Chevrolet Cruze LS

Saloon scores big on value

Our years ago, the Chevrolet name meant little to UK car buyers. The firm’s huge pick-ups and SUVs were built for the wide-open spaces of their US homeland, not the tight and twisty roads of Britain.

Then in 2005, owner General Motors launched Chevy over here with the intention of taking on the established budget brands.

The latest model to join the line-up is the Cruze saloon. It uses the same underpinnings as Vauxhall’s next-generation Astra, and promises to add top-class driving dynamics and desirability to the brand’s value for money reputation.

A more expensive, bigger-engined model has already impressed us on test, so how does this lower-spec 1.6 LS measure up?

First impressions are good. While the bold grille won’t be to all tastes, the overall shape is handsome, and the Cruze looks purposeful from most angles.

The visual appeal is enhanced by the standard-fit alloy wheels and metallic paint. You won’t fail to notice that the Cruze is the only four-door model here, though – and that means it can’t match the ultimate versatility of its rivals.

This is immediately apparent when you’re confronted with the narrow boot opening. However, get past this and you’ll find a generous 450-litre load bay. There’s plenty of space for occupants, too, although taller passengers will find headroom in the rear compromised by the sweeping roofline.

Elsewhere, you’re treated to an attractive dashboard design that features blue illumination similar to the Hyundai’s. The centre console is logically laid out, and the fabric covering on the dashboard is a neat touch.

The steering wheel and column stalks are shared with Vauxhall, and are stylish and feel good. Only the smattering of cheap-looking plastics spoils the overall ambience of the cabin.

The car’s 111bhp 1.6-litre engine is a bit of a letdown, though. While it doesn’t have the lowest power output – the Mazda produces only 103bhp –on the road and at the test track it felt the most sluggish of our trio. Acceleration in fifth gear is particularly disappointing, with the sprint from 50-70mph taking a leisurely 17.2 seconds, which was 3.1 seconds slower than the Hyundai.

The Chevy turns in a more impressive display through the corners. With sharp steering and strong front end grip, the Cruze displays decent agility. Only significant body roll during hard cornering and a lack of feedback from the controls spoils things. Ride quality was acceptable, though – it soaks up minor road imperfections particularly well.

But the Chevy’s trump card is its £12,595 asking price. While it’s the cheapest car here, it has the longest list of kit, including air-con, a leather steering wheel and parking sensors.

Is this great-value approach enough to put the Cruze on the top step of the podium?

Details

Chart position: 3WHY: US brand is serious about conquering Europe, and the Cruze saloon is its latest weapon to win customers.

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