In the small car big leagues, Chevrolet has never had a competitive player. The mediocre Cobalt (SS version excepted) and the generally terrible Cavalier that preceded it were doomed to dwell in the minors as rivals consistently outperformed them in key areas such as overall build quality and performance. But unlike those farm team disappointments, the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze is ready for the show.
Breaking with the Chevy tradition of offering a larger-than-average engine in a small car, the Cruze offers a pair of fuel-efficient yet peppy small power plants. Whether you get the 1.8-liter non-turbocharged inline-4 or the 1.4-liter turbo mill, you'll get class-competitive performance along with the promise of high fuel economy.
The Cruze's handling is also notably sharper than the Cobalt's and its interior is light-years ahead in terms of quality and styling. In terms of features, even the base Cruze LS comes pretty well equipped, with 10 airbags being one notable standard equipment highlight. The Cruze is also quite roomy (the EPA actually classifies it as a midsize car), though rear seat comfort is only so-so for taller folks.
Even so, Chevrolet has done a lot right here. When compared to this segment's traditional leaders, the 2011 Honda Civic and 2011 Toyota Corolla, the Cruze is fully competitive (or even better) in terms of design and driving dynamics. Certainly, you'll still want to check out the few other big hitters in this group such as the all-new, upscale 2011 Ford Focus, the redesigned and very impressive 2011 Hyundai Elantra and the feisty 2011 Mazda 3. But the fact that we're saying "other big hitters" in reference to the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze speaks well of this competent new player.