2011 Chevrolet Cruze 1LT Review

Front 3/4 view of red 2011 Chevrolet Cruze parked on rooftop garage
The 2011 Chevrolet Cruze. Sleek styling even in one-rung-up-from-base form.

You're looking at the #1 best-selling car in America. Well, one version of it, anyway. It's the Chevrolet Cruze, and it's available in several different trim levels. Back in April, we reviewed (and liked) the Cruze LTZ. But what if you want one for a bit less than $24,415 (the as-tested price of the LTZ we drove)?

Well, you head down the trim levels and hope you don't give up too much good stuff. To find out what is down there, we borrowed a 1LT (one model up from the bottom of the line) from Courtesy Chevrolet in Phoenix for a week.

Rear 3/4 view from above of red 2011 Chevrolet Cruze
The 2011 Chevy Cruze can be equipped with a sunroof. We wouldn't, but you can.

Simply put, we were impressed. The basics that make the Cruze appealing in LTZ trim are all there in the 1LT. It's tight, responsive, fresh, contemporary and gets good mileage.

The base MSRP for the Cruze 1LT is $18,425...$3800 less than the starting price for the LTZ. Standard stuff: The ECOTEC 1.4 liter turbo 4, putting out 138 horsepower and 148 pounds per foot of torque. It's the same engine that was in the LTZ. And the same six-speed automatic transmission is part of the deal.

Ours had the Connectivity Plus Cruise Package (Cruise control, Bluetooth, a USB port, steering wheel controls for the audio system, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob) for $525. And that was it. The one and only option, bringing the bottom line to $18,995 before delivery charges....more than five grand less than the bottom line for the LTZ.

That's a lot of room. You can either bank the difference or explore what's in between. Those are wheel covers you see on the 1LT. Move up to the 2LT and those get traded for alloy wheels, the leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob become standard, as do the steering wheel controls for the audio system, plus power-adjustable, heated, leather-appointed front seats and remote start.  But it's a $2,500 jump...to $20,925 And you still have to get the Bluetooth and USB as options on top of that.

Interior shot of 2011 Chevrolet Cruze
The 2011 Chevy Cruze. New GM builds a small car with an interior old GM would never have thought of.

There is no bad choice here, but if it were our dime, we'd take the 1LT just the way Courtesy loaned it to us. The rest can go to insurance, or in the bank. It won't go in the gas tank. The EPA says 24 city/36 highway. We didn't do quite that well, spending virtually the entire week off freeways and on congested surface streets, so our average was only 22.

Still, there's no surprise the Cruze is selling so well, offering basic goodness and a lot of ways to step up. And then there's the Cruze ECO, which we've been promised from Chevy's press fleet next month. The EPA says it'll do 28 in the city and 42 in the highway.