2012 Chevrolet Cruze Review - Cruzing to New York
By Thom Cannell and Steve Purdy
We weren’t anticipating driving a Chevy Cruze to New York, but an offer to drive a new Chevrolet Cruze LT came from a major supplier, Honeywell Turbo Technologies. It was a welcome alternative to a tasty but comparatively sternly riding Mitsubishi Lancer EVO 3. Besides, the Cruze is new generation, the Mitsubishi is highly evolved and neither Steve nor I had driven a Cruze. Therefore, we decided to treat the car like a black box and look at its powertrain performance from a non-enthusiast point of view. We knew nothing about the engine other than it started with a key and had an automatic transmission though we did figure that, since Honeywell Turbo Technologies was offering the vehicle, it probably had a turbocharged engine.
For Cruze, Honeywell mates a small, single-stage turbocharger to a teensy Ecotec 1.4-liter four cylinder engine. That’s 30% the size of a typical V-8 and 1.0-liter less than most I-4 engines. Neither Steve nor I knew this until after returning from our trip. Oh, the other engine for Cruze is a normally aspirated (no turbocharger or supercharger) fuel injected 1.8-liter four with identical 138 horsepower.
I took delivery and the Cruze surprised me. Sure, the interior had lots of plastic to keep the price low, but it was engaging, filled with soft surfaces and a fabric covered dash. The center stack, normally a region where journalists think General Motors fails, looked more like it came from Audi than Old-GM Chevrolet. That said, the exterior, a tastefully neutral earth tone, did nothing to increase my self esteem; Steve and I both prefer bolder colors.
My first impression of how a Cruze drives was “Wow, it’s more Corvette than Cobalt.” I thought the steering far more responsive than any recent Chevrolet other than Corvette or Camaro, a big surprise in a modestly priced car. The next morning, with only 12 miles of experience, Steve and I headed for New York on a voyage of discovery.
Stuck for 900+ miles inside our Cruze LT, real-world priced at under $19,000, we were surprised by its upscale features like the type of center information display—oil life, tire pressures for each wheel, trip odometer, distance to empty and more—that we expect from much higher priced cars. Another surprise was the seating. Both driver and passenger seat were multi-adjustable for front and rear height, the driver’s seat moves fore-aft under power; both use manual backrest adjusters. Even the steering wheel is outfitted with a full suite of audio and cruise controls. While there is an extra-cost Eco model rated at 42 mpg, we were very interested in our fuel economy and wanted to see how this Cruze with 2012 EPA ratings of 38 mpg highway, 26 mpg City (2 mpg more than the 2011 model tested) stacked up against a recent trip in a Volkswagen Jetta turbo-diesel that averaged 50 mpg on an identical round trip.
Though a six-speed manual is standard on the LT, we had the six-speed automatic. It provided decent family-car acceleration and a six-speed transmission. Steve says “it’s roomy and comfortable enough for a broad-in-the-beam guy like me and its fuel mileage allowed us to traverse long distances without stopping”. Overall our fuel economy was over 32 miles per gallon and less than 36 on each tankful. And, according to Steve, “Cruze has ambiance and amenities that are a quantum leap from the last generation Chevy compact car,” which was the unlamented Cobalt.
You may be able to tell that Thom and I both liked our turbo Cruze a lot. As any who know me will attest, I would always rather be behind the wheel than anywhere else, including a passenger seat. Fortunately for me, Thom was happy to be in the right seat pecking away on his laptop and entertaining us both with his characteristically esoteric banter. That way, I got to do all the driving to and from The Big Apple, being entertained by both the car and my companion.
The Cruze, equipped with Honeywell’s turbo, was impressive in performance and design. Right from the beginning as I took the wheel in the early morning and headed for the interstate, I felt the surprising thrust without noticeable turbo lag. I had to confirm with Thom that we really had a turbocharger under the hood. It was not the kind of acceleration we expect from a performance car, but it was well beyond what we expect from an entry-level economy car. Managing the cloverleaf ramps was a distinct pleasure as the suspension tuning was up to the task as well.
Fuel mileage easily kept in the mid-30-mpg range. Our speeds kept us up with traffic (which, of course, means a tad extralegal) and we were not making any special effort to maximize mileage. Think what we could do keeping our speeds lower!
Interior quietness is another area where automakers are making impressive advances. The Cruze competes in that category with aplomb. It actually seems quieter than Ford’s new Fiesta, which is a bit smaller and in the entry-level class and is highly touted for its quiet interior. But, along with that quietness comes a truly admirable level of fit, finish, and material quality.
Thom’s expertise extends deeply into technology and he spent surprisingly little time getting his iPhone phone integrated into the Cruze’s Bluetooth system. In that aspect, it is voice guided and easier to pair than with Ford’s SYNC, the leader in voice-activated infotainment.
That’s our initial review of the car, but only touches on its importance. According to Tony Schultz, VP Honeywell Turbo Technologies for America, the market for smaller engines with turbochargers will grow from today’s 7% to 20% of all vehicles by 2015 because of emissions regulations and fuel economy standards that must reach a corporate EPA rated average of 35.5 miles per gallon by 2015. For turbo makers like Honeywell, the shift to smaller turbocharged (and supercharged) engines is all about acceptance. Our test, just driving and evaluating a “Honeywell” instead of any specific powertrain, is important. We made no pre-judgements and neither should you.
In the US turbos have a checkered history and a somewhat tarnished reputation that is undeserved. Yes, there were some issues with bearing life in the ‘80s, but every manufacturer we’ve talked to says warranty claims for turbos are always minimal and less than they budget. That’s a way of saying in the US, like Europe, and the rest of the world, you shouldn’t worry about having a turbocharged car. What Honeywell—and GM—want is to get potential buyers behind the wheel to experience the power of this engine. If 1.4-liters can give you the drivability of a larger, less fuel efficient engine why would you worry about what’s under the hood? Really, sometimes size doesn’t matter.
Powertrain enthusiasts may find it interesting that, according to Honeywell Chief Engineer, Steve McKinley, our Cruze’s 1.4-liter Ecotec engine utilizes Honeywell’s MGT-14 turbo, a device proven in Europe for half a decade. It has demonstrated durability, and a modest price to the car maker. Steve says its performance betters the standard 1.8-liter engine, performing more like a 2.0-liter normally aspirated engine. Their development in cooperation with GM has produced a fuel economy increase between introduction and the 2012 model year as they continue working on improving air flow from the intake manifold, through the turbo, and into cylinders for even greater efficiency.
At The Auto Channel we see the trend clearly; fewer and fewer V-8s, V-8s being replaced by V-6 engines with plenty of torque and horsepower and V-6s moving aside for I-4 engines with more power than the engines they replace. That’s the kind of “green” we can agree with—fuel efficient, low emissions, and most importantly (to us), these hot little engines are fun to drive.
KEYWORDS: Chevrolet, Chevy, Chevy Cruze, Cruze, 2011 Cruze, 2012 Cruze, Cruze LT turbo, turbocharger, Honeywell, Ecotec, 1.4-liter, 1.8-liter, fuel economy, Eco, six-speed, Fiesta, Ford Fiesta, SYNC, EPA, Honeywell MGT-14, green, fun to drive