Initial entry into the local market was met by mixed reviews from industry pundits. Some questioned the WTCC branding that was being used to sell the Cruze, especially since the car displayed lackluster road going demeanor at best. Others asked if the market needed another compact sedan in an age where the subcompact car and compact SUV segments are clearly dominant. Most just eagerly awaited the car that was supposed to turn Chevy’s local fortunes around.
A bigger question loomed as well. Would it be possible for the Cruze to cement itself as a legitimate option, if not prove itself as a superior product, to long standing vanilla compact sedan standards like the Corolla, Lancer, and Civic? And could it meet the challenge of the other global American in its segment, the Ford Focus?
Its 2010 - 2011 Car of the Year Philippines (COTY-P) accolade must have definitely helped the suits at the Covenant Car Company Inc. (TCCCI), Chevrolet's local importer and distributor, sleep better, probably even gotten them raises. It has to be asked though if outside of this pat on the back by the motoring media, if the car became any more relevant or even remotely exciting to the jaded Filipino car buyer?
Turbo + Diesel
In its original gasoline powered form, with modest numbers in power, torque, and fuel efficiency, the answer is a clear no. But both the questions of relevance and a modicum of excitement have thankfully been answered. The solution comes from an unsung hero that is bringing life back into otherwise overlooked vehicles across all market segments.
Adding the words turbo and diesel may be the best thing that will ever happen to the Philippine saga of the Cruze. Short of a limited run, factory ready ode to the WTCC, this is about it.
You basically take the line-leading gasoline LT model with the 6-speed auto box, the extra airbags, and leather seating; and throw out the ho-hum gasoline engine. In its place goes a VM Motori designed and GM-Daewoo produced turbo diesel - a proper modern turbo diesel if I may add.
Power is up to 150 horses, peaking at 4,000 rpm and ample, if not excessive, torque at 320 Nm at just a mere 2,000 rpm. One wonders though why they left out the Stability Enhancement and Traction Control on the diesel as it will definitely ask more questions of the chassis’ road holding ability than the gasoline powered LT.
Six Speed Wonder
All is not rosy for the diesel Cruze though. There is a gap though in the product’s impressive improvement and this can likely be attributed to either the 6-speed auto box or the fly by wire throttle system, but it is probably a combination of both. This results in a Cruze less manic and more acceptable to those that seek a smooth and adrenaline-free drive.
Chevy claim a quick jog to 100 km/h from a dead stop in 9.9 seconds. That really should not be the case with all that torque on tap, from so early on in the rpm band. Personally, I would suffer a rougher transmission and more responsive throttle to get that extra oomph that the diesel Cruze seems to be still holding back. Come to think of it, the addition of a clutch pedal and six forward gears would do wonders for this car.
The Cruze Story
It would have been great to say that the Chevrolet Cruze is now the undisputed product leader in the compact sedan segment. Heck, who knows, maybe I’d find one on my doorstep if I did. But the reality is that it is not.
While the addition of a diesel to the Cruze line-up assures more relevance than most cars in its segment, it is in the execution where it comes up short and denies it the ability to challenge for dominance. At least, for a P1,313,888 tag price, the Cruze is now an option to more prominent models in the market segment and does well to edge out some of the more venerable designs. That, by itself, is already quite an achievement.
Let’s just hope that other manufacturers with compact sedans are keen on watching the Cruze story. More modern turbo diesels will only help deepen interest in a floundering segment and provide both fun and frugal options to the Filipino driver.