2011 Chevrolet Cruze Review and Prices

Last Updated: Mar 7, 2011

Like this Review

2011 Chevrolet Cruze Buying Advice

The 2011 Chevrolet Cruze is the best small car for you if you believe General Motors builds a world-class compact sedan.

The 2011 Chevrolet Cruze is a front-wheel-drive five-passenger sedan designed to compete with the best imports on price, features, and fuel economy. One 2011 Cruze model called appropriately enough, the Eco, is rated 42 mpg on the highway if you order it with manual transmission. Engineered to be sold in North America, Europe, Asia, even Russia, the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze essentially replaces the Cobalt compact in Chevy’s U.S. lineup. Highlights include solid construction, an available high-tech turbocharged four-cylinder engine, and an automatic transmission with six speeds.

Should you buy a 2011 Chevrolet Cruze or wait for the 2012 Chevrolet Cruze? Wait for the 2012 Cruze if you want an opportunity to compare it against all its key compact-class rivals. Among them: the all-new 2012 Ford Focus and the redesigned 2011 Hyundai Elantra – both of which  are already on sale and among Cruze competitors available for test driving. But small-car intenders should also put the redesigned 2012 Honda Civic high on the shopping list. Civic is the compact-class benchmark and the all-new new ninth-generation model won’t hit Honda showrooms until spring 2011. If you happen to be smitten with Chevy’s newest, though, buy the 2011 Cruze with confidence that the 2012 version won’t change enough to make you regret buying the 2011.

2011 Chevrolet Cruze Changes back to top

Styling: The 2011 Chevrolet Cruze launches as a five-passenger four-door sedan in the U.S., a car some buyers will choose on price alone. But increasing numbers of value-conscious shoppers are demanding good looks and upscale features in their compact cars.

On the styling front, Chevy breaks no new ground with 2011 Cruze In fact, it’s the most conservative-looking car among a fresh batch of compacts that includes the new Focus, Elantra, Civic, and even the carryover Mazda 3. With its stout lines, conventional proportions, and horizontal-bar Chevy grille, the 2011 Cruze looks much like a three-fifths-scale version of the midsize Chevrolet Malibu sedan – handsome but unadventurous.   

Looking like a winner, however, is the interior design of the 2011 Chevy Cruze. Its template seems to be the Malibu, whose two-tone hues and twin-cove dashboard are reproduced here in reduced size. There’s no surplus of soft-touch surfaces, but cabin materials and assembly trump those of any recent small GM car and are competitive with those of most like-priced rivals. The instrument-panel layout is sober and rejects design flourishes for a businesslike presentation of gauges and controls. A few panels are finished piano-black plastic with chrome-like trim, but the most significant break with convention is a seat-fabric-like insert in the dashboard face.    

Dimensionally, the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze is smack dab in the middle of the fray, with a 105.7-inch wheelbase. That’s slightly longer than that of the 2012 Focus, for example, but fractionally shorter than the redesigned 2011 Elantra’s. (Final dimensions for the 2012 Civic were unavailable in time for this review.) Cruze’s body is several inches longer than the norm, which helps explain its generous 15-cubc-foot trunk, among the largest in the class.

But wheelbase is the more significant dimension because it helps define a vehicle’s interior volume, leg room in particular. The 2011 Cruze furnishes plenty of front-seat space and fine head clearance front and rear. Rear leg room disappoints, however. And the high window sills can make drivers and passengers of short stature feel as if they’re sitting in a tub rather than getting a commanding view of the world outside.   

The 2011 Chevrolet Cruze comes in five trim levels: entry-level LS, better-equipped 1LT and 2LT, maximum-fuel-economy Eco, and top-of-the-line LTZ. Appearance differences between these trim levels are slight. There are different wheel sizes and designs, and the Eco model has subtle aerodynamic variations to nose and tail as part of its max-mileage engineering. The LTZ is the only model with chrome exterior door handles, while the LS has black outside mirrors instead of the other models’ body-color mirrors.

An optional RS package is available on 1LT, 2LT, and LTZ models and adds sportier flourishes to the lower body and nose, installs fog lamps and a rear spoiler, and upgrades the look of the instrument cluster.

