This Optra replacement is all-new, but its name is not.
Chevrolet once employed the “Cruze” moniker for a Japan-only model based on the now defunct Suzuki Ignis.
That first Cruze was built and sold by Suzuki, which used to be partially owned by General Motors, until the cash-strapped American automaker divested its 20 percent shareholding in 2006.
Today, GM is more cash-strapped than ever and facing bankruptcy.
But the new Cruze shows that GM still knows how to make good cars that offer great value for money.
Forget Saab, Pontiac and Hummer. Forget the Corvette and Camaro, too.
GM should go back to basics, and honest-to-goodness cars like the Cruze are exactly what the automotive giant needs to get up to speed again.
The new Cruze couldn’t have come sooner.
Underneath the Magnum facelift of the current Optra lies a Daewoo of yore, namely the 2003 Nubira, which is anything but nubile.
When the competition these days is in the fine form of the Kia Cerato Forte and Hyundai Avante, the Optra Magnum looks pretty mediocre.
The Cruze, in contrast, looks quite spectacular.
Styled in South Korea by a multi-national team of designers, it is said to debut Chevrolet’s new global design language.
Central to this is that handsome nose, which sports a double-decker honeycomb grille “dissected” by a body-coloured crossbar that carries Chevrolet’s gold bowtie emblem.
Chevys before this already have a colour-coded crossbar “cutting” the grille, but the Cruze’s front end is more assertive and, ultimately, more attractive.
The rest of the Cruze’s exterior flows smoothly from bumper to bumper and arches stylishly from pillar to pillar, with a planted stance to boot.
There’s attention to detail, too, with the fuel filler flap, for example, specially shaped to follow the sculpted bodyside contours.
Perfect panel gaps and lustrous paintwork complete the Cruze’s quality appearance.
The good news continues inside the cabin. Generous dimensions, particularly the lengthy 2685mm wheelbase, coupled with efficient packaging that belies the curvy body, are translated into loads of interior space that make the Optra feel positively cramped.
There is seemingly as much rear legroom as in the larger Epica, while headroom is surprisingly “high” considering the sharply sloped roofline.
Shoulder space is excellent for two occupants and decent for three.
Their feet also enjoy plenty of “parking” space beneath the front seats.
The best deal on board, however, is reserved for the driver and co-driver.
Optra owners will be shocked at how the cockpit has been transformed from ordinary to extraordinary.
It wouldn’t look out of place in a fancy concept car circa 2002.
The steering wheel, for example, is almost avant-garde in its design, while the instrument cluster nestled behind and backlit in cool blue is as contemporary as they come.
Very modern, too, is the centre console, whose infotainment and air-con array is both elegant and ergonomic.
A terrific touch is the swathe of fabric across the dash panel, with matching inserts for the doors and seats.
Leather is available, but its vinyl-like texture, at least in the Cruze test cars we tried, makes cloth our preferred upholstery.
The woven textile of the cabin headlining, by the way, is unusually classy.
The Chevy isn’t perfect, of course. Some plastic parts feel tacky and the handbrake is a little flimsy.
But the interior as a whole is hugely impressive by budget saloon standards.
It’s a practical place, too, thanks to numerous storage points.
These include roomy door pockets, useful utility hooks, a spacious two-tier glovebox and versatile 60/40 split-fold rear seat backs with dual cupholders in the centre armrest.
The trunk (this is an “American” car after all) is 10 percent bigger than before, with a capacity of 450 litres.
At the other end of the Cruze, under the bonnet, is the latest 4-cylinder, Euro 5 motor from GM.
Put together by Opel engineers, who will also use it in the upcoming Astra replacement, the DOHC powerplant is available as a 1.6 or 1.8.
Its technical features include variable valve timing on both the intake and exhaust phases, an electronic throttle and improved cooling performance.
The “hot” figures are 113bhp for the 1.6-litre and 141bhp for the 1.8-litre tested here.
Either a light-shifting 5-speed manual or a slick 6-speed automatic – the latter likely to be a strong selling point for the Cruze in Singapore – handles transmission duties.
We tried the 1.6 manual and the 1.8 auto. The driving position is natural and affords a clear view outwards, making it even easier to work the gearbox and control the car.
Both engines are quite peaky and need at least 4000rpm on the clock before they get into their stride, but the bigger-capacity unit clearly has a stronger spread of torque across the entire rev range.
It’s a good thing, too, that you don’t have to stretch the 1.8 as much as the 1.6 to get a move on, because it sounds rough near the redline.
The 1.6-litre is always a sweeter worker, whether just “cruzing” along or rushing.
The ride quality is just right.
It’s pliant enough to absorb most tarmac imperfections, yet firm enough to feel “connected” to the road, especially over undulations.
Handling-wise, the Cruze controls body roll well and generates more grip than its slipshod OE Kumhos can muster.
But steering feedback is absent and it all feels functional rather than fun.
Compared to the Optra, the Cruze is a lot quieter and much tighter on the go.
Significant structural improvements, like a 140 percent increase in torsional rigidity, the use of 50 percent more high-strength steels and 30 per cent more spot welding, contribute greatly to this.
Also helping are the car’s comprehensive insulation measures.
On the safety front, the Cruze is covered by no less than six airbags as standard, a full set of five pre-tensioned 3-point seat belts, collapsible pedals and a provisional 5-star Euro NCAP occupant protection rating.
Even pedestrians who are hit by the Cruze are protected by a bonnet design that mitigates such impacts.
With the new Cruze coming soon, the old Optra Magnum is but a fast fading memory for cost-conscious motorists.
It won’t be totally forgotten, though, because Chevrolet intends to do a Lancer EX/GLX and continue selling the Thai-made Optra alongside its shiny successor shipped over from South Korea.
Chevrolet Cruze 1.8 (A)
Type Inline-4, 16-valves
Bore x stroke 80.5mm x 88.2mm
Compression ratio 10.5:1
Max power 141bhp at 6200rpm
Max torque 176Nm at 3800rpm
Power to weight 107.2bhp per tonne
Gearbox 6-speed automatic
Driven wheels Front
0-100km/h 11.5 seconds
Top speed 190km/h
Consumption 12.8km/L (combined)
Front MacPherson struts, coil springs
Rear Torsion beam, coil springs
Front / Rear Ventilated discs / Discs
Type Kumho Solus KH17
Size 205/60 R16
Traction aids ABS, traction control
Kerb weight 1315kg
Turning circle 10.9m
Price incl. COE To be advised
Warranty 3 years/100,000km
+ Modern and handsome design throughout, well-equipped and well-insulated interior, comfortable ride and easy drivability|
– Cut-price plastics here and there, standard tyres hamper the handling, will cost more than the Optra Magnum