$5,928 - $7,314

2011 Chevrolet Cruze Performance Review

Note: This performance review was created when the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze was new.


Performance: 8.5

Among affordable small cars with good performance, the automotive industry says the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze is almost as good as it gets. It offers a comfortable, smooth ride with good power and high fuel economy ratings. If you’re looking for something sporty, however, the industry says you should test the Volkswagen Golf or the Mazda3, which are more fun to drive.  

The Cruze also has a fuel efficient option, the ECO trim, but it costs nearly $2,000 more than the base model. Whether or not you should pay more for better fuel economy is debatable. Some test drivers say it’s a good deal – they got higher averages than what the EPA has posted on its website – while others think the ratings aren’t high enough. To save money, opt for the Hyundai Elantra. You’ll average 29/40 mpg city/highway with either transmission, and you don’t have to upgrade to a higher trim.

  • "Fire it up, and the first thing you notice is what you don't hear. A lot of engine noise. Chevy did a lot of work on NVH, or noise, vibration and halitosis. When it comes to the matter of a quiet ride the Cruze easily tops the Civic, Corolla and Sonata." -- MarketWatch
  • "The Touring suspension is taut, but it's not overly sensitive to road surfaces to the point that you feel every little imperfection, which is sometimes what it feels like when driving a car like the Honda Civic." -- Cars.com
  • "This cable shifter offers nice, short throws and decent precision, though it lacks the sublime mechanical snickety-snick sensation of the best Honda sticks." -- Motor Trend
  • "Peppy yet efficient turbocharged engine." -- Edmunds
  • "Cruze feels sprightly around town and confidently merges onto the highway, but its passing response is more leisurely." -- Consumer Guide
  • "On the road, the Cruze really scores over its competition in two areas: refinement and ride quality." -- Car and Driver
  • "It's not a bad little driver, either, and the price is good. An econobox that is fun(ish) to drive is rare. This is one of them." -- AutoWeek

Acceleration and Power

The 2011 Chevrolet Cruze has two engine options: an optional 1.4-liter turbocharged inline four engine and a standard 1.8-liter inline four engine. Of the two, reviewers think that either engine is fine. They say the 1.8-liter engine’s 138 horsepower and 125 torque provide more oomph than shoppers might expect. Before you upgrade to the 1.4-liter because it has more juice, you might want to reconsider. No reviewer jumps out and says it’s significantly more powerful than the base engine. In fact, the 1.4-liter also makes 138 horsepower, but produces 23 more pound feet of torque than the base engine. Test drive both to see if the 1.4-liter is worth the extra cash.

In terms of fuel economy, the Cruze’s EPA-estimated ratings are good. The 1.4-liter engine averages 24/36 mpg city/highway with an automatic transmission. The 1.8-liter engine with a manual has higher ratings of 26/36 mpg city/highway. Automatics with the turbocharged engine have lower ratings. They get 22/35 mpg city/highway. For higher fuel economy ratings, you can upgrade to the ECO trim.

In terms of overall performance, the industry is impressed with the Chevrolet Cruze. It’s not as sporty as the Mazda3 or Volkswagen Golf, but they don’t think it’s supposed to be. Chevrolet designed the Cruze for shoppers looking for a comfortable, smooth daily commuter, and the industry thinks the Cruze meets those expectations.

  • "You won't mistake Cruze for a Corvette, but the 1.4-liter engine paired with the 6-speed automatic transmission provides more-than-adequate acceleration in most situations." -- Consumer Guide
  • "I wouldn't call the Cruze's handling exceptionally sporty like that of the Mazda3, but the foundation for sport tuning is clearly there. A track test will be the final arbiter, but most people don't drive on a track, so I'll say the mission has been accomplished. The compact rear suspension design is partly responsible for the large trunk and accommodating backseat." -- Chicago Tribune
  • "My tests returned excellent economy, but the mileage is somewhat fragile because you end up flogging the car just to keep pace. Thus whipped, the engine isn’t exactly loud, but it is mildly unpleasant, an effect like a swarm of bees partying inside an oak tree. Passing requires planning." -- New York Times
  • "The 1.4 was the only engine available for testing. While power has certainly been sacrificed, the 1.4-liter turbo provides enough punch for most everyday needs. There is some minor turbo lag from a stop, and passing can be labored. Zero to 60 mph takes about nine seconds, which is fair, but not fast.” -- MSN
  • "The hydra-matic six-speed automatic transmission we tested is decent, but we'd like to give the manual a try when it comes out on the base model later this year -- shifts weren't quite as fast as we'd have liked. We also wish there'd been an option to turn off the overdrive (like Kia has), but instead we were greeted by forced shifts on hilly roads, when we would rather have had a choice. Even with these small caveats, the Chevrolet Cruze was better on the road than either the Honda Civic or Honda Corolla we tested with it." -- Kelley Blue Book
  • "I didn't realize this has a turbo, so that explains the lag I experienced off the line and in getting up to freeway speeds. A bit annoying, but once you are up to speed, on interstates and on neighborhood streets, there's plenty of power to move the Cruze." -- AutoWeek