Mechanical: Affordability and global adaptability dictate a conventional front-wheel-drive platform and a cost-saving torsion-beam rear suspension instead of an independent one. But that doesn’t’ mean the 2011 Chevy Cruze doesn’t innovate here and there.

Exhibit A is a turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine with variable valve timing. Chevy rates it at 138 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque, fine numbers given its small displacement. (Think of torque as the force that gets a vehicle moving, horsepower as the energy that sustains momentum.) Few low-priced compact cars have a turbo engine, and none uses a turbo on a majority of models in its lineup. Indeed, the 1.4-liter Ecotec turbo is standard on three of the four 2011 Cruze models, the LT, Eco, and LTZ.

The 2011 LS comes with Cruze’s only other engine, a 1.8-liter four-cylinder with continuously variable dual camshafts. Its rated at the same 138 horsepower as the turbo four, but has notably less torque, at 125 pound-feet.  

Transmission choices are a manual and an automatic, both with six speeds. That’s the number of ratios supplied by the best cars in the class and two more than Cobalt ever provided. The manual is standard and the automatic is optional on the 2011 Cruze LS and Eco model. The 1LT, 2LT, and LTZ come only with the automatic.

On the road, the 2011 Cruze compares favorably with any rival for body control, with a ride that’s decidedly firm but not harsh, and electric steering that’s light but direct. Handling holds no surprises but doesn’t quite match the sporty feel of class leaders such as the Focus, Civic, and Mazda 3. Around-town maneuverability is a high point thanks to a tight turning circle. Wind noise is low, but the tires thrum intrusively on some coarse surfaces. Powertrain refinement is lacking. Both engines groan and buzz under throttle, and neither provides acceleration that’ll get your blood pumping. If you frequently merge onto fast-moving expressways, the turbo is your choice to do it with a degree of confidence.    

Interestingly, it’s the Eco model – the version that rates 42 mpg on the highway with manual transmission -- that could be the best driving Cruze. That’s because it’s the lightest-weight model, has a taut suspension, and is the only turbo model available with manual transmission, which allows the driver to exploit the engine’s power.

Among the 2011 Cruze Eco’s exclusive design features are the aforementioned aerodynamic tweaks, which encompass shutters behind the grille that automatically close to improve high-speed wind flow. A slightly lowered suspension achieves the same goal, but its added stiffness also benefits handling. Acceleration and road manners also profit from reduced weight. To that end, Cruze Eco models leave off such items as a center rear armrest, use special 17-inch alloy wheels with low-rolling resistance tires, and have a 12.6-gallon fuel tank compared with the other models’ 15.6-gallon tank. Chevy lists the 2011 Cruze Eco with manual transmission at 3009 pounds, making it the lightest Cruze by about 200 pounds.

All versions of the 2011 Cruze come with antilock brakes for maximum control in emergency stops. Rear disc brakes instead of drums are standard on the LTZ and optional on the 2LT. Traction control is standard on every Cruze for better grip away from stops, as is GM’s StabiliTrak antiskid control to reduce chances of sideways slides and rollovers in turns.  

The 2011 Cruze LS and 1LT models come with 16-inch steel wheels. The 2LT has 16-inch alloys. The 2011 Cruze Eco uses the special 17s. And LTZ models get 18-inch alloys, which are among the largest wheels in the class.

Features: The 2011 Chevrolet Cruze marketing plan calls for a compact car that doesn’t compromise on standard features. Indeed, the 2011 Cruze is available with a nice array of comfort and tech items, and every model comes with an impressive 10 passenger-compartment airbags.

Like virtually every passenger car, the 2011 Cruze has frontal airbags and torso-protecting side airbags for driver and passenger. Every non-convertible passenger car also has head-protecting curtain side airbags for all outboard occupants. But few compact cars and not many larger cars, for that matter, offer torso-protecting side airbags for outboard rear-seat passengers. They’re standard on every 2011 Cruze. So are front knee airbags designed to cushion driver and front passenger and help hold them in place during a collision.

