CHEVROLET as a brand is probably not familiar to many of us on these shores.
We’re all familiar with the Chewy of the American films – that old ’57 Chevrolet, with kids called Buddy working through the summer to get enough money to impress the girls.
But Chevrolet is owned by General Motors (which owns Vauxhall and, at the moment, Saab) and is GM’s leading global brand in terms of sales. In the UK it produces a range of cars with the emphaisis on value.
The Cruze is the marque’s representative in the small family car sector and is a huge step forward as far as quality is concerned.
Many Chevrolets have attracted criticism due to their quality and finish, and many for their so-so performance, but if this model is anything to go by the company is moving in the right direction.
It’s still a budget buy in its class, undercutting many of its rivals, but the Cruze is gaining plaudits around Europe, its key market.
Just this week it beat the Skoda Yeti, VW Polo and the Hyundai i20 to the honour of Best Buy in a big central and eastern European car competition (OK, well it’s still a big award for them).
The Cruze comes in 1.6 or 1.8 petrol engines or the two-litre diesel, which I drove.
It’s an attractive family car without being memorable. It’s stocky and solid looking with a distinctive front end and an attractive profile from the side.
But it’s inside the cabin that the big improvements have been made.
Gone are the cheap-looking plastics which harked back to the old days of budget motoring, when people were prepared to overlook quality for a cheaper car.
This cabin is on the whole an attractive place to travel. All the buttons are simple to use and well laid out, and the plastics used on the dash and the console are textured and pleasant to the touch.
The dials are a classy shade of blue and the two-tone colour scheme is pleasing to the eye.
The seats are comfortable, although I did have trouble getting the driver’s seat in the right position for me, and everything is ergonomically designed to make motoring easy.
You have to look closely to find any less-than-impressive areas but there’s an attractive colour secheme, not too jarring but not too dull either.
There is plenty of legroom in the front and the rear but the sloping coupe-type roof means that headroom isn’t as plentiful as it could be. A middle passenger in the back seat will also have to scrunch their legs up thanks to the channel running down the centre.
The boot is big enough for most but a high lip means risking a hernia when hoisting heavier items from the floor.
Although the petrol versions of the Cruze have come in for a but of stick, accused of being noisy and underpowered, especially the smaller one, the two-litre diesel I drove is the one to pick.
It has pull off the blocks and gearchange is slick, although if you change gear in low revs it falters before it picks up. But it has enough get up and go through the gears.
It’s quiet, too, and that peace isn’t marred by wind or road noise, either, which’makes for a pleasant drive.
Athough it’s apparent that this car isn’t one of the big hitters in the group, it handles well in most departments. Steering is responsive, if a little on the light side, and this car corners well at most speeds, even on these unforgiving January roads. You can feel the potholes and bigger bumps and lumps but not to a disturbing degree. Where the Cruz also scores is in the amount of kit and safety measures chucked in.
The car has just this week been awarded five-star rating in the NCAP safety tests. Stability control is standard across the range, along with six airbags, and every model gets an engine immobiliser and deadlocks, too.
For the money there’s a decent amount of kit. Entry-level S models have remote central locking, electric front windows, a CD player and air conditioning, while LS models have alloy wheels, front fog-lights, electrically¬adjustable heated door mirrors and rear parking sensors.
Top-of-the-range LT trim features climate control, cruise control, electric rear windows, and automatic headlights and wipers.
The Cruze start out at £11,995, rising to £15,195, which is a good deal lower than its more familiar competitors. The diesel I drove will set you back £14,345, which isn’t so much of an undercut, but it’s probably the pick of the bunch. Fuel figures aren’t spectacular, though, even for the diesel.
But for your money you get undemanding family motoring in a car with a decent amount of kit, and with a really good safety record.
At the moment resale values won’t be great but if Chevrolet continue on the upwards curve that can only get better.
CHEVROLET CRUZE VCDi LS
Engine: 2-litre Diesel
Transmission: five Speed Manual
Top Speed: 122mph
Combined mpg: 51 mpg
OTR Price: £14,345