There were Caliber, Cavalier, Cobalt, Colt… are Corolla, Civic, and now Cruze… Is C stands for Compact?
The letter C can also stand for cheap, cheat, cheesy, cease, and a couple naughty ones that describe both sexes’ sexual organs. All we know is that, a compact begins with “C” doesn’t give it any special magic; involuntarily become the “Champion” in this competitive segment without showing some engineering effort. The Cavalier, Cobalt, Colt had been dead, and Caliber is now dying. Can the Cruze compete with the rest of the lifeless Cs, particularly, the Corolla, and Civic? Don’t bother with them.
At one point, General Motor was on the brink of folding. Then the U.S. government injected $50,000,000,000.00 worth of tax payer money via the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), Government Motor is now winning World Touring Car Championship (WTCC) with the Chevrolet Cruze. How could that happen? Well, we don’t pretend or care to know how the TARP is administered but the Cruze is made possible by both outsourcing product design and engineering to foreign countries, then importing the product back and manufacturing it in a U.S. assembly plant that took $350,000,000.00 to retrofit.
With fame from WTCC and the tremendous U.S. debt invested in a supposedly state-of-the-art facility, is the Cruze the new King of Compact? Dethroning the Mazda 3?
Background – Cruze has been cruising elsewhere but here.
The Cruze nameplate has been in use since 2001 in markets outside of North America. The 1st generation, produced from 2001 to 2008, was a rebadged Suzuki Ignis – designed and manufactured by Suzuki in Japan under joint venture with GM. It was also sold as the Holden Cruze in Australia.
The 2nd generation carried GM’s ambition of a global product. It was first released in Europe and China in 2009. The Chevrolet Cruze did not appear to the U.S. market until 2010 as a 2011 model to replace the appalling Chevrolet Cobalt and its twin the Pontiac G5 rental fleet. The Cruze was designed and engineered by GM Daewoo in South Korea, and tuned by GM Opel in Germany. The Cruze is locally assembled for each market region with assembly plants in Australia, Brazil, China, India, Russia, Vietnam, South Korea, and Thailand. The North America Cruze is assembled in GM’s retrofitted assembly plant in Lordstown, Ohio.
In 2012, the U.S. market Chevrolet Cruze comes in four trim levels: LS, LT, LTZ and Eco. The LS represents the base of the lineup and equips with the 138hp and 125lb-ft 1.8L DOHC I-4 Ecotech engine. The rest equip with a 1.4L turbo unit. Both 6-speed manual and 6-speed automatic are available to all models.
The LTZ is top of the line model that comes standard with 18” alloy wheel wrapped in 225/45R18 tires with sport tuned suspension that has of 0.4 inch of lower ride height and 15% stiff springs, 4-wheel disc brakes, heated outside mirrors, driver power seat, fog lamps, keyless access and auto-climatic control. The RS appearance package includes rear spoiler, different rocker panels and front fascias is available on LT and LTZ models.
The Eco, just as the name suggested, features fuel economy. The EPA fuel consumption MPG are 26 city, 39 highway, 31 combined in the 6AT, and 28/42/33 6MT. The Eco-ness is aided by aerodynamic enhancing front fascia air dam with lower front grille air shutter, trunk spoiler and mid-body aero panels, lightweight forged alloy wheels with ultra low rolling resistance tires, various curb weight reductions (~250 lbs total) including the elimination of the “Z-link” in the rear suspension, and a special geared 6MT with triple overdrive gears.
Our tester in Summit White is the LT model with the 1.4L engine, 6-speed automatic transmission, and the 1LT package at $20,345.00 MSRP.
Impression – The engine bay speaks as many different languages as the Bay Area.
The compact segment is flooded with well-known names like Corolla, Civic, Elantra, Sentra, 3, Lancer, Jetta… note they are all foreign brands. For a new model name to standout isn’t an easy task, particularly, when domestic car companies invent new names with every new model. What happened to names like Cavalier, Cobalt, G5, Primz, Ion…? All dead.
For the Cruze, it is a brave move to use only one body style for all the markets in the global. How does one culture see the style differently than another? For us, the Cruze’s styling has a hint of the Lexus IS300 shape to it but is somewhat bland and dated for the segment. It is not as notable as the Elantra, nor widely applauds as the Focus but definitely more visually pleasing than the lameball 2012 Civic.
