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New Chevrolet Cruze review, test drive

14th Nov 2012 5:10 pm

With more horses on tap and better power delivery, the new Cruze is a more driveable and user-friendly car. Read our comprehensive review.


  • Make : Chevrolet
  • Model : Cruze

The Cruze, in its mid-life-cycle update, gets improvements mostly on the mechanicals front, including a new engine. It’s not like it needed one desperately – the old car’s punchy, 148bhp 2.0-litre common-rail diesel could see off quite a few petrol saloons and was one of its main selling points.

So then why the all-new engine? It’s because GM has globally replaced the previous VM Motoring-developed diesel with its latest ‘Family Z’ unit. Also, an all-new six-speed manual gearbox replaces the five-speed unit of the previous model. A completely new powertrain has helped Chevrolet address problems like the massive turbo lag and heavy clutch that plagued theearlier Cruze. 

Apart from the powertrain changes, the Cruze is largely the same as its predecessor. You still get the same sharp styling, which is the biggest selling point of the Cruze (though there is a facelift on its way next year). The cabin is unchanged too, although it carries over the interior upgrades that were effected on the older model some months ago. Hence you get the same extra features like the partially powered driver’s seat and the tweaked seat cushions and headlining to improve headroom at the rear. The lumbar support on the front seats has been softened for better comfort too. It must be said,though, that fit and finish are still some way off the solidity and micrometre perfection of its German rivals, and for sheer comfort, especially at the rear, the Cruze still can’t compete with the best in class.  


To help improve fuel economy, the gearbox has been programmed to upshift at the earliest as well,so you sometimes get upshifts just when you don’t want them. Shifting the lever to ‘tiptronic’ mode makes it hang onto the selected ratio until you ask for a shift, but it’s still not engaging as, say, the twin-clutch unit in the Jetta and the Laura.

The Cruze auto is at its best when you’re cruising or when you’re in thick traffic. Fuel efficiency hasbeen one of the key priorities with the new powertrain and in this crucial area there is a distinct improvementover the previous model. The manual Cruze returned a decent 10.8kpl in the city and 15.7kpl on the highway as compared to the 10.3kpl and 14.8kpl for the old car. The automatic Cruze returned 9.8kpl and 15.3kpl for city and highway cycles respectively.

With 164bhp on tap (a substantial 11 percent more than the oldengine), the new Cruze is by far the most powerful car in its class. Torque has been upped to 38.7kgm. The main focus of the engine tweaks was to improve driveability, refinement and fuel efficiency. We tested both the manual and automatic versions of the Cruze to find out just how much of an overall improvement this engine is.

A turn of the key establishes that this new common-rail diesel engine is significantly more refined than the previous one, be it at idle or when you’re revving hard.

Its newfound refinement (and power) comes from a host of improvements to the engine’s guts. The updates include an engine block that has been strengthened to take the extra power and torque, and a completely redesigned cylinder head to incorporate a chain-driven DOHC valve-train as against the rubber-belt-driven one on the previous car. The air intake, which used to sit far from the inletmanifold, has now been moved closer to improve airflow and help reduce turbo lag. The common-rail system has also been upgradedand runs at a much higher 1800bar (against 1600bar in the old car)with seven injections per power stroke compared to five on the old motor. Chevrolet has alsoemployed a dual-mass flywheel to reduce engine vibrations.

While all these changes have substantially bumped up power and torque, it’s real-world driving that paints the true picture. For starters, the new Cruze feels slower than the older one! You don’t get that violent kick like before; instead there’s a progressive build-up of power, and it’s this far more linear power delivery that masks the feeling of speed in the new car. Our data acquisition equipmentreveals that the new car is actually quicker in most areas. In the 20-80kph third-gear slog, the new Cruze pips the old model by a half a second, while in the 40-100kph run in fourth gear, it’s quicker by a substantial one and a half seconds. It’s only in flat-out acceleration that that the old Cruze is still quicker. The new model does the dash to 100kph in 10.22sec, where the old car managed to duck below the 10-second barrier (9.64sec), and at 160kph, the new model is a good two seconds behind. 

The gearing plays a key role in performance, and with an extra gear ratio, better use can be made of the new engine. While the overall gearing is much taller than before, the new Cruze has pretty short first and second gear ratios for better driveability in traffic. This is evident from the moment you engage the clutch, which thankfully is far lighter now and more progressive too. The engine feels much more responsive at low revs and pulls cleanly from even below 2000rpm, a point at which the old car was still asleep. In fact, the low-speed responsiveness and driveability are the most tangible improvements, which you feel immediately. These, along with the light clutch, makethe Cruze a much more city-friendly car. You do find yourself swapping second- and third-gear cogs more frequently because there is quite a gap between the ratios, but if you’re not in a hurry, the torquey nature of the engine allows you to trundle along in third gear too.

On the highway, the new engine with its tall gearing comes into its own to make the Cruze a superb cruiser. In sixth gear, at 100kph, the engine, turning over at a lazy 1700rpm, is barely audible and the surplus of power makes long-distance driving quite effortless.

The six-speed auto complements the Cruze’s new engine too. Thanks to the newfound power and driveability, the Chevy auto accelerates in a far more linear manner than before. Upshifts arerelatively quick and make the acceleration seem all the more effortless. That said, it isn’t particularly engaging – it is still slow to respond to sharp throttle inputs and is sluggish when youwant a quickkickdown.

The Cruze’s suspension settings remain unchanged. Straight-line stability, though not as impressive as European rivals, is good and feels stable. At low speeds though, sharp bumps thud through into the cabin, the ride has a stiff edge to it and the car crashes through large undulations.

For all its power, the Cruze isn’t a particularly sporty handler. The steering is inconsistent and doesn’t weigh up in a linear fashion when you turn into corners. Grip and body control are reasonable though, but drive it hard and you get the distinct feeling that this car prefers the straights of the expressway to the twists and turns of a ghat road.


New Chevrolet Cruze review, test drive
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