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On the podium at last

2012 Chevrolet Cruze LT Turbo Review

2012 Chevrolet Cruze LT Turbo Review
Photo: Sébastien D'Amour
2012 Chevrolet Cruze LT Turbo
The automotive press was never really kind to General Motors in regards to their compact-car offerings. At least, those sold in North America. Yes, we liked the Saturn Astra, but it was overpriced, wasn’t available as a four-door sedan and was sold under a failing brand. The General’s volume sellers, the Chevrolet Cavalier/Pontiac Sunfire twins and Chevrolet Cobalt/Pontiac G5 twins, couldn’t hold their own against the competition.

The 2012 Chevrolet Cruze may actually be the best small car General Motors has ever sold here. Why? It’s comfortable, it’s refined, it’s fuel-efficient, and dressed in the RS Appearance Package, it looks hot.

Get the RS (if you can afford it)
The Chevrolet Cruze’s design was presented back in 2008, but the car’s sporty styling remains fresh and modern today.

The RS Appearance Package, however, is the cherry on top. It adds lower-body aero trim, a subtle rear spoiler, beautiful 18” alloys with P225/45R18 tires and, on the LT trim, 4-wheel disc brakes, a sport suspension and fog lamps.

Some designs age more quickly than others, but I think the Cruze will age gracefully; which doesn’t mean GM should leave it untouched for a decade.

Turbo efficiency
A 136-hp, 1.8L 4-cylinder stands as the base engine in the Cruze LS, but every other version benefits from a turbocharged 1.4L four good for 138 horses. In this application, the turbo supports the engine in a mission to save fuel, not to burn rubber. Still, you’ll feel the 148 lb-ft of torque at launch, as they peak at a low 1,850 rpm with the 6-speed automatic.

The 0-100 km/h dash takes 10.4 seconds, which doesn’t sound very quick. On the other hand, the generous amount of low-end torque compensates nicely in stop-and-go traffic.

As for fuel economy, the Cruze does shine. During a round trip from Montreal to Quebec City, the little turbo four delivered an average of 6.5L/100km, which is pretty good.

And during that trip, the Cruze rewarded me and my kids with a very comfortable and quiet ride. The car feels solid, refined, and substantial. Well, it does weigh 200 pounds more than a Honda Civic, which might explain the big-car sensation and drive.

With the lowered suspension that comes with the RS package, the Cruze strikes a very good balance between a dynamic drive and that comfortable ride. It’s not as frisky as a Mazda3, but it’s more engaging than a Honda Civic.

Comfy cabin
One area where GM often cut corners is in the quality of the materials used to create their cockpits; it’s not an issue in the Cruze. Some of my colleagues don’t like the cloth trim on the dashboard, but I do.

This isn’t the most spacious compact sedan, but there’s a good amount of room for everyone front and back. The driver’s seat proved very supportive even after driving for a few hours straight.

The Cruze gets a decent sound system, with a CD/MP3 player, six speakers and, included in our test car, a USB port and Bluetooth phone connectivity. A nine-speaker Pioneer stereo and a navigation system are also available in LT Turbo and LTZ Turbo trims.

Watch out for options
The 2012 Chevrolet Cruze starts out at a competitive $15,665 before taxes, freight and delivery charges. When you start adding comfort and convenience features, however, the price can climb pretty quickly.

To include the aforementioned $1,875 RS Appearance Package on our LT Turbo test car, you must first choose the 1SB package. Add the automatic transmission, and the total MSRP rings in at $23,060.

In comparison, a Mazda3 GS-SKY lists for $20,395, a Honda Civic EX $20,940, a Hyundai Elantra GL $20,909 and a Ford Focus SE with the Sport package $21,999. As good as it is, the Cruze we’re driving this week is no bargain.

As we stated earlier, the Chevrolet Cruze is GM’s best effort yet at producing a competitive compact sedan. Winning the AJAC’s 2011 Canadian Car of the Year as well as our own 2011 Compact Car of the Year titles are proof of the car’s overall goodness. The General finally reaches the podium and stays on it.

By Michel Deslauriers ,