Things have been looking up for Chevrolet lately, and after a series of impressive new models it’s boosted its likeable Cruze line-up with a roomy estate, which will add yet another string to its bow.
We admire the hatch for its affordability and punchy 1.7-litre diesel engine, so the new Station Wagon version stands a good chance of making an impact in this competitive class.
However, when the cars are lined up next to one another, it’s first blood to the Korean models. The Cruze SW isn’t a bad-looking car by any stretch, but heavy-handed details like the wide double-layer grille and oversized lights are a sharp contrast to the more subtle Kia. The chrome-effect trim on the window surrounds of our top-spec LTZ test model add little to the overall design, but the standard 17-inch alloys fill the wide wheelarches nicely.
Inside, the design has been inspired by the Corvette sports car. The triangular pattern on the centre console looks good finished in brushed metallic trim, while the fabric finish on the dashboard and the blue-backlit switchgear create a nice atmosphere.
Yet on close examination, the dash plastics are hard and scratchy and the leather on the steering wheel and gearknob is cheap when compared with the Cee’d and the i30. Luxuries like a standard sat-nav should help make up for this shortfall in quality, but the navigation controls are very fiddly and the screen is difficult to read clearly on the move. Other niggles include the firm seats and the lack of an off-clutch rest, both of which make the Cruze uncomfortable on long trips.
On the plus side, there are loads of cubbies dotted about the cabin for carrying odds and ends, plus the large glovebox and deep centre armrest mean the Cruze SW should have no problem transporting all the family essentials.
The Chevrolet is the longest and widest car here, and there is easily room for three adults to sit comfortably across the rear bench. The only drawback is a high transmission tunnel that eats up space in the footwells.
But the Cruze SW doesn’t offer the load-carrying capacity of its neatly packaged rivals. The wide, flat 500-litre boot has enough space for most items, yet both rivals provide bigger luggage capacities, plus you have to shove the Chevy’s heavy parcel shelf firmly to dislodge it. Our test car came with an optional storage box that uses Velcro to stick to the boot floor, but we didn’t find it made life easier; its sharp edges and flimsy design were a real hazard.
So far, then, things aren’t looking great for the Chevrolet, so can it redeem itself on the move? Well, the gutsy 1.7-litre VCDi engine impressed at the track, providing stronger in-gear performance than its rivals and taking the car from 0-60mph over a second quicker, in 9.6 seconds. It has 40Nm more torque than both opponents, at 400Nm, and the power is nicely spread throughout the rev range, so overtaking slower traffic is less stressful.
However, corners expose flaws in the Chevrolet’s dynamic repertoire. Turn in and the over-assisted steering offers no feedback to the driver at all. Combine this with the notchy gearchange and spongy brakes, and the Cruze is difficult to drive smoothly. There is plenty of front-end grip, but because the steering gives no indication of what the tyres are doing, it doesn’t inspire much confidence.
The large wheels also mean the car thuds over speed bumps and expansion joints, and on the motorway there’s a lot more road and wind noise than you get in the refined i30 Tourer. Some buyers will forgive this, as the car comes with a five-year or 100,000-mile warranty and fixed-price servicing. But other running costs, like depreciation, insurance and tax, are all higher than for the Kia.
The Chevrolet equalled the Hyundai at the pumps, recording 40.4mpg exactly, and the stop-start system is smooth. But that probably won’t be enough to improve its chances in the final reckoning.