The Chevrolet Cruze caused a stir when it sauntered into South Africa in 2009. It was the first truly global offering from General Motors, and proved that the automaker was capable of creating a car with relevance in all markets. Its blend of space, plentiful kit, keen pricing and styling a tad bolder than that of its rivals made it a superb alternative to the perennial favourites. In fact, I believe that it blew its direct competitor, the 10th generation Toyota Corolla, out of the water. But the segment has moved forward significantly since then. Corolla has upped its game considerably. The folks from Korea have launched a formidable offensive. And the threat from fellow US manufacturer Ford, with its recently revised Focus, is also hard to ignore.
Despite the advances by General Motors’ competitors, you could say the business presentation at the launch of the upgraded Cruze was short and sweet: the changes are minimal. The latest Cruze adopts styling cues from the bigger Chevrolet Malibu sedan, which our market does not receive. It gains a new grille, a more aggressive lower section and extra bling around the fog lamp clusters. The rear lights are sharper too (the tail of the hatchback version remains unchanged) and new alloy wheel choices have been thrown into the mix. On the inside, Chevrolet has rolled out its handy MyLink infotainment system as standard for all except the entry level model. MyLink allows for smartphone integration, Bluetooth and voice recognition. Oddly, however, it retains its touch operation functionality, despite the screen being deep within the fascia which makes it a bit of a stretch for the driver to use on the go.
Also, for the first time, Cruze buyers can choose the 1.4 litre turbocharged engine derivative either in automatic or manual. Your other choice is the familiar 1.6 litter normally-aspirated mill, coupled with a five speed manual gearbox. We can already tell you that the former combination is not the best, having tried it in the Opel Astra. The 1.4 automatic engine gives the car a lazy, indifferent persona. The delays between upshifts are needlessly long; the car droned like an overworked administrator at a home affairs branch. Unless automatic convenience is a must, rather opt for manual labour. The 1.6 litre with the five-speed transmission felt a bit more agreeable overall. Redeeming the engine’s tepid performance is the Cruze’s sublime ride quality. True to its name, the sedan is unperturbed by ridges or undulations as it cruises along. The seating position is great for those of us who are of average height anyway and the seats themselves are wonderfully supportive.
The steering wheel template General Motors seems to use across its brands still gets high praise from this scribe because, thanks to its contours and grips, it fits snugly in the hands. Given the fuss free, uneventful and soothing drive the Cruze offers, my driving partner and I had time to chat about the sedan’s target market. The car has become the archetypal chariot for the everyman and everywoman. It is for those who prioritise little else over A to B mobility. I think the ubiquity of the Cruze has ensured that it is no longer the striking alternative it was when it made its South African debut nearly six years ago. But I’m not sure the revisions are enough to give it an edge over its competitors. Especially when you consider its price in relation to what else is out there. Things start at R230 400 for the basic 1.6 model and end at R272 400 for the 1.4T automatic.
The starter Ford Focus 1.0 EcoBoost (sedan) goes for R212 900 and offers more, in addition to boasting an impressive power train. For R2 500 more than the entry level Cruze you can even have the superb but underrated Mazda 3 sedan. The entry level Kia Cerato starts at R259 995 and is newer than the Cruze, or you could get the venerable Hyundai Elantra from R261 900. As you can see, the competition in the C-segment is fierce. Unfortunately, the Cruze feels its age. The enhancements are too subtle to give it a spot in the fast lane so it will probably continue to amble along in the middle of the road while its more modern peers zip past.
Engines: 1 364cc turbocharged; 1 598cc normally aspirated
Power: 103kW between 4 900 and 6 000rpm; 86kW at 6 200rpm
Torque: 200Nm between 1 850 and 4 900rpm; 155Nm at 4 000rpm
0-100km/h: 9.3 seconds; 12.8 seconds
Top speed: 195km/h; 185km/h
CO2: 135g/km; 158g/km
Fuel consumption: 7.6l/100km; 9.1l/100km (claimed)
Prices: R230 400 (1.6); R247 200 (1.6 LS); R248 300 (1.6 LS Hatch); R262 500 (1.4T LS); R265 200 (1.4T LS Hatch); R272 400 (1.4T LSAT)