3rd Lair Skatepark & Skateshop is an indoor skateboarding park in a Minneapolis suburb nearly an hour from my house. My teenage son and two of his buddies were going to spend Friday night through Sunday night participating in a skating competition called “Southern Slaughter” (eh hem), which meant that I would be driving them back and forth a half a dozen times. I was going to have a lot of time getting to know the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze GM was letting me test.
Opinions that matter
I made a deal with them. The shaggy-haired skaters were going to help me review the car from a passenger's point of view.
“Put your boards in the trunk,” I told them as they filed out of the house.
“Wow, it’s huge,” remarked one boy. With 15.4 cubic foot of space, it’s true. As a mother of four children, I appreciate a car that can hold an abundance of stuff.
“So, what do you think?” I asked them. “What do you like and dislike about the Cruze?”
The boys sitting in the back said it was roomy, noting that it was roomier than my old BMW 328i.They were right. With 35.4 inches of leg room the Cruze actually beats my Beamer.
They soon found the fold-down arm rest back there as well and decided its cup holders were “beast,” which is code for “good.” They were on the mark again. Ever tried to manage a trip through a McDonald’s drive-through to get four Meal Deals and have only front cabin cup holders?
My kid in the front seat said he liked the look of the middle area that houses the radio and climate controls. “That’s called the center stack,” I informed him. I liked it too. It reminded me a lot of the Volt I drove in October, which makes sense since the two cars share the same platform.
If you're a parent you already know that kids do the strangest things to amuse themselves. When my Son noticed the passenger air bag indicator he used Spider-Man like skills to hover over the seat to see how long it took for the Cruze to automatically shut off his airbag. He even timed it: nearly 8 seconds.
We also played around with the XM radio. I was impressed with how much one boy knew about 70s and 80s music (you’d think the music was from the era when dinosaurs roamed the earth to hear them talk). That’s the beauty of satellite radio, there’s a genre for everyone, even us dinosaurs.
As we poked and prodded the interior during our first drive, we agreed that the car had everything you’d need, although doesn’t give you much more than that-not surprising since the LS we were in has a sticker price of only $18,375. We liked how the controls didn’t look cheap and there was plenty of room considering it’s a compact.
Setting up hands-free calling
Once we got to the skate park and my reviewers were gone, I paired my iPhone with the Cruze and experimented with calling a few people using only my voice. I wasn’t able to access the contacts in my phone’s address book using my voice (possibly because I use an older iPhone 3G). To enable name recognition I had to store names first.
It was just a matter of saying to the Cruze, “Store Julie.” OnStar then asked me to speak her number. From then on, I just had to push the phone button on the steering wheel and say “Call Julie” and the car did it for me. My conversations sounded effortless and lacked the “strained on speakerphone” effect that sometimes happens.
Driving the Cruze
I live in Minnesota where the roads are covered in pot holes this time of year (the other times of year the roads are covered in construction workers filling them). As a result, the Cruze was banged around for much of the time I had it, but handled bumps and pits competently. The braking felt strong and solid and the steering was accurate.
The 4-cylinder Cruze comes in either a 1.8 liter (136 hp) or 1.4-liter turbocharged engine (138 hp), both with either a six-speed automatic or manual transmission. In the lower gears the car was sometimes slow to upshift, reaching as much as 6000 rpm before grabbing the next gear. Once at cruising speed, however, the car hangs in there with everybody else on the road doing 70 mph, although you’ll want to be conservative when passing since you’re not driving a sports car.
A cost-effective car
After picking up the skateboarders and arriving home, we stood around the Cruze to judge its exterior appearance. The Cruze replaces the Cobalt and it looks slightly bigger (allowing for a bit more interior volume). It also has a rounder window line. But because the Cruze and Volt share a platform, I couldn’t help compare them. Personally, I prefer the Volt’s styling, although in all fairness the electric car is more than twice the money.
And speaking of money, Chevrolet has a deal going right now that makes the Cruze particularly attractive. If you put down $899 you can lease the Cruze for $159 a month for 39 months. Admit it-some people pay more than that for cable television. My husband pointed out that if one of our kids was in college he’d be very comfortable paying that to make sure we’d get weekend visits.
Another money-saving feature: the car alerts you when the oil quality has degraded to the point of needing to be replaced so you can go longer between changes.
Fuel efficiency is another aspect that adds to the Cruze’s affordability. While I had the car it averaged about 28 mpg combined highway and city. With gas at over $3 a gallon and expected to go higher, every mpg counts and smaller cars like the Cruze are going to be more appreciated for their economy and thrift.
You know what should be more appreciated, at least with the three teenagers in this story? Me. I drove those boys 408 miles to skateboard for an entire weekend. I'll remember that next time they complain that I'm always locked up in my office writing about cars.