Also standard on every 2011 Cruze is air conditioning, a tilt/telescope steering wheel, height-adjusting driver’s seat, center console, and a folding rear seatback. Also included is GM’s OnStar 24-hour assistance system with live operators to provide emergency response, turn-by-turn directions, and other services. Cruze buyers get the first six months of this OnStar service free; subscription fees apply thereafter.

Amenities like power windows and mirrors and keyless remote entry are standard on every model. So is air conditioning, though cruise control is unavailable on the LS; it’s optional on the 1LT and Eco and standard on the 2LT and LTZ.

Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity and USB iPod interface are optional on LS, 1LT, and Eco models and standard on the other Cruzes. The 2LT and LTZ come with leather upholstery and are the only models available with the optional power sunroof or with the navigation system, which includes a 7-inch dashboard screen.

2011 Chevrolet Cruze Prices back to top

The 2011 Chevrolet Cruze base-price range is $16,275-$21,975. (Base prices in this review include the manufacturer’s mandated destination fee; Chevrolet’s fee for the 2011 Cruze is $720.)

The 2011 Chevrolet Cruze LS starts at $16,275 with manual transmission. It uses the 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine and includes all of the standard equipment outlined in the Features section above. Automatic transmission is a $925 option on the LS and the Connectivity Package, which adds Bluetooth connectivity and USB iPod interface, plus steering-wheel-mounted controls for both, costs $275.

Base price for the 2011 Cruze 1LT model is $18,175. It comes with the 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder and automatic transmission.

Chevrolet also prices the 2011 Cruze Eco at $18,175, though that’s with the manual transmission. Adding automatic transmission to the Eco requires that you also purchase the Connectivity Plus Cruise Package, which brings the total for automatic transmission to $1,450. This package, which is available on the Cruze 1LT model for $525, adds Bluetooth and USB interfaces, cruise control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio and Bluetooth controls, and a leather-wrapped shift knob.

The 1LT and automatic-transmission Ecos also are available with the $685 Driver Convenience Package that adds a power driver’s seat, the rear parking-assist system, and remote vehicle start.

The 2011 Cruze 2LT starts at $20,675. It adds to the 1LT alloy wheels, leather upholstery, heated power front seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls, and remote engine start.

Base price for the 2011 Cruze LTZ is $21,975. It includes all the 2LT equipment, plus 18-inch alloy wheels, automatic climate control, upgraded instrument-panel trim, rear parking assist that sounds an audible warning of nearby objects, plus the Bluetooth and USB interfaces. The navigation system is a $1,995 2LT and LTZ option. Same for the $850 power sunroof.

The RS appearance package for 1LT, 2LT, and LTZ models costs $695. The option that adds rear disc brakes to the 2LT also includes 17-inch alloy wheels and costs $395.      

2011 Chevrolet Cruze Fuel Economy back to top

No official fuel-economy numbers are available for 2011 cars, but it’s reasonable to expect ratings for the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze of something like 28 mpg city/40 mpg highway with the 1.4-liter turbo engine and 25/36 with the 1.8-liter. The choice of manual or automatic transmission shouldn’t make a major difference in fuel economy.

2011 Chevrolet Cruze Release Date back to top

The 2011 Chevrolet Cruze went on sale in September 2010. GM is building Cruze on several continents, tailoring the basic design to local standards. North American-market Cruzes are assembled at GM’s plant in Lordstown, Ohio.

What's next for the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze back to top

Chevrolet offers the Cruze in a four-door hatchback body style in some overseas markets but has not announced plans to make it available in the U.S. Key U.S. rivals offer a hatchback in addition to their sedans; these include the Focus and Mazda 3. An Elantra hatchback or wagon is in the wings, as well. We believe Cruze intenders would welcome a choice of body styles. Although it’s no more than a Cruze with an elongated roofline that incorporates a rear hatch window and door, the hatchback is a handsome shape that’s arguably more contemporary and certainly more versatile than the sedan.

The next significant change underhood could be introduction of a diesel engine, though it wouldn’t happen before model-year 2013. Diesels are highly popular in Europe and GM offers overseas-market Cruzes with diesel power. In the U.S., diesel fuel is frequently more expensive than gasoline. But diesels provide substantially more miles per gallon than gas engines of comparable size, increasing range between fill-ups significantly. They also produce usefully more torque. The likely candidate for the U.S.-market Cruze would be GM’s 2.0-liter turbodiesel four-cylinder rated in overseas tune at 147 horsepower and 235 pound-feet of torque.

