A day after I tested the £29,995 Chevrolet Volt, I drove the £16,725 Chevrolet Cruze. This is a price point at which Chevy is more used to competing, somewhat below the going rate for a car of its size, rather than stratospherically above it.
The Cruze in question is a five-door hatch fitted with Chevrolet’s new 1.7 VCDi engine, a diesel unit that produces 130PS (128bhp) and 300Nm (220lbft). I say it’s Chevrolet’s engine, but the outputs and the 1686cc displacement suggest a rather close kinship with the 1.7 CDTi engine fitted to Vauxhall’s Astra, a car built atop the same General Motors platform as the Cruze.
The Astra manages to get down to just 99g/km of CO2 with its 130PS diesel in full EcoFlex fuel-saving trim, but the new Cruze can’t quite limbo that far. Its 117g/km rating isn’t too shabby, however, and in any case the Chevy undercuts the Eco Astra by more than three grand. Official fuel economy is 62.7mpg on the combined cycle.
Inside there are bits of switchgear shared with the Astra – and indeed with the Volt – but the Cruze has its own unfussy character. An unusual and attractive feature is the swathe of fabric that runs from the door cards onto the dashboard, providing a tactile and appealing surface between the hard plastic above and below.
Outside, the style is a little more divisive. I’m not sure which came first, the Cruze saloon or hatch, but I’m guessing it was the booted car. The Cruze’s chopped-off rear reminds me a little of BMW’s 5-Series GT hatchback, which isn’t a bad place to find a comparison, as long as you’re not BMW. Despite the slightly truncated looks the boot is a capacious 413 litres – 60 more than the Astra.
Round the front, meanwhile, there’s the typically assertive and gaping Chevrolet grille, flanked by square, hooded lamps that give the Cruze a slightly demented stare.
I shared my test with another journalist who quickly pigeonholed the Cruze as a white-goods kind of car, but I think that’s a little unfair. It’s not bland or characterless either inside or out.
Under way, the engine quickly proved to be a good companion. If it isn’t intrinsically quiet and refined it must be very well insulated and isolated. Despite being provoked right to the point of stalling, the engine refused to indulge in any of the rattling, juddering or booming that diesels are often prone to.
Alongside the excellent engine is a clean-shifting manual box with six well-judged gears. At an indicated 70mph in top the engine runs at 2,000rpm, producing a subdued baritone drone and sitting poised at the start of its torque peak should an extra turn of overtaking speed be called for. As a result, the Cruze should make a relaxed long-distance mile-muncher. The firm front seats still felt comfortable after a full morning at the wheel, although I would have liked a clutch-side footrest – the absence is annoying in a car where there’s plenty of room for one.
At least the wheel-mounted cruise control functions are clear and simple to operate, not hidden away on a stalk.
At slower speeds, the engine will obligingly halt when stationary in neutral. There’s an Eco switch next to the gearlever to disable this fuel-saving feature if you find it annoying, which I didn’t.
There’s also a shift indicator that will prompt you to change gear, helpfully one of the more intelligent and less dumbly insistent of its ilk.
From rest, 62mph can be reached in 9.4 seconds, if you’re feeling especially impatient. The Cruze is not really cut out for thrashing, however, despite the existence of Chevrolet Cruze-based racing cars.
The most sporting thing about the car that I could find was its deeply hooded instrument panel, which resembled the dials of an old Alfa Romeo I used to own. The steering, brakes and suspension are perfectly fine for normal duties but swing into a sweeping bend with a little too much speed and you won’t feel encouraged to do so again.
With this engine, the Cruze five-door comes in three trim levels. The LS version starts at £16,725 and comes with air conditioning, ESP, remote central locking, electric windows and mirrors, a stereo boasting an input socket, and 16-inch steel wheels.
Stretching to £17,825 buys the LT with 16-inch alloys, wheel-mounted controls, a bit of leather on the wheel, and parking sensors.
And finally LTZ trim at £18,685 provides 17-inch alloys, climate control, cruise control, auto lights and wipers, an anti-dazzle mirror and a CD changer.
All told, the Cruze 1.7 VCDi is a relaxing medium hatch with a bit of character and a quiet, frugal engine. That it’s relatively cheap as well comes as something of a bonus.