"It's spacious and well equipped, and offers strong value for money, but the Chevrolet Cruze can't quite live up to the promise of its name – it's too uncomfortable."
The Chevrolet Cruze is a compact family car that aims to feel more like a big car while only costing as much as a small one. It has the interior room, equipment levels and exterior dimensions of a Ford Focus but the list price of a supermini Ford Fiesta.
That would be great if only it was offered in more than one specification in the UK, the LTZ 1.7-litre VCDi.
The petrol engines in the five-door hatch are ponderous and loud so it may be no bad thing you can't get them in the saloon, but it does make it a bit of an inflexible buying option. The Cruze is due to be entirely replaced in 2015, anyway.
There is more flexibility for the Chevrolet Cruze hatchback version that was introduced in 2011, but the saloon remains a big improvement over the previous models anyway. Alas, though, it's nowhere near as good as its key competitors - it's not very comfy or much fun to drive. You do get a five-year warranty and a selection of pre-paid service deals to make it a bit more appealing, though.
MPG, running costs & CO2 emissions
The 123bhp 2.0-litre diesel in the Cruze saloon returns a combined fuel economy of 62.7mpg, while emitting 117g/km of CO2. That means that annual road tax and insurance won’t be very much, but these economy figures are only average.
There is the added peace of mind from Chevrolet's Five Year Promise, though, which includes five years' warranty, servicing, roadside assistance and MoT test cover.
It really is a good deal, but the catch with the Cruze is that resale values on the used car market are very low, so you’re not likely to recoup any of the cost on a second-hand deal.
Interior & comfort
If you call your car a Cruze, you better make sure it lives up to its name – which the Cruze saloon simply doesn’t. The ride is bumpy because of overly firm suspension, and it actually fidgets when driving over rough roads, so you have to be constantly alert, making tiny steering adjustments to keep the Cruze going where you want it to go.
The ‘big car’ feel Chevrolet promised sadly only applies to the interior, with space seeming to have been Chevy's main focus. Weird then that overall comfort and luxury aren’t that great, with too much wind noise audible inside and the engine getting a bit loud when driven on the motorway.
Thankfully the driving position is decent, with good reach-and-rake adjustment in the steering wheel. The view out the back is also not bad at all for a saloon car.
Practicality & boot space
The Cruze is very similar to the Vauxhall Astra in this regard, with which it shares many of its parts. There's 450 litres of boot space but the opening is too narrow which makes it awkward loading bulky items.
Split-fold back seats are standard, so you can expand the space a bit, but not to the same extent as you can in the hatchback. Rear legroom is decent, but the roofline reduces headroom quite a bit, so tall adults will find it difficult to get comfortable.
And the narrow dimensions and big centre tunnel make it hard to fit three adults, with the middle seat's legroom really very cramped. The hatchback model is far more practical and the one we’d recommend.
Reliability & safety
Chevrolet went from not featuring at all in the 2012 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey to ranking 20th out of 32 in the 2013 manufacturers list. In 2011 it actually came last, so the 2013 result is pretty remarkable.
The Cruze itself doesn’t feature in the top 150 cars, but the Astra that it's based on came 103rd, which doesn't inspire confidence. The interior is well constructed and certainly feels durable, while the Vauxhall Insignia-inspired dashboard is actually quite upmarket because of its appealing centre console and blue-backed dials.
Why so much of it is made from grey materials though, is anyone's guess, and some of the plastics are cheap and nasty, unfortunately. Having said that, the quality has taken a big leap compared to other Chevrolets we’ve driven.
In terms of safety, front, side and curtain airbags, anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control (ESP) and ISOFIX child seat anchor points all come fitted as standard. It was also awarded the maximum five-star rating in the Euro NCAP crash safety tests.
Engines, drive & performance
Seeing as the Cruze saloon now only comes with a 123bhp 1.7-litre diesel, it's lucky that it was the best of the old engine range anyway. It comes with a six-speed manual gearbox, returns 62.7mpg in combined fuel economy, emits 117g/km, and just isn’t much fun to drive.
It is certainly responsive and composed through corners, but you just don’t get much feedback from the steering wheel, which leaves the driver feeling disconnected from the car.
Body roll is kept to a minimum, though, and it never feels out of your control. In the end, it's not bad to drive, but it just doesn’t do enough to be interesting or entice you away from any of its rivals - or its own hatchback version, for that matter.
Price, value for money & options
Only offering one model means that the Cruze saloon really cannot compete with its rivals or the hatchback models in terms of price.
There is a decent amount of equipment and accessories on offer in the saloon, but it can only be limited by having just one specification.
You do get all-round electric windows, automatic headlights, automatic windscreen wipers, stop-start technology, climate control, front foglights, electrically adjustable and heated door mirrors, six-speaker CD player with USB connectivity and steering-wheel-mounted controls, sat-nav, a rear parking camera and 17-inch alloy wheels equipped as standard. Stability control is standard across the range, as are six airbags. So you won’t feel short-changed.