2011 Chevy Cruze Hits Showrooms This Month

Chevrolet is so confident in its new Cruze (above) that it is asking dealers to purchase Corollas and Civics so buyers can test and measure the competition. Assuming those 3,000 dealers will lay out the cash, that could be a very interesting (unique, as far as I know) marketing move.

Three Cruze trims will bow in late September, with a choice of two engines (the ECO trim, to achieve 40 mpg, comes early next year). Another clever GM move was to pack the base car with lots of standard goodies, things that most people will want and generally have to pay extra to get.

That is a good idea. How many cars have you shopped for, only to find yourself playing the add-on game to get something you really want or need?

The base Cruze LS, for instance, at $16,995 offers about $1,700 more value than a base Civic DX: The Cruze will provide air conditioning, power locks, OnStar and a good nav system, a radio-CD-audio system, StabiliTrak traction control, extra airbags, etc.

A press release details similar Cruze “advantages” over the Focus S, Corolla, and even the car it replaces, the Cobalt. GM touts the car’s success in Europe: Since its 2009 introduction, over 330,000 have been sold there, and it has achieved top safety results in crash tests.

Cruze interiorThe base 1.8 Ecotec engine (138 hp, 123 lb-ft of torque) delivers an EPA-estimated 26 mpg city/36 highway with its standard six-speed transmission. The LT and LTZ models use a new 1.4-liter turbo with more kick (148 lb-ft of torque) and a six-speed automatic.

The Car Connection gave the car an extensive preview drive in April and found it more than competent. Reviewer Bengt Halvorson even did a comparison drive against the Civic and Corolla (maybe giving GM the idea for its dealers?) and liked the Cruze better.

There are reports of a Cruze hatchback that will be shown at the Paris Motor Show later this month, and a high-performance Cruze SS may be in the cards, as GM looks to boost its position in the compact-car market.

The company is serious about remaking its small-car image, and it’s about time.

Can GM actually beat the foreign carmakers in this segment?

—jgoods

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