Yesterday I got a chance to test drive a Cruze 2LT. Except for the alloy wheels and the black leather interior, it looked much the same as the car in the test sit thread. I got to drive this in a mixture of city and highway traffic in the late afternoon.
My first impression of this car was after the salesman opened up the hood. It's been a long time since I've seen a engine compartment that actually looked like it would be easy to work in, should it be necessary. Indeed, it somehow begs for a larger engine.
Something that bears on my impressions of this car is that I had also taken a 2011 VW Jetta 2.5 SE out for a drive recently. This is the new one that VW has made various tweaks to to bring down its price, and place it squarely in the fight with cars like the Cruze, Corolla and Civic. As Chevrolet has tried to aim the Cruze farther upscale, the Jetta does make it something interesting to compare it to. If I had to choose it just on looks, the Cruze would be the one in my driveway. Inside and out, the Cruze beats the Jetta on style, and doesn't give away anything of note on quality. Once behind the wheel, the Cruze puts more features literally in your face than the Jetta. For example, if the Jetta's center display offers anything but the trip odometers besides that gas gauge, I couldn't find it. That display in the Cruze is offering mileage, navigation instructions, average speed, and a few other matters. It takes a few minutes to figure out how all the various controls work, but it is worth it to learn.
I found the seats of both cars to be comfortable, but it is interesting that with that little in price difference between the two cars, that the leather in the Cruze is real, and what looks like leather in the Jetta is leatherette. On the other hand, there isn't much to be said for using the method of power seat adjustability that the Cruze utilizes, as the seat remains at a fixed height. The Jetta seats were manual, but were adjustable for height. The result was that while I had a couple of inches of room between the back of the front seat an my knees in the Jetta, I could barely wedge my legs into the back of the Cruze after I'd adjusted the front seat for me to drive it.
Strangely, I was familiar with the ergonomics of both cars, the Jetta's because I own a VW, the Chevy's because I recently drove a Camaro, so I knew, for example, exactly how the items on the control stalks worked. Once you learn the wheel controls on the Cruze, though, there's a lot less you need to reach for the center stack for.
Once moving, I was impressed at how quiet the Cruze is. I don't recall thrashing, or other coarse noises coming from under the hood. It is a welcome improvement. What I did enjoy was the way this car dealt with our local roads, some of which are less than flawless. I also enjoyed the way the steering communicated when dealing with off ramps, which was about as much cornering as I really got to do. The transmission's shifts were pretty much seamless, the only glitch of any sort being at one point where I stepped lightly into the throttle and the car seemed to slow momentarily before accelerating. I generally don't like automatics in cars this size, but almost forgot that prejudice while driving this one. Later, the salesman said that the 1.4 turbo was available in with a manual on models other than the ECO, despite what the brochure he put in my hand had to say. I ultimately told him that if that was the case, I'd definitely be back for another look.
Perhaps that is the best way to describe my opinion of this car. I'm actually very impressed, except for the way of thinking that dates back to the days when it was a luxury feature to have an automatic transmission, one that says that manual cars must be the cheapest, and their drivers don't deserve features like sunroofs and a navigation map system. That Jetta can be had with both features and a manual transaxle, at about 23k. Chevrolet could take a bite out of the Jetta's cool factor by offering the same, and now is the time.