This is proving to be one of the more difficult pieces I have written during my time at CC. The difficulty has not been describing the car itself but rather, filtering through the swirl of thoughts it has prompted. Traveling solo for 215 miles each way does give a person some time to think.
Rental fees for this Cruze were exactly the same those which got me into a shit-bucket Nissan Sentra a few months ago. The Cruze was the antithesis of the Nissan, helping me work toward an answer to a question once posed to me in the comments: is there a new car Jason actually likes? Let’s explore this some.
GM has produced a car that according to my subjective analysis is leagues ahead of the Ford Focus in driver comfort, the Toyota Corolla in powertrain refinement, and the spittoon Sentra in nearly every category imaginable. Apart from a Chevrolet Equinox, this is the only contemporary GM product I have driven in the past three years that was neither a W-body Impala nor a pickup. GM, at least in North America, isn’t dead and their product mojo is heavily pulsating.
image source: www.wikipedia.org
The Cruze was the successor to the forgettable Cobalt, which itself was the replacement to the penalty box (at least in North America) Cavalier.
Evolution of a concept can yield some great results, although 27 years of gestation from Cavalier to Cruze is three eternities in the auto world. Like someone who is determined to breed a bad gene from their lineage, GM has done a great job of breeding the bland and blah out of their compact Cruze.
Before I go too far into this mixed bag of thoughts, it must be stated this particular car was a fluke. Not only was this Cruze equipped in the upscale LTZ trim, it also had the RS appearance package (consisting of a spoiler and slightly different front and rear treatments), along with leather seats and a moonroof. When I returned the car, I asked the clerk if all their Cruze units were equipped as such; he assured me they were not, as this one was an odd duck for them. Frankly, there was a brief moment when I was concerned the extra equipment might have skewed my opinion, similar to extra rum making a rum-and-coke more memorable. But luckily, the equipment level hasn’t created a slam-dunk situation.
The roads I traveled in Illinois were often beleaguered, much worse than in my state of residence, exacerbating the inherent ride choppiness stemming from the P225/45R18 tires. When I saw a few road signs in Illinois stating “Rough Road Next x Miles”, the Cruze managed to find every imperfection in the highway to transmit to my butt.
With the Cruze also being guilty of having a healthy dollop of road noise, the experience on less-than-stellar pavement wasn’t an endearing quality.
For years General Motors forte was building large, comfortable cars. Their repeated attempts at compact cars (Vega, Chevette, Cavalier) revealed either their missing the point or not having their heart in it. The Cruze shatters the paradigm of a compact GM car being as pleasant as a root canal. This car–on the good roads I drove in each state–was quite pleasant and very competent. The Cruze did not handle curves with the greatest aplomb, but it isn’t meant for such things. In its intended purpose of ferrying butts around, it did quite well.
In my review of a Ford Focus, I was admittedly critical of the absurdly large console. So while it seems that consoles are as much a fact of life these days as the internet, constructing them to be fully cooperative with the driver isn’t impossible. While the console may appear intrusive here…
It really wasn’t as I had room to move. I applaud this design. I don’t care if the Cruze is becoming rather mature, it is proof positive a good design doesn’t age quickly.
Another good aspect of the Cruze is its turbocharged 1.4 liter gasoline engine. An admission: I have never driven a car whose engine displacement is so petite. While I have had the misfortune of driving a lot of four-cylinder engines, this 1.4 truly sparkles. Perhaps if more four-bangers had power, smoothness, and pleasant sounds like this 1.4, I would not have such a general lack of patience with the humble four-cylinder.
So is this a new car Jason likes? Yes; whether or not I would consider the purchase of one isn’t an easy answer. A large part of my thought process while having this car was about things extending beyond it. Let me explain why.
I possess a Bachelor of Science in civil engineering. Part of my education, like that of numerous other professions, was ethics-based; in short, it revolved around what I, as an engineer, should and should not do to promote and elevate the safety of others, the profession, and its noble attributes. One facet of this was learning that it is my responsibility to go to any length to correct–or bring attention to–any inferior design or construction method I encounter, as not doing so could potentially cause harm to others.
Somewhere along the way, various people at General Motors failed to recognize or effectively address a problem with ignition switches. The failure of these switches is highly unfortunate but there could have had a much less detrimental outcome had it been addressed clearly and early. Instead, this known problem was disregarded. For GM management to have ignored the warnings and concerns from various internal sources for as long as they did is incomprehensible. The ignition switch debacle is far from over, but whatever financial penalties result won’t even begin to address the heinous behavior they have demonstrated and the avoidable grief it has caused for many of their customers.
This is occurring relatively soon after GM sought, and received, bailout money by the federal government, a move that has been wildly unpopular with many.
The latest CEO in GM’s revolving door is Mary Barra. A second generation GM employee, she seems quite determined to turn things around and from what I have read about her, she is a formidable individual. I sincerely wish her luck and success. General Motors certainly makes a very good product these days, products that are every bit as good as, or better than, the competition.
The Cruze is a very good car and GM is definitely on the upswing. Yet at this point in time, I cannot reconcile the behavior of some in GM management with any willingness to open my wallet.