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2012 Chevrolet Cruze (GM/Wieck)
2012 Chevrolet Cruze (GM/Wieck)

Road Test

Chevrolet Cruze: A true world car Add to ...

Yes, General Motors can make a global car and, yes, GM has a global brand that’s a juggernaut in the making.

The car is the Cruze compact and, through the middle of July, Chevy had sold more than 350,000 of them. Since its launch as a 2011 model, some 1.65 million Cruzes have sold worldwide. Chevy’s global sales will top 5.0 million this year; in the second quarter alone, GM moved more than 1.3 million Chevys. If Chevy were a stand-alone car company, it would be the fifth- or sixth-largest in the world.

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Now you know why Chevy just inked a deal to put the Bowtie on the shirts of Manchester United footballers. Man U is reportedly the world’s most valuable sports team and has the kind of global footprint Chevy wants. The key to all of this is the Cruze.

Here we have a good sedan, if a little conservative-looking. Chevy’s best-selling car around the world is quiet, comes loaded with safety features (10 airbags, standard electronic stability control and a five-star crash-test rating from the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) and is roomy in a mid-size car sort of way.

Good as it is, the challenge for Chevy is to keep the Cruze percolating in the face of so many good rivals. GM of Canada seems to be struggling here, and I am baffled. After a week with a Cruze LT Turbo sedan ($18,755), this should not be the case. Cruze sales are down 12 per cent on the year, while the Honda Civic is up 22 per cent, the Hyundai Elantra is up 5.4 per cent, the Toyota Corolla is up nearly 17 per cent, the Mazda3 is up 9.6 per cent and the Ford Focus is up 17 per cent.

That’s the grim news for Chevy. On the other hand, Chevy’s compact is No. 5 overall among passenger cars in Canada, trailing the Civic, Elantra, Corolla and Mazda3 in that order. No. 6 is the Focus and No. 8 in Canada is Volkswagen’s Jetta (down 12.0 per cent). Seven of Canada’s 10 best-selling cars are compacts and they’re all perfectly good cars. Throw in, say, the Kia Forte and you can see the challenge facing Chevy.

For me, the real test of the so-called “new” GM will be in how the company keeps the Cruze fresh and exciting and current. The competition is always on the move. For instance, a reinvented version of the Corolla is coming within the year and Honda is promising a major facelift to the Civic in short order. Mazda plans to reinvent the design of the Mazda3 next year, and so on, and so on. …

The Cruze? The game didn’t get any easier earlier this year when GM recalled nearly half a million Cruzes worldwide due to potential engine bay fires related to dripping oil on the under-engine shield. GM moved swiftly here and by all accounts the matter is under control.

But the game will get at least more interesting next year when a diesel version of the Cruze arrives. This will give Chevy something that to date only VW has been able to offer in a compact car. Diesel makes perfect sense in a commuter ride like the Cruze. I predict GM of Canada will sell every single one it can get.

For now, the Cruze exceeds my expectations. I’d certainly pick the Cruze over a Civic, a Corolla or a Jetta. I like the Mazda with the best SkyActiv powertrain more, but the design is getting a bit hoary. The Focus is the best-looking of the bunch, drives like a little demon and – unlike Civic, Corolla, Cruze and Jetta – you can buy a Focus hatchback. In small cars that need to be versatile, a hatch is the only way to go.

In my tester, the six-speed manual transmission was perfectly effective and easy to operate, though Mazda’s Sky manual is the slickest in its class. The Cruze’s 138-horsepower turbo four felt stronger than the numbers suggest and I never lacked for passing power. Nonetheless, the Focus comes with a standard 160-hp four-cylinder – and both are rated at 7.8 litres/100 km in the city using regular gas.

My Cruze came with the racy RS appearance package ($1,875) and it is probably worth the money for anyone who wants to jazz up a slightly plain design. The goodies include unique fascias, rocker moldings, rear spoiler and fog lamps, along with a better instrument cluster and 18-inch painted alloy wheels.

Speaking of the instruments, the cluster’s ice-blue backlighting is easy on the eyes. The centre stack with the infotainment display and climate and radio controls is perfectly unobtrusive. The seating is fine, but nothing marvelous. There is plenty of room in the cabin, though. And the standard equipment is good, ranging from cruise control to a so-called standard Connectivity Package and power windows, door locks and mirrors, and climate control.

Look, with the Cruze, GM has built a better Corolla and that is by no means damning with faint praise.

jcato@globeandmail.com

Tech specs: 2012 Chevrolet Cruze LT Turbo

Type: Compact sedan

Base price: $18,755 ($1,495 freight)

Engine: 1.4-litre, four-cylinder, turbocharged

Horsepower/torque: 138 hp/148 lb-ft

Transmission: Six-speed manual

Drive: Front-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 7.8 city/5.2 highway; regular gas

Alternatives: Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra, Toyota Corolla, Mazda3, Ford Focus, Volkswagen Jetta, Kia Forte, Mitsubishi Lancer, Dodge Dart, Nissan Sentra, Subaru Impreza

Follow on Twitter: @catocarguy

Globe rating for the 2012 Chevrolet Cruze

Our ratings guide
7.5

Ride

The small turbo four-cylinder might be rated only 138 horsepower, but it feels stronger. The ride is a little on the softish side, which might be ideal for highway commutes.

7.5

Looks

The exterior at first glance looks a bit bland, but if you look closely you’ll find all sorts of nice little design flourishes such as those in the wheel arches. The RS appearance package ($1,875) adds unique fascias, rocker moldings, rear spoiler and fog lamps, along with a better instrument cluster and 18-inch painted alloy wheels.

8

Interior

Roomy and quite comfortable, the cabin is big enough to feel like a mid-size. The centre stack with the infotainment display and climate and radio controls is perfectly unobtrusive. The seating is fine, but nothing marvelous. And the standard equipment is generous.

9

Safety

Ten air bags, standard electronic stability control and a five-star crash test rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. As safe as small cars get.

7

Green

The highway fuel economy is good, as it is around town – using regular gas.

8

Overall

(out of 10 / Not an average)

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