First Drive: Chevrolet Cruze five-door

Chevrolet Cruze five-door (front)It may not have occurred to you yet but we are all subject to and victims of the dreaded ‘marketing speak’. It’s everywhere of course, but in the new car market it almost feels like what happens in the creative minds of the marketers is more important than the engineers.

‘Premium’ is the word that that almost everyone is clambering for at the moment. This single word seems to explain in the minds of everyone why you should pay £20,000 for a compact four-door saloon rather than £15,000 for someone else’s compact four-door saloon. Yes there are mechanical differences of course, but are they as important as the softness of the dashboard or the thickness of the steering wheel?

‘Value’ is another tag that is applied less readily across the motoring spectrum, and yet Chevrolet is a brand that is happy to wear it. If it was described as ‘honest’ instead then perhaps even more people would take notice, but the reality of its product range is that it offers capability, good specification and good driving capabilities at what could be described as a cut-price figure.

The Cruze is the perfect example of this. In the existing four-door saloon guise it is pitched against a slew of saloon rivals, but now there is a five-door hatchback version it competes against every other family-sized hatch in a giant market. It has its work cut out.

It will certainly past the first test however. Your next-door neighbour might not know it’s a Chevrolet if you park one on your driveway but he will be intrigued by the well-executed exterior design. Choose a higher specification model with larger alloy wheels and it can’t help but look closely related to its British Touring Car competing cousin – and is all the better for it. The transformation to five doors and a hatch has been neatly executed as well as liberating a little more space in the boot.

Chevrolet Cruze five-door (side)There are no nasty surprises awaiting on the inside either. Any notion that a high value car means a cheap and nasty interior will be quickly dispelled after climbing aboard: the Cruze’s cabin is attractive, feels sturdy to the touch and there’s very little sign of hard plastics. There’s some neat piano-black and metal-look finishes, the instruments glow a sophisticated green and the GM parentage is put to good use overall.

Being part of such a vast company pays dividends in lots of other areas, specifically technology. As a result it can be specified with a range of impressive engines, but it is the 2.0-litre VCDi diesel unit that is the pick of the bunch. With 161bhp and a mighty 265lb.ft of torque available from just 1,750rpm, the 2.0 Cruze has almost hot-hatch pace: 0-62mph takes only 8.3 seconds and it will run on to 127mph. Those figures are backed up by the on-road performance: with a slick six-speed manual gearbox to make the most of the power on offer, the Cruze will effortlessly pick up speed and maintain a good cruising speed with very little effort on the part of the driver. Noise levels are kept relatively low too, meaning the Cruze can cover long distances and cope with urban traffic just as well.

And it still does all the typical diesel things well too. An emissions figure of 147g/km is competitive for the performance on offer, while the combined fuel economy figure of 50.4mpg is certainly healthy. In 2012 there will be a 1.7-litre diesel version offered for the seriously frugal of mind.

While Chevrolet doesn’t make any claims about the Cruze being a genuine driver’s car, the performance is complemented by the ride and handling. It strikes an excellent balance between the two, filtering out most road imperfections to deliver very respectable ride quality. Yet the steering is pleasingly responsive, and when pressed through a bend the Cruze responds well, grips with reassurance and holds no unpleasant surprises: safe, secure and actually quite good fun.

Chevrolet Cruze five-door (cabin)That all-round competence should be more than enough to make the Cruze worth considering over some of the more default choices in the packed compact hatchback class. Even before you add in the price, which at £17,795 for the top spec LTZ model with the best engine option is considerably less than many of its rivals. Better yet, it’s a cut-price car without cutting any corners.

Chevrolet Cruze 2.0 VCDi LTZ 5-door, £17,795
Engine. 2.0-litre diesel unit producing 161bhp and 265lb.ft of torque
Transmission: Six-speed manual gearbox driving the front wheels
Performance: Top speed 127mph, 0-62mph in 8.3 seconds
Economy: 50.4mpg
Emissions: 147g/km of CO2

Matt Joy

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