Also expect a future Cruze to be available with the Chevrolet MyLink communications system making its debut on the Chevy Volt extended-range electric car and on the Chevy Equinox midsize crossover SUV. A competitor to Ford’s Sync system, Chevrolet MyLink uses smartphone applications that allow the owner to monitor and control various vehicle functions. It brings text and e-mail messages into the car and also interfaces with Pandora and other Web-based services. Nearly all functions are voice-activated and designed to minimize driver distraction, GM says.  

Finally, GM has already spun-off a Cruze variation as the 2012 Buick Verano. This four-door sedan is pitched as a compact luxury car and though its Cruze roots are recognizable, Buick-flavored grille, nose, and tail appearance and a slightly different rear roof-pillar treatment give it’s a measure of individuality. Due on sale in late 2011, the Verano will initially come only with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder rated at 177 horsepower and 170 pound-feet of torque. Buick says a 2.0-liter turbo four will be offered in the future. Verano also offers Chevrolet MyLink-style infotech that enables the use of smartphone applications to interact with the vehicle, including remote unlocking and engine starting and checking fuel level, tire pressure, and other status points.

2011 Chevrolet Cruze Competition back to top

2012 Ford Focus: Filtering into showrooms starting in early 2011, the 2012 Focus segueways to Ford’s renowned European-engineering design after years on a subpar U.S.-only platform. The newest Focus is five-passenger front-drive compact offered as a four-door sedan and four-door hatchback. Both are far more adventurously styled than the Cruze inside and out. Focus also beats Cruze for all-around road manners. The only engine initially is a direct-fuel-injected 2.0-liter four-cylinder rated at 160 horsepower and 146 pound-feet of torque. Transmission choices are a five-speed manual or Ford’s SelectShift Automatic, which is really a six-speed dual-clutch gearbox. Full fuel-economy ratings were not available in time for this review, but Ford says a Super Fuel Economy model similar in concept to the Cruze Eco will deliver 28/40 mpg with the SelectShift transmission. Base prices start around $17,000 for the sedan and around $18,800 for the hatchback.

2011 Hyundai Elantra: Head-turning styling and an impressive value proposition accompanied the model-year 2011 arrival of this fully redesigned compact from the ambitious South Korean automaker. The all-new Elantra bows as a sedan, with a four-door hatchback likely in the planning stages. Standard features include heated power mirrors and USB iPod interface, though Elantra trails Cruze by not offering Bluetooth connectivity on its base model with manual transmission. The only engine is a 1.8-liter four-cylinder with 148 horsepower and 131 pound-feet of torque. Transmission choices are a manual or automatic, both with six speeds. As mentioned earlier, Elantra buyers don’t have to order a special high-mileage model with manual transmission, as with the Cruze Eco, or opt for a special fuel-economy package, as with the 2012 Focus, to achieve at 40-mpg rating. Every 2011 Elantra, regardless of transmission, is rated 29/40 mpg. Base-price range for the 2011 Hyundai Elantra is $15,550-$22,700.

2011 Honda Civic: At the time of this review, Honda had begun to preview the fully redesigned ninth-generation 2012 Civic. But for 2011 Cruze shoppers, that merely means Honda dealers ought to be anxious to clear inventories of 2011 Civics by offering deep discounts. It’s a great opportunity to pick up a car still at the forefront of the compact class. Remarkably, the 2011 Civic’s styling, roominess, handling, performance, and fuel economy are still better than most any rival’s, testament to the soundness of a basic design that dates to model-year 2006. Drive a 2011 Civic back to back with any comparably equipped Cruze or Elantra, for example, and we’ll bet you’ll agree. Civic is available as coupe and sedan and a gas-electric hybrid sedan. Core models rate 26/34 mpg, the Civic Hybrid 40/45, and the sporty 197-horsepower Si versions 21/29. Base prices start about $16,400 and range to about $28,000 – before inventory-clearance discounts.