By: Dave Abrahams
Paarl, Western Cape - Most of the motoring scribes assembled for the launch of GM’s nipped-and-tucked-for-2015 Chevrolet Cruze described it, not disparagingly, as ‘the same, but better’.
As it happened, however, I had never before driven a Cruze, so for me this was a new model - and some of my impressions differed from the majority as a result.
But first, the nuts and bolts: the Cruze has been refreshed for 2015 with a new fascia (that’s the big plastic moulding around the grille, headlights and air intakes), which includes a new grille, new projector-type front foglights, a smaller ‘bowtie’ badge and for the first time on this model, LED daytime running lights.
At the back there’s a new bootlid on the sedan with a hint of a spoiler and new two-piece tail-light clusters for both sedan and hatch variants.
Inside, the LS derivatives now have Chevrolet’s Mylink infotainment system and colour connected radio as standard, with a seven-inch touchscreen at the top of the centre stack featuring icon-based menus similar to an iPad, as well as voice recognition and a CD player.
Engine options are unchanged: either a 1.6-litre naturally-aspirated petrol four, rated for 86kW at 6200 revs and 155Nm at 4000rpm, or the 1.4 EcoTec turbofour, good for a claimed 103kW from 4900-6000rpm and 200Nm from 1850-4900rpm.
New for 2015, however, is a six-speed automatic transmission with manual override for the range-toping 1.4T LS sedan, alongside the existing six-speed manual, bringing the range up to two hatch and four sedan models.
ON THE ROAD
And it was indeed the self-shifter that I got to drive first, as we headed out from Paarl towards the back roads and mountain passes of the Boland. Around town the drivetrain was more than adequate, changing up early for smooth, unruffled progress through the traffic.
Its civilised delivery emphasised the car’s light but accurate steering and supple suspension, giving a comfortable ride that’s one of its best features, along with solid, rattle-free construction and a total lack of thumping from the undercarriage, even on seriously unkempt roads.
But when we got out in the mountains the Cruze seemed to live up to its name, lacking a certain urge coming out of corners and, more pointedly, when asked to overtake slower vehicles.
The only way to get it to pick up its skirts seemed to be to flick it across to manual mode and bounce it down a couple of cogs - or was I asking too much of a C-segment family sedan weighing close to two tons with only 103kW to its credit, a significant portion of which seemed to be soaked up by the torque convertor?
So I waited for a decent straight, put it in fourth and put foot, right up to the red line at 6500rpm. But when I nudged it into fifth, the revs dropped right back to 4500, in a crude but effective demonstration that the ratios in the Cruze’s smooth-shifting slush-box are very widely spaced, to allow a very long top gear and enable eyebrow-raising fuel consumption figures on the open road.
The six-speed manual version also has widely spaced ratios (there was no freeway cruising on the launch drive, with the result that I never got it into top gear!) but its action is as crisp as breaking glass, and it allows you to pick the ratio for the road and keep the engine in its ‘happy place’.
Unfortunately, this plays up the little turbofour’s only failing: it gets a bit raucous when pushed hard, which seems at odd with its otherwise very civilised persona. But that’s only when you’re hooning around the countryside; in town the Cruze is a dignified family sedan.
The plastic and fabric-covered plastic surfaces in the cabin are all hard to the touch but the fit and assembly are exemplary, the styling is classic (the twin-cockpit layout echoes that of the current Corvette, itself inspired by the original ‘55 ‘Vette), the seats firmly supportive and leg and shoulder-room outstanding by C-segment standards.
The Cruze - as the constant puns on its name suggest – is not a sports car; it’s a solid family sedan that’s not ashamed of having comfortable suspension. Among the launch guests only myself and another motorcycle enthusiast were vocal in preferring the manual derivative over the auto; drive both before you make up your mind.
1.6 LS - R245 300
1.4T LS - R265 200
1.6 - R230 400
1.6 LS - R247 200
1.4T LS - R262 500
1.4T LS AT - R272 400
These include a five-year or 120 000km warranty and a three-year or 90 00km service plan.