Before I delve into my take on the new Chevrolet Cruze, allow me to provide you with some background info into Chevy’s ties with the Koreans. A good few years ago, you may remember sharing the glorious roads of this country with a car brand called Daewoo. The company may have also made your fridge, microwave or TV. I know, their cars were not much to write home about, and featured mostly old (and I mean very old) Opel parts and engines, with “new” body shells and designs. As it happens with so many manufacturers, Daewoo found itself bleeding from the torso, and slowly running out of life.

That’s when the General (GM) stepped in, absorbed the brand and started selling the ailing Korean manufacturer’s wares as its own, and mostly as Chevrolets. And thus we had the pleasure of Chevy models like the Spark, Optra and utterly hideous Vivant being sold as supposedly “new” products – except everyone knew there was just an old Daewoo hiding under the skin.

But why am I rambling on about all this history when the article you are reading is about Chevy’s latest mid-size sedan, the Cruze? Well, even though they’re no longer flogging Daewoos as new product, I still don’t think that Chevrolet quite understand what the concept of a “new” vehicle really is.

First and foremost though, I have to admit that the Cruze is very pretty, but in a butch kind of way. The front styling is really something special, and it’s so aggressive you’ll probably find the Spark being afraid of its new big sister! Striking headlights, which are “shrouded” by a clamshell bonnet, frame a massive dual-level grille, with an equally oversized Chevy badge. Fog lights on this 1.6 LS model complete the frontal design treatment.

Moving down the flanks, it’s not a boring design in the least; a strong concave shoulder line flows from the front fenders into the tail lights, and the window profile makes the Cruze look big and mighty. Not that it needs to feel or look any bigger or mightier – the Cruze is a truly massive car for its segment; or at least that’s what it feels like when you find yourself looking down at other cars in the traffic.

The backside is a bit of a let-down. For lack of a better term, it’s very Korean. Plain, simple and good looking – but boring. That said, the tail lights are large and attractive, and they are nicely proportioned too, but they seem to carry design cues from a few other cars (the new Hyundai Elantra being at the top of that list).

The inside of the Cruze is, in all, a nice place to be. Very comfortable seats make long journeys and sitting in traffic a breeze, and they have a great deal of side bolstering, so cornering in this car is rather racy. Finished in cloth in the Cruze LS, they look like they will wear well and be easy to clean. More fabric can be found on the dashboard – yes, to break the huge amount of plastic that goes into the making of a Cruze dash, GM has covered the mid-section in matching fabric and, in all honesty, I think it’s great!

Switches are well placed and solid to the touch, although the placement of the door lock/unlock button on the centre console makes no sense. At least the doors lock themselves, so you’ll only find yourself fumbling for the switch when you need to get out (and you’ll find out in a moment why you will want to get out).

The general layout and design of the centre console is very well executed and clutter-free, allowing ease of use and comfort when you need the car to do something. Overall build is a bit sketchy though, which was painfully pointed out to me by a colleague who managed to move almost the entire console by shaking the tail-end of the handbrake cover.

Features-wise the Cruze LS has climate control, a front-loading CD player with a sound system that doesn’t go as loud as you might expect and audio controls on the steering wheel – though it must be said, the design and setup are not the best. The steering wheel itself is very attractive, and thankfully not just another bit from the Opel bin!

The Cruze’s dash looks best at night, with turquoise and red backlighting taking centre stage. The instruments are large and easy to read too, and you don’t need to turn off the headlights when you switch off the car. If you’re like me and you drive with your lights on at all times, you’ll really enjoy this feature. Windows and side mirrors are of course all electric, and a great added bonus is that all the windows have an auto-down function. Legroom in the back isn’t bad, and the boot is very big, with a large aperture for easy loading.

So far so good then, right? Good looking, well packaged, comfortable and spacious. Well, not really. This car is slow! And I mean very, very slow! CAR Magazine tested the Cruze 1.6 LS at the coast and achieved 11.4 seconds trying to reach 100km/h – at the coast! Up here in Joburg that will be more like 14 and, I’m sorry, could you really live with something so embarrassing? The engine supposedly has 83kW, but where that may be I have no idea.

And then it gets worse; the fuel consumption is positively depressing. On a full 60-litre tank of fuel, and driving conditions ranging from a few full-bore runs (it was too slow to bother trying any more), the usual few minutes in traffic on the way to work, to a long cruise on the highway, the Cruze returned an average of 10.4 litres per hundred kilometres. After only 420km on said full tank, I had the fuel light on!

In order just to move this heavy tank, you need to put foot, and so you end up using way more fuel than necessary to move a car which should weigh less and thus use less fuel. In this day and age of a deep recession, diminishing oil resources and a planet on the brink of environmental disaster there’s something very wrong and outdated with this picture.

This is, however, a numbers game, and at R186 126, the Cruze is well-priced. As an overall package, I would love it if it wasn’t so heavy on juice and so darn slow. When you look at its rivals, though some are more expensive, you may be better off in something else; like a Focus, or a Civic. Let’s put it this way – drive them all before you decide to grace your driveway with one of these. My lasting impression will sadly always be that the Cruze comes across as a relic; like one of those old Daewoos in new Chevy clothing.

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