2011 Chevy Cruze: Up Close

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The 2011 Chevy Cruze, which is already sold in Asia and Europe, has finally appeared in its U.S. form, at the L.A. auto show. As is often the case with long-awaited models, GM has really built up this replacement for the compact Cobalt sedan, claiming it will take on the best-selling cars in the segment, including premium models like the Honda Civic. After our first look, it seems GM has a chance at doing so — at least in some areas.

Interior quality is the main battleground across the market, and in this area the Cruze is pretty impressive (though you have to bear in mind that the two auto show cars are the top, LTZ trim level and are fitted with leather seats, etc.). The first thing you notice is that the door slams with a substantial, satisfying thunk. Without a doubt, the Cruze beats the current Toyota Corolla, which we’ve criticized since its last redesign. The Chevy is more competitive with the likes of the Civic and Mazda3, but I’m not ready to say it’s better. I suspect impressions will differ from one observer to the next — especially when it comes to certain cabin materials. As a renowned hater of silver plastic, I must say the textured, faux-metal surfaces in the Cruze are quite nice. I also like the woven-fabric dashboard elements in the red show car. They work in black; in another color, who knows? The other show car has tan leather in its place, so this rough-hewn material isn’t your only choice.

MMS ID 69671 (created by CM Utility) automatic-content-migration

The Cruze’s edge may be its size; it’s larger than the competition in both cabin and trunk space. Exceptionally long travel in the driver’s seat provides a lot of legroom. The backseat is also pretty roomy for the class, with enough headroom for me, at 6 feet tall. Legroom is good back there, but if you move the driver’s seat all the way back, it all but disappears.

Based on its roominess — and mileage as high as 40 mpg with an optional turbocharged four-cylinder engine — the Cruze is off to a good start. The rest depends on what you think of its styling, inside and out, and of how it drives. And we’re as anxious to find out about that as you are.

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Former Executive Editor Joe Wiesenfelder, a launch veteran, led the car evaluation effort. He owns a 1984 Mercedes 300D and a 2002 Mazda Miata SE. Email Joe Wiesenfelder

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