at center of this plan.
Unlike the woeful Optra preceding it, the Cruze is a serious alternative to the traditional popular safe choice of a Toyota Corolla / Honda Civic. The only thing hampering its growth now is the Chevrolet badge and a weak dealer network. Not many people on this side of the world is familiar with the Chevy brand and even less considers it as in the same league as the big and trusted Japanese nameplates. The Corolla and Civic have more than 50 and 40 years worth of history behind them respectively.
Which is a pity, as the Cruze have received rave reviews from all over the world and many even commented that the Cruze feels a class higher than many of its competitors. If you are in a market for a C-segment sedan, you won't be making an informed decision until you give the Cruze a try.
Images shown here are based on the Australian specification Holden badged Cruze, because this right hand drive Holden version is a relatively more accurate reflection of the model that we are getting in Asia Pacific. Chevy badged models will get a slightly different grille and interior trim colour will differ depending on specs and the local distributor's specifications (either in black, blue)
Some key facts of the Cruze :
- Estimated price of below RM115k.
- 1.8-litre petrol version is confirmed but a cheaper 1.6-litre version could also be introduced.
- Early models of Cruze will be exported from GM-DAT's plant in Gunsan, South Korea. Asia Pacific production sites in Australia and Thailand will begin by late 2010.
- First GM-DAT passenger car to be developed completely under supervision from GM (previous Optra was inherited from Daewoo when GM acquired the company). Developed over a 27-month period at a cost of $US4 billion. 221 prototypes were built, with testings done in Australia, US, Sweden, Canada, UK, South Korea and China.
Powertrain and Chassis
- First in its segment 6-speed automatic transmission.
- Third generation ECOTEC engine - the 1.8-litre twin-cam 16-valve produces 104kW of power and 176Nm of torque, which is more powerful than both the Corolla Altis 1.8 and Honda Civic 1.8. To provide a more responsive drive, 90% of the torque is available between 2,200rpm to 6,200rpm. GM says a continuously variable valve timing using a compact hydraulic vane type phaser helps flatten out the torque curve.
- Fuel consumption is rated at 7.5L/100km for the 1.8-litre petrol automatic model (methodology unknown).
- Built on GM's latest Delta II Small Car Platform - it will form the basis many future GM models including the upcoming Orlando MPV, Volt extended range EV-hybrid and the recently unveiled Astra hatchback (Europe).
5-star Australian New Car Assesment (ANCAP) safety rating (done with Australian Holden badged version with 6 airbags, ABS with EBD, electronic stability and traction control). EuroNCAP assessment on European Opel / Vauxhall versions have not been done but GM expects a similar 5-star score. Note that points were given for standard fitment of ESC and also other items like seatbelt reminders. The safety scores of a European / Australian model have very little relation to the models sold in other markets, but it does give some level of indication on the body strength.
Interior and Refinement
Early reviews based on pre-production models all agree that the interior is the main highlight for the Cruze. The interior of the Cruze feels slightly more premium than the rest of its competition. The cabin materials are said to have a strong tactile feel to them. Even the fabric trim wraps around the car in one continuous band, from the sides to across the dash area. Audi is noted to have the best interior design in the industry. But if you can't afford an Audi, the Cruze's interior is your next best choice in the C-segment model range. At least that's the impression given.
NVH insulation - isolated 4 mount engine cradle, triple sealing for doors, "extensive use" of insulation materials for front-of-dash panel, boot, deck-lid inner, doors, carpet and headlining, which GM claims is unusual for a car in this segment. Boot, deck lid and headlining are usually only given minimal insulation on cars in this segment. Personally, the lack of insulation in headlining is the most annoying among the three, especially when you are stuck in traffic and the rain is pouring outside. Feels like being closed in inside a can of Milo.
The Cruze measures 4597mm long, 1788mm wide, 1477mm high with a wheelbase of 2685mm.
The Corolla Altis measures 4540mm long, 1760mm wide, 1465mm high with a wheelbase of 2600mm. The Civic is equally as long as the Corolla but is narrower at 1755mm, 1435mm high, but the Civic still boast of having the longest wheelbase at 2700mm, so legroom is never an issue.
Press materials from GM's Australian arm Holden states a shoulder room of 1391mm and 1370mm at the rear, while rear legroom is at 917mm. No similar interior dimensions were published for the Corolla Altis and Civic.
Other miscellaneous items
GM LAN Serial Data Electrical Architecture network bus - doesn't really mean much to an end user. If you really need to know, it simplifies trouble shooting and error code diagnostics (at least that is the intention...after sales technicians might disagree). By keeping wire harness count and length a minimal, the overall vehicle cost can be lowered and kerb weight is also reduced, an average C-segment car now have between 40 to 50 individual control units, each requiring their own interface and wire harness. On a high end European model like the Astra hatchback, the ECU count could even reach close to 80 or more. The new Astra even comes with electronic damping control (GM calls it FlexRide), a feature previously only seen in high end luxury sedans. So you can imagine how much weight can be reduced by integrating these functions together on a single common bus.
Without having seen the actual car, the only fault on paper seems to be the 400 litre boot space, which is a bit smallish compared to the Civic's 405 litre (but both are still smaller than the City's massive 506-litre VDA volume, bigger than an Accord!).
The exterior design might come across as a tad conservative to some but this is not a bad news. When in doubt, it is better to go conservative to appeal to a wider group of crowd. Not many can accept the lines of a Honda Civic or a Mazda 3, though the sales of the Mazda 3 is eclipsing the Corolla in some markets like New Zealand and Australia. The Cruze is designed by Tae-Wan Kim, who is now the Vice-President of Design at GM-Daewoo. Kim was previously attached to Fiat, where also had a hand in designing Fiat models like the Cinquecento (500), Punto and Ducato.
On paper, this is a car that will satisfy the needs of 90% of all salary men looking for a reliable and value for money family car. There is little to fault with the product. If the Cruze don't meet its sales targets - it's time to have a chat with the sales team, the dealer principals and the creative agency holding Chevrolet / GM-Asia Pacific's accounts as well as GM's own team responsible for brand building, given the little "damage control" that has been done to assure buyers that whatever that is happening to GM USA will not affect its overseas operations.
The images below are of a Cruze that belonged to a Chinese customer in China, who decided to give his Cruze a "BumbleBee" treatment.
The real Chevy Camaro "BumbleBee"
By the way, both Holden and GM-Asia Pacific are relatively self sufficient entity and carry different products from their American principal company. Despite the on-going financial debacle for GM in USA, it is business as usual for GM's operations in the Asia-Ocenia region.
Chevy Cruze and the Korean Stigma
Watch How This Chinese Lady Got Herself A New Buick