Acar that is expected to take on the likes of the Civic, Corolla and the Laura simply must possess a knock-out factor. A look at the new Chevrolet Cruze, and you will at once feel that this car means business. The Chevrolet Cruze is merely the proverbial silver lining for General Motors and one that has the potential to catapult the company from the sidelines of the industry right into the spotlight.

The styling that’s gone into the Cruze is the result of a development programme that saw 221 GM prototypes built and tested in various countries, to European standards. The best part about a car that was designed for Europe in particular means that the India-built cars will boast European quality, safety, refinement and dynamics. The Cruze comes in with a few key advantages — there’s a powerful diesel engine on offer and an equipment list we’ve only seen in cars that cost a great deal of money.

Though Chevrolet hasn’t announced prices yet, we expect it to be in the Civic/Corolla ballpark, which is a good starting point for a car that offers so much.

The Cruze is unlike any Chevrolet seen in India — it’s aggressive, sharp and taut; not words we would have associated with any Chevrolet in the recent past. This new-generation Chevy’s angular headlights, gaping split grille and sharp chin aspire to make a style statement. The striking coupé roofline with that steeply raked rear windscreen instantly grabs your attention. Keep looking and you’ll also notice the very BMW-like swage line that runs from the front wheel arches right up to the tail-light. The rear of the Cruze looks good, with its twin LED-filled tail-lamps and the thick chrome bar between them.

Built on the latest Delta 2 platform, the Cruze’s monocoque shell is constructed by using high-strength steel for the main load-bearing body parts — GM says the structure can withstand 2.5 times its own weight. Safety features include a collapsible pedal box, ABS, two airbags and a fuel tank which is mounted between the rear wheels for protection during a heavy rear impact. To reduce cabin noise and vibration the new Chevy uses an isolated front sub-frame, separated from the body by four rubber mountings.

Twin cockpit theme

What allowes this car to comfortably Cruze are MacPherson struts up front and a twist beam axle at the rear — unlike most of its rivals who are independently sprung. The car sports specially developed JK Vectra tyres (disc brakes all around) that are designed to improve the secondary ride or comfort over sharp ridges and ruts.

The Cruze’s interior has a distinct twin cockpit theme which makes separate spaces for the driver and passenger. The V-shaped design looks original and there’s a hint of a driver-focused cabin here. The Cruze boasts a keyless system dubbed PEPS for Passive Entry, Passive Start which requires you to simply keep the key fob in your pocket, press the clutch and push a clumsily located button on the left of the steering wheel to start and stop the car. Pulling the door handles automatically unlocks while a touch sensor on the door handles locks the car. It’s easy for the driver to find a suitable driving position with the comfy and supportive manual-adjust driver’s seat and the reach and rake adjustable steering wheel. The thick-rimmed steering wheel is nice to grip with toggle-type steering-mounted switches that have a nice tactile feel —particularly the large knobs for the air-con controls which have a grippy, rubberised finish and nice chrome highlights. This is also the first Chevy to come with the right-hand-drive configuration for the wiper/headlight stalks which also have a meaty feel.

The rear seats offer decent legroom and good under-thigh support. The coupé-like roofline and steeply raked rear screen could mess up the hairdo of a tall passenger.

The four decently-sized door bins, a big glovebox, cup and bottleholders, a lined dash-top box and a central storage cubby in the cabin, add to the car’s practical appeal. Where the Cruze really scores is on the equipment front — apart from the PEPS system, you get a six-CD changer, aux-in port, a large screen that displays multiple functions and an on-board computer which calculates a range of parameters from average speed to real-time fuel consumption. And then there’s the sunroof and alloy wheels and cruise control. At an asking price of Rs. 12- Rs. 15 lakh, the equipment list is definitely one of the Cruze’s strong points.

We’re sure you’d have a smile on your face if your car made it to 100kph in under 10secs. Taking takes just 9.6 secongs to break that barrier, the 148bhp diesel Cruze has the performance to leave all of its rivals, including most of the petrol ones, blushing. The mid-range is strong not failing to mention the petrol-like top-end performance too. In a straight line, this car will cross the 150kph mark in 21.2 seconds and run to 180kph without breaking into a sweat. Pedal to the metal and the speedo needle touches 210kph tops without too much huffing. The fact that not too many petrol saloons, and even fewer diesel saloons can boast of such effortless performance makes the Cruze a very accomplished highway cruiser.

A common-rail system

At the heart of the Cruze is a familiar 1991cc common-rail turbo-diesel unit —from the Captiva — making 148bhp and 33kgm of torque. It’s got the same variable geometry turbo, a common-rail system that delivers fuel at 1600-bar to the cylinders, has four valves per cylinder and a single overhead camshaft to open and close them. The big difference between the Captiva and Cruze engines is the ECU calibration and fine tuning of the intake and exhaust lengths.

On the fuel efficiency front, we achieved an impressive 10.2kpl in the city and a more frugal 14.1kpl on the highway. Its 60-litre tank will also prove helpful as you can cross several states before tanking up.

On the highway, the Cruze exhibits phenomenal straight-line stability thanks to its long wheelbase. The steering weights up well and gives you confidence. At lower speeds, the ride is slightly on the stiffer side. The suspension offers a flat and consistent ride with no heaving and pitching.

The easy-to-twirl steering is a boon in town, especially while parking, because the Cruze’s 4597mm length (longer than the Civic, Corolla, Jetta and Laura) will show up in the tight confines of town.

Verdict: The Cruze could be the game-changer for GM. It’s a car that is truly aspirational and one you want to own rather than need to have. The sharp styling, trendy interiors and excellent performance are going to appeal more to individuals than families. The fact that it’s the quickest diesel makes it a phenomenal value-for-money. Its long equipment list drives home the point further. What’s yet-to-be-seen and also very crucial is the car’s pricing. We expect it to rub shoulders with the Civic. That gives a very good reason for you to wait for its launch this month.

This new-generation Chevy’s angular headlights, gaping split grille and sharp chin aspire to make a style statement

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