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Weidel on Wheels: Chevy's Cruze is cool

Small sedan is fun to drive and offers good room
By: Jeffrey Weidel
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Accustomed to driving so many smartly designed and well-manufactured foreign vehicles, one tends to forget at times that American-made automobiles are making progress in an effort to close a once-sizable gap that has existed for some time. The folks at General Motors certainly need a nice pat on the back for coming up with the Chevrolet Cruze. I officially knew the Cruze was a cool car when a gear-head friend who works in my office complex stopped me and asked if he could take a ride. What’s so cool about the Cruze? I like the name, first of all. It’s a clever name that fits nicely with this small sedan that has plenty of positive aspects and should have the competition worried about the Cruze taking away some of their sales. What’s somewhat surprising is Chevy doesn’t exactly have a great history with small vehicles. The Cavalier was mostly a bust. Although it was better conceived, there was nothing too memorable about the Cobalt, which is still being produced in 2011. Despite it’s first year off the assembly line, the new Chevy Cruz deservers a good look before a car shopper checks out industry class leaders such as the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla and Mazda 3. I’ve driven all three over the past 18 months and for sheer fun the pick would definitely be the Cruze. What’s not to like about my test model for a week — the Cruze Eco — a surprisingly peppy, 1.4-liter, turbocharged inline-4 engine with 138 horsepower. An easy-to-shift six-speed manual transmission made the driving more appealing. A six-speed automatic is also available for those who can’t, or simply don’t care for shifting gears. That particular turbo-charged engine comes with three of the four trims, the exception being the Cruze LS, which is powered by a 1.8-liter, inline-4 engine that produces 136 horsepower. And despite its ability to produce solid acceleration, the Cruze Eco gets 28 to 42 miles per gallon, while the LS model isn’t far behind at 26 to 36 mpg. The Cruze doesn’t have an outlandish exterior look, but the design is a major improvement over the nondescript Cobalt. Where the Cruze really stands out is the interior. It features a big trunk, roomy dimensions in the front seat and solid space in the back that combines to make for one comfortable, well-conceived vehicle. Mostly soft touch materials add to the interior’s appeal. While many small sedans offer little to entice and excite a driver, the Cruze offers an athletic handling that can really be appreciated, whether it’s driving around town or being a little heavy-footed on the freeway. __________ 2011 Chevrolet Cruze Eco Price: $19,615 Power: 1.4-liter, turbocharged inline-4 engine with 138 horsepower Mileage estimate: 28 mpg city; 42 mpg highway Standard features include: Tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel; eight-way (manual) adjustable driver seat; 60/40-split rear seat; six-speaker stereo with CD/MP3 player, satellite radio and auxiliary audio jack; low-rolling-resistance tires; stability control; daytime running lights; rear defogger