It's been 35 years since the famous "Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet" ad campaign. But the basic principle is evident in the new Chevrolet Cruze.
If you've heard or read that the Cruze is a quantum leap beyond the car it replaces, the Cobalt, you've heard or read right. This is a thoroughly modern, no-apologies small sedan...ready for battle in an intensely competitive segment.
What's fascinating is how, in the same year, both Chevy and Ford get serious about building very good small cars, and yet, come up with very different solutions. The new Focus is Ford acknowledging that they've been building the good stuff for Europe all these years and finally letting us get some...it's essentially a German sedan.
The Cruze is, in its own way, every bit as good as the Focus...but it's all-American. More like a smaller, tigther, more responsive Malibu (click the link to see that we're not damning with faint praise...we like the Malibu a lot).
The Cruze we had for a week was the top of the line LTZ model, loaded at a base price of $21,975 (the Focus Titanium sedan starts at $22,270, so they're competitive) with a 1.4 liter turbo four-cylinder, six speed automatic transmission, sport tuned suspension, a full complement of airbags, Stabilitrak stability and traction control, four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes, power door locks, theft alarm, remote keyless entry, rear parking assist, six months of OnStar, and tire pressure monitoring. There are also power adjustable heated outside mirrors, variable wipers, a rear defogger (not a given in small sedans) and 18 inch alloy wheels.
Inside, there's an AM/FM/CD 6 speaker audio system with Bluetooth, steering wheel controls, USB interface and auxilary jack, floor mats, a driver's 6-way power seat (8-way manual for the front passenger), acoustic insulation, automatic climate control, leather appointed seats and steering wheel, a driver information center, tilt and telescoping steering column, power windows, cruise control, and heated seats up front.
The Chevy PR folks loaded ours up further with a power sunroof ($850), a Pioneer premium audio system ($445), crystal red metallic tintcoat pain ($325) and a compact spare tire ($100). Add $720 for delivery and the bottom line comes to $24,415.
That's about $1300 more than the Focus we tested, and it was a five-door, which starts about $900 higher than the sedan. The Focus is more of a driver's car, manages better fuel economy despite a bigger engine (28 city/38 highway from a 2.0 liter to the Cruze's 24/36 from the 1.4 liter turbo), and seems a lot more like a driver's car...that European influence, no doubt.
So...a slam-dunk for the Focus? Not necessarily. On a lot of levels, the Cruze was more comfortable and easy to live with...and there's a huge segment of the intended audience that is not about performance...they're looking (especially at prices nudging $25K) for comfort and convenience they're used to from larger cars with small-car fuel economy. It's really a matter of taste. And if it were me and my money I'd be wrestling with the decision a long time.