Chevrolet Cruze sedan 1.4 LS auto
Johannesburg - It’s often said that absence makes the heart grow fonder and I’m sure that’s why, deep down inside, there’s still a part of me that expects Chevrolets to have some kind of sporty persona.
Perhaps it’s because the brand disappeared from our shores for more than two decades, leaving my only frame of reference – apart from a few rusty old pre-‘80s badge-engineered Chevs – in the brawny hands of those Camaros and Corvettes that starred in movies and basked in bedroom-wall poster glory.
Yet somewhere far removed from the tyre-smoking romance of these halo muscle cars, Chevrolet has always been big on sensible, practical cars designed primarily for easy commuting. As boring as this might sound, what really stands out for me about the Chevrolet Cruze is just how cosily it fulfils that role.
Inevitably the Cruze has slipped beneath the radar in recent years and it’s been getting rather long in the tooth. In fact, Chevrolet has just revealed an all-new version in the US, which will make its way here at some as-yet-unspecified point in the future. To tide us over, GM recently launched a facelifted version of the current Cruze in South Africa.
Unlike most automotive cosmetic surgeries, this one centres more on the rear end, which has been totally redesigned for a smoother effect, while the front has been sharpened with a new grille and bumper. As before it’s not the most cohesive design on the planet, but it sure does make a statement.
Apart from the addition of a new six-speed automatic gearbox option for the 1.4 turbopetrol version, featured here, the mechanical equation remains unaltered and that’s really not such a bad thing – especially as far as the ‘cruzability’ goes. You see, while many car companies put a great deal of emphasis on roadholding, perhaps because they’re scared of being slated by British motoring mags, Chevrolet just concentrated on making the Cruze ride really comfortably. This supple suspension set-up counts for a lot more in the everyday grind, and while it’s not the sharpest corner carving tool, it is more than safe enough for the average user.
The Cruze also earns a distinction in noise suppression 101– it’s really smooth, quiet and vibration free at highway speeds, while the long top-gear ratio of the new automatic gearbox allows the 1.4-litre turbopetrol to tick along quietly at low revs as if it’s trying to pass for a diesel.
Lacking direct fuel-injection and idle-stop technology, two things you will find in the next Cruze, the 1.4T is not exactly at the cutting edge of efficiency-enhancing engine wizardry, however, and the car is on the heavy side, at 1400kg. That said, our test car consumed just over 10 litres per 100km over a few days of city commuting, which I don’t deem too bad given the traffic congestion encountered at times.
The engine delivers a healthy enough 103kW and 200Nm and does a good job of hauling this car’s bulk around at an agreeable pace, while the new autobox is responsive enough to kick down quickly when you need some extra grunt. The ‘box also avoids being too frantic, most of the time at least.
As another feather in its smoothly-crafted cap, the new Cruze is bolted together rather well and there’s a definite feeling of solidity in the cabin, just don’t expect any soft surfaces or any of that classy ‘ambience’ you find in many of its European and Japanese rivals. It still manages to avoid looking cheap though and the overall design is actually quite interesting, if a little busy, with its piano black and silver finishes, and the dash even has some seat cloth on it for added pizzazz.
Talking seats, they’re quite comfortable and those in the back enjoy a decent amount of legroom, but headroom will be tight for those who are taller than Joe Average.
With the 2015 upgrade, LS versions have gained a Mylink infotainment centre with a colour touch-screen, although the set-up is a bit odd. The screen is set too deeply into the dash to make it within easy finger reach, but then the system does at least retain the previous model’s barrage of buttons and knobs on the dash below it, allowing you to play with it the old-fashioned way. It all works rather easily when you’re accustomed to it.
The Cruze has aged fairly well and still provides a smooth, quiet and comfortable travelling experience to all those on board. At R272 400 for the 1.4T LS auto it is one of the better-priced turbocharged sedans on the block, but it’s not quite the value champion as Ford’s Focus 1.5T still gives you a lot more engine for not much more money.
Chevrolet Cruze vs its rivals:
Chevrolet Cruze sedan 1.4 LS auto: 103kW/200Nm – R272 400
Ford Focus sedan 1.5T Trend auto: 132kW/240Nm – R279 900
Kia Cerato sedan 1.6 EX auto: 95kW/157Nm – R271 995
Opel Astra Sedan 1.4T Enjoy auto: 103kW/200Nm – R297 900
Toyota Corolla 1.6 Prestige auto: 90kW/154Nm – R269 600