What stood out for the Cruze though is the turbo, the very first thing we did was to reveal this beast hidden beneath the hood. Under close inspection, the engine bay is like a miniature San Francisco Bay Area where diversity works in harmony. It is definitely not the monochrome Ohio would suggest. The diversity comes in the origin of the components: wiring is from China, drive-by-wire motor – Cze Republic, impact sensor – Canada, brake component – ATE in Europe, engine component and sensors – Germany by Mann, and Hester, engine – Austria, transmission – Mexico. The overall US and Canadian parts content is merely 45%.
Powertrain – Petite with bolt-on enhancement is now a fashionable statement.
Sitting in the heart of the melting pot is GM’s Ecotec 1.4L 16-valve inline-4 turbo engine with aluminum head and light weight cast iron block (engine code: LUJ). It generates 138 hp @ 4,900 rpm and 148 lb-ft of torque @ 1,850 rpm (2,500 rpm when mated to MT) on regular unleaded gas. In the first part of the engine dyno chart, the EUJ generates torque quickly from idle with torque curve remains flat until about 5,200 rpm and starts to taper off to about 110 lb-ft @ 6,500 rpm redline.
The drive dynamic verified the dyno chart’s claim, the LUJ engine does not react like it is turbocharged as there are no turbo lag, no turbo spooling sound, and no swell of power under boost. The engine does feel as peppy as a 2.3L engine; not an insubstantial 1.4L. The LUJ sounds solid and revs smoothly to redline. There is a noticeable drop in power once it revs pass 5,000 rpm consistent with by the dyno chart.
LUJ – Exposed
Power generation from this 1,364 cc displacement engine consists of exhaust manifold integrated turbocharger. The Honeywell supplied turbocharger (model MGT14) is both oil and coolant cooled to improve reliability particular after engine shut down immediately after boosting, necessary as this charger is energetically producing boost at all times. An air-to-air intercooler condenses the pressurized air before reaching the combustion chamber at 16 psi via the drive-by-wire throttle body and plastic intake manifold.
Controlling the breathing is a pair of overhead camshafts with GM’s DCVCP (Dual Overhead Camshaft, Double Continuously Variable Cam Phase) continuously variable timing control on both the intake and sodium filled exhaust valves independently. To reduce parasitic losses, the oil pump features variable-flow rate and the thermostat is electronically controlled. The combustion event takes place under 9.5:1 compression ratio, and 72.5mm x 82.6mm bore and stroke undersquare layout.
Mated to the transversely mounted engine is GM’s own Hydra-Matic 6T40 6-spd AT (transmission code: MH8). The MH8 features on-axis design which all the gearing are in the same center axis as the center axis of the crankshaft to increase powertrain compactness for better underhood packaging.
The transmission programming initially feels well calibrated. It withholds auto up or down shift in ActiveSelect manual mode. The programming also monitor for down gradient and stays in a lower gear if the vehicle is decelerating to utilize engine braking. The torque converter is electronically controlled to further increase efficiency with auto neutral at idle feature. This feature removes the anticipated forward movement when the brakes are released. Throttle input is needed for the creeping motion once associated with the conventional AT.
The clutch-to-clutch shift operation where the clutch is engaged in one gear simultaneously and releases another to reduce shift speed. The 1st to 2nd gear upshift is accompanied by the traditional freewheeling mechanisms for smoothness since there is a significant ratio step between them (1st = 4.58 vs. 2nd = 2.96). To maximize fuel economy the transmission also has the tendency to get into 6th gear in urgency. As we accumulate driving time, the shortcomings are noticeable. Downshift response time is delayed when there is an urgent need, yet unnecessary downshift was made when not needed.
The powertrain is capable finishing 0 to 60 mph run in mid 8 seconds range, and quarter miles in mid 16 seconds @ 85 mph. We would expect a better performance from a turbocharged engine. The blame is on the 3,170 lbs curb weight being on the obese side of the compact scale. For comparison, a fully loaded 2013 Nissan Altima mid-size sedan with I-4 engine is only 3,187 lbs. Evident that the Cruz’s body-in-white is not as compact as imagined. Cruising at 80 mph in top gear, the engine revs at 2,400 to take advantage of the low end torque.