The Chevrolet Cruze is riding high at the moment, following its well earned victory over the Skoda Octavia in our previous road test. With its great-value price, roomy cabin and generous aftersales package, the Korean-built hatchback makes lots of sense for family car buyers on a budget.
It can’t match the sleek Kia Cee'd for kerb appeal, though, thanks to its gaping front grille and bulbous rear end. Even our LT test car, with its 16-inch alloy wheels and front foglights, doesn’t look any more glamorous.
The designers have been more ambitious inside. The sweeping dashboard looks more distinctive than the upright Rapid’s, while the ice blue instrument lighting, leather-trimmed three-spoke steering wheel and fabric-covered dash panels aim to deliver an upmarket air.
Any premium feel is undermined by the use of some low-rent materials and the patchy fit and finish, though. And while standard kit includes air-con, electric windows, cruise control and parking sensors, there’s no USB music input and Bluetooth isn’t even an option.
At least the Chevrolet isn’t short of space, with rear seat passengers getting as much head and legroom as those in the Kia. Better still, get past the high load lip and you’ll find the Chevy’s boot will swallow 413 litres of luggage. This trails the cavernous Rapid’s figure by 137 litres – although the Cruze easily has the new Skoda beaten for performance.
The Chevrolet’s 128bhp 1.7-litre diesel is equipped with stop-start, and while it’s not the last word in refinement, it’s a punchy performer. It took the car from 0-60mph in only 8.9 seconds, despite the clumsy shift action of the uncomfortably shaped gearlever.
The Cruze extended its advantage in our in-gear tests, and on the road it feels livelier than either rival, pulling strongly up motorway hills that leave the other cars feeling breathless.
Sharp steering and strong grip allow the Chevy to slice through bends with surprising poise and agility. It’s not exactly fun, but it feels more nimble and responsive than the Kia. And while the ride is a little firm, it’s more composed on bumpy roads than the Skoda Rapid, with its stiff suspension.
The Chevrolet undoes this good work with its poor refinement, though. Not only is the diesel noisy throughout the rev range, on the motorway there’s more wind and road noise than in the quiet Kia.
These flaws will be easier to overlook when you consider our LT model’s £17,825 price. That’s £1,530 more than the Cee’d, but for performance per pound the Chevrolet is unrivalled in this test. It’s also backed by a generous five-year warranty, plus there’s the option of a £349 pre-paid servicing pack.
It’s not all good news, though, as the car has the weakest residuals and the highest tax bills for company users. Add the cheap-feeling cabin and unrefined engine, and the Cruze’s run of success is in danger of coming to an end.