Chevrolet Cruze 2011

2011 Chevrolet Cruze
It's no secret that the U.S. vehicle market is undergoing a swift, seismic shift. With gas possibly heading toward $5 a gallon and gloomy economic conditions that seem set to last a while, consumers are rapidly deserting big pickups and SUVs for thrifty cars and more-economical crossover SUVs, a change in buying patterns that some analysts think will be permanent. It's the biggest market upheaval since the Great Depression.

Automakers everywhere are scrambling to keep up, none more than General Motors. With GM suffering steep sales and revenue declines, the planned replacement for Chevrolet's Cobalt compact car could prove critical to the company's bottom line, and even its overall health. Cruze is set to debut this fall at the Paris Motor Show in early October, and should go on sale in Europe by March 2009, likely as a 2010 model.

General Motors has announced that North American production of the Chevy Cruze will begin by April of 2010 at GM's plant in Lordstown, Ohio. This time line means Cruze will debut in the U.S. as a 2011 model. The company says Cobalts will continue to be built at Lordstown for a short time after Cruze production starts, and at least one media report suggests Cobalt production could then shift to Mexico. GM says Cruze will also be built at plants in the Asia-Pacific region and Europe.

The 2011 Chevrolet Cruze employs GM's new front-wheel-drive Global Compact Vehicle Architecture, also known as "Delta 2." That makes it a platform-mate of the next-generation Saturn Astra, expected as an early-2010 model, and the Chevrolet Volt that is expected at the end of 2010. Cobalt and the current Astra use the older "Delta 1" architecture. The next-gen Astra for American consumption may be sourced from GM's Lordstown, Ohio, plant as well. At this point, the Astra's production location and the fate of the Cobalt-based Pontiac G5 are unknown.

Sources expect the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze to maintain the Cobalt's general size, but possibly with an inch or two added to wheelbase and maybe overall width. Engineering should be more weight-conscious in light of tough new U.S. fuel-economy mandates and pending new clean-air regulations in California and elsewhere. Look for greater use of lighter materials despite their higher cost, as weight is the enemy of fuel economy and a car's carbon footprint, not to mention performance. Despite the pound-paring, structural rigidity is likely to improve, which should benefit durability, quietness, and perhaps ride and handling, too.

So far, GM has only confirmed a Cruze sedan, but local media reports covering the Cruze press conference at the Lordstown plant say Ed Peper, GM North America vice president of Chevrolet, described the Cruze sedan as the first of a new family of compact, fuel-efficient Chevrolets. What this means is unknown, but it could point to other vehicles wearing the Cruze badge. Recently the company announced a Chevrolet Orlando concept that is a version of Opel's Zafira. Code named "MPV-7," the small people mover, like the Cruze sedan, is based on the company's "Delta 2" platform and debuts at the Paris show in October 2008. The Cobalt's coupe body style could also be reprised, but with a somewhat edgier, wedgier look than Cobalt.

The one confirmed engine for the American version of the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze is a new 1.4-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine. The company predicts 140 horsepower and fuel economy as high as 45 mpg, presumably on the highway. By contrast, the 2009 Cobalt's base 2.2-liter non-turbo four produces 155 horses and is EPA-rated at 25/37 mpg city/highway in new gas-miser XFE trim. In Europe at least, transmissions will comprise a 5-speed manual and an optional 6-speed automatic versus Cobalt's 5-speed manual and 4-speed automatic. Gearing will be chosen with an eye to maximizing fuel economy without compromising low-rpm performance. At some point, Chevrolet might add a sporty Cruze akin to the current Cobalt SS, perhaps with the same 260-horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder. The decision will hinge on buyer sentiment and how much higher gas prices go in the next couple of years.

Because it will sell for a short time alongside Cobalt, the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze is likely to be positioned as a more-upscale small Chevy with nicer appointments, more features, and higher prices. The alternative would be to slide Cobalt down-market by eliminating some now-standard equipment. Either way, the new Cruze will likely mimic Cobalt by including standard features like ABS, antiskid system, traction control, curtain side airbags, and GM OnStar assistance, plus 16-inch tires instead of 15s. Options should also broadly duplicate Cobalt offerings, with 17- and maybe 18-inch tires, various cosmetic add-ons, upgraded audio, power sunroof, and leather upholstery. A navigation system could well join the list.

In all, the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze stands to be better than today's Cobalt in many ways. It should thus be a more appealing bow-tie alternative to hot-selling, import-brand compacts like the Honda Civic--and now even the elderly Ford Focus. That and the early arrival time show just how serious GM has become about the small-car market. Considering the company's worsening financial condition with the steep drop in big-truck sales, the Chevy Cruze won't get here a moment too soon.


A Notable Feature of the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze

Though the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze should be a mostly conventional front-drive small car, we think it may have one or more features designed to maximize mpg. Aside from its smaller new engine and other weight-reducing measures versus Cobalt, the Cruze could conceivably adopt the new low-power lighting, wipers, and audio system being devised for the 2011 Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid compact sedan. This would help GM defray development costs that much sooner, and would also be in line with the Cruze's likely upscale market positioning versus Cobalt. Understand that we can't guarantee any of this right now--but hey, it could happen.

Buying Advice for the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze

The 2011 Chevrolet Cruze enters an already crowded field that's bound to become even more competitive. A fast-growing crop of attractive choices is certainly good news for consumers. The bad news is that certain compacts--the Honda Civic for one--are now in such demand that retailers are again padding prices and forgetting discounts. So, as always, it will pay for you to shop the dealer and the deal, not just the vehicle. But all else being equal, you probably won't go wrong with the Civic. It is, after all, a Consumer Guide Best Buy among compact cars. Then again, so is the Nissan Versa. If neither of those strikes your fancy, consider CG's Recommended compacts, the Hyundai Elantra, Mazda 3, and the winsome but relatively pricey Mini Cooper. The newly redesigned Toyota Corolla is unrated but deserves a look because of who makes it. And don't forget that a redesigned Ford Focus is set to debut in early 2010, though we hear it, too, may be introduced ahead of time. As for the Chevrolet Cruze (and sister Saturn Astra), it could well emerge as a new class star. We'll get back to you on that once we see it a few months from now.

Chevrolet Cruze
The 2011 Chevrolet Cruze will get a new 1.4-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine.

2011 Chevrolet Cruze Release Date: Cruze hits the European market in March 2009, and should be on sale in the United States during the summer of 2010.

2011 Chevrolet Cruze First Test Drive: Media drives could take place in Europe soon after the Paris debut, but formal introduction to American reporters will likely happen just before the car goes on sale here.

2011 Chevrolet Cruze Prices: As noted, the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze is likely to be priced and equipped above comparable Cobalt models, but it's unclear what the differences will be, given today's fast-changing sales picture and the equally swift rise in steel prices and other commodity costs. Our educated guess is that the Cruze will start near $15,500, perhaps a little less, and top out at around $21,000. As usual with new-model intros, Chevrolet probably won't announce final pricing until just before sales begin.

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