The perk of having a big brother with all the top tech and gadgetry is that you stand next in line to receive the hand-me-downs. Whilst kids might frown upon wearing second hand clothes, the Chevrolet Cruze stands prouder than ever with its new Opel-sourced 1.4-litre turbocharged engine.
The Cruze has already been using Opel’s Delta II chassis platform since it first surfaced, but when we last tested the Cruze with its normally aspirated 1.8-litre engine, it felt a little lacklustre and flat, especially at Johannesburg altitude. However, with the introduction of the 1.4-Litre turbocharged engine developing 103kW and 200Nm, the nature of the beast has changed dramatically.
The engine, found in the Opel Astra 1.4T, adds much to the Cruze, and although prone to turbo-lag, once it comes into boost range above 3000 rpm, the power delivery comes through in a surge of force-fed goodness. Amplified by the slick, short-throw 6-speed manual gearbox and a well-weighted clutch, the engine offers consistent power when needed, although it does feel a little flat and drawn out in 3rd gear. With 103kW on tap, the Cruze is now able to comfortably achieve a sub-10 second 0-100km/h dash.
But the Cruze isn’t just all grunt with no way of containing it. Chevrolet have managed to work with their comfortable suspension setup and the Delta II chassis and have found a way of creating an almost perfect balance between well damped, compliant suspension and a firm, communicative ride that supports the Cruze through bends and corners, and traverses poorly surfaced roads with ease and comfort.
The interior of the Cruze has been upgraded accordingly, and with the optional leather upholstery equipped on my test unit, I found myself supported perfectly by the well bolstered seats, which offered brilliant side-support through the bends, and excellent comfort levels at all other stages of my drive. The leather steering wheel, adapted from that of the Opel, matched the seats in its lively ability, with thumb-grips positioned perfectly, and a direct nature inherent from the Opel Astra. Whilst there was a bit too much play around the centre for my liking, the steering weighted up nicely at higher speeds and provided accurate, direct communication with sharp responses – far surpassing my expectations from something with no sporting connotation to it.
The rest of the interior has also been updated somewhat in terms of build quality and finishes. The leather upholstery no longer feels tacky as it once did, and the backlighting behind the instruments and the radio are softer on the eyes. The soft-touch dash exudes perceived quality and after a few minutes of playing around, it is clear the build quality has improved dramatically. With its clean lines and wrap-around design, and the metallic silver and gloss black console design, the Cruze offers a joyful environment for the every day drive. With the optional Jet Black leather interior, 17-inch alloys, and “Driver’s Pack” consisting of climate control and rear park assist, the Cruze LS 1.4T hatch is surprisingly light on the wallet, priced at only R256 300 despite the extras. Included on the LS package as standard are steering wheel mounted controls, cruise control, and USB and auxiliary connectivity, making the Cruze a value-for money contender in the segment. The Cruze however would be better off with the option of having the MyLink touch-screen infotainment system, which ahs yet to be added to the extras list.
Priced perfectly, with options included, the Cruze Turbo offers a wonderfully repackaged Opel Astra at a discount rate. Whilst the looks of the hatch may be slightly wayward – buy the sedan if you want our suggestion – the interior quality, effective engine, supreme stability and cabin insulation combined with a great price and fantastic dynamics result in a package that’s now hard to ignore. The Cruze’s styling does have a downside on the fuel economy front over the Astra, but despite this, the Chev sipped only 7l/100km, and still offered grunt when needed.
Gone is the Cruze that remained distinctly “a rebadged Daewoo” in the back of the public’s mind; the Cruze Turbo is positively classy, dynamic, and fantastic to live with. Big brother Opel may need to watch his back with the Cruze turbo around, it certainly wears the “hand-me-down” engine well. If only Chevrolet would produce a slightly warmer version with an RS badge, a 1.6T borrowed from Opel, and a sportier kit then we’d truly be in love. Chevrolet, please?
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103kW @ 4900-6000RPM
200Nm @ 1850-4900RPM
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Author: Roger Biermann