Fuel Economy: The Eco Trim

Gas prices are rising, and shoppers looking to save money at the pump should consider the Chevrolet Cruze ECO, which is more aerodynamic and has higher fuel economy ratings of 28/42 mpg city/highway with a manual transmission and 26/37 mpg city/highway with an automatic transmission. These numbers are great for the class, but they do come at a cost. To get these ratings, you have to pay $18,425 -- $1,900 more than the base model. That is a significant price jump for an affordable small car, and not all reviewers think it’s worth it. You can get the Hyundai Elantra, which starts at about $15,000 and has fuel economy rating of 29/40 mpg city/highway for both manual and automatic transmission, and you don’t have to pay more to get these ratings. Choosing the Elantra will save you close to $3,500 right off the bat.

Another efficient car to consider is the Honda Insight, one of three hybrids in this class. The Insight starts at $18,200, a few hundred less than the ECO trim, and its city fuel economy ratings are much higher. The EPA says the Insight gets 40/43 mpg city/highway. In terms of performance, the industry says the Insight is underpowered, but if you want to save money at the pump, it’s the way to go.

If you do choose the ECO trim, reviewers say your fuel averages may be higher than the EPA’s estimates. Car and Driver, for example, says test drivers averaged 43.8 with a manual transmission. Of course, this depends on your driving habits – your averages could be lower or higher. Other test drivers say the fuel economy ratings aren’t high enough for their tastes, especially since getting them requires an upgrade.

  • "That estimate sounds dreamy, but on a drive from Los Angeles to San Diego in a manual-equipped Eco, the (probably optimistic) trip computer showed an average of 43.8 mpg, with most of our cruising done at 80 mph with the air conditioning on and the engine loping along at 2500 rpm (the automatic-equipped Eco’s engine spun at 3000 rpm, which is more common for a small engine at high speed)." -- Car and Driver 
  • "With this efficiency comes decent power. Chevrolet predicts the longest zero-to-60 mph time for the turbo engine at 10 seconds in the manual Eco trim level, which is tuned for efficiency. Other versions shave another second or more." -- Chicago Tribune
  • "So does all this fuel economy focus pay off? More than we thought it could. Although the EPA rates the Cruze Eco, with the manual gearbox, at 42-mpg highway, we saw noticeably better." -- Popular Mechanics
  • "But, being that this is an "Eco" Cruze, I was expecting a bit better fuel economy." -- AutoWeek

Handling and Braking

Reviewers don’t say the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze has best in class handling or braking capabilities, but they’re still impressed. The Cruze’s brakes are strong, steering is accurate, and there’s little body lean or understeer. If you’re considering the Cruze, you’ve probably checked out the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic. Test drivers who have driven these models think the Corolla has the worst handling and braking capabilities of the three. They also say that the Civic isn’t as refined as the Cruze, and that it has more body lean when cornering.

  • "The low-rolling-resistance tires don’t seem to have a similar effect on handling and braking, though; from behind the wheel, the Eco feels nimbler and more responsive than other Cruzes." -- Car and Driver 
  • "The accurate steering has good feel and little need for correction. Cruze's overall handling inspires confidence with minimal body lean in turns. Braking is smooth and strong with good pedal feel." -- Consumer Guide 
  • "The Cruze takes to the curves ably, with a competent suspension and good body control. The electrically assisted power steering is a far cry from GM's early efforts, which located an assist motor on the steering column rather than the rack. The feel is much more natural and well tuned for all speeds." -- Chicago Tribune
  • "The steering is direct and confident." -- New York Times
  • "The Cruze's all-new chassis isn't particularly sophisticated as far as economy cars go, but its design ensures secure handling and an absorbent -- but not mushy -- ride." -- Edmunds
  • "Chevrolet made the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla available during the media test drive, and the Cruze fared well by comparison. Handling is much more controlled and stable than in those cars, especially the Corolla." -- MSN

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