The Chevy Cruze is, relatively speaking, still in its infancy but the car has sold in large numbers since it was launched in 2009. Over 1.3 million units of the saloon and hatchback versions have been gobbled up worldwide and Chevrolet hopes to sell even more with the introduciton a new Cruze station wagon (that's 'estate' if you speak the queen's English). Chevy hopes the car will appeal to those who loved the styling of the hatch and saloon versions but need a car with more space to haul the baggage that comes with family life.
The Cruze station wagon shares a lot of similarities with its hatchback and saloon brothers. Chevy hasn't meddled with the attractive front end, which wears a huge Chervolet bow tie badge smack bang in the middle of a nose section that has a good blend of curves and straight edges. The sides sport the now almost de facto swage lines -- creases that run the length of the doors -- to help break up what is otherwise a fairly generic profile. The rear is slightly uninspiring, but far from offensive. On the whole, it's a smart-looking car.
Chevrolet has made the station wagon slightly longer, wider and taller than the saloon. The increased exterior dimensions allow for lots of room on the inside. The luggage area can pack away 500 litres of stuff by default and this grows to a very respectable 1,478 litres with the rear seats folded flat. We found this was enough room to accommodate pretty much anything, including awkward loads such as a pair of bicycles with plenty of room left over for odds and ends.
Up front, there's a decent amount of space. The door bins are large enough to accommodate 500ml drinks bottles, and the centre console is home to adjustable cup holders, which have a movable central divider. This lets you adjust the size of the holders so you can accommodate everything from small yogurt pots to take-away meal containers. The glove box, which keeps items refrigerated via ducting from the air conditioning system, is an ample size but the centre cubby is a little on the small side.
Performance & Handling
The Cruze Station Wagon is available with 1.4-litre turbocharged, 1.6-litre and 1.8-litre petrol units as well as 1.7-litre or 2-litre diesel engines. The 1.8-litre petrol with automatic transmission is decidedly uninteresting. It feels sluggish for a unit of this size, is noisy when pushed and few of the 141 horses beneath the bonnet seem bothered about getting anywhere in a hurry. Hopping into a Cruze powered by the new 1.7-litre diesel is a revelation by comparison. The car feels transformed with this engine, thanks to snappy throttle response, eager acceleration and decent refinement at any speed.
The ride is fine for the most part, though it does feel slightly skittish on rough surfaces. It was was fine on the well-ironed roads of Cologne where we tested the car but we don't expect it'll perform quite as well on the weathered beaten, council-neglected roads of the UK.
The steering feels remarkably light, which is both a blessing and a curse. It's fine when negotiating traffic at low speed, but it makes the car feel a little too twitchy when the speedo reads anything north of 20mph. Feedback is also thin on the ground. If you're pushing on, it can be hard to detect just how much grip you have left remaining until the car starts to understeer. Ultimately, this is a car that does its best work trudging along at low speed or cruising at medium velocities on the motorway.
Economy & environment
The most frugal engine in the lineup is the 1.7-litre diesel, which delivers 52mpg while emitting 119g/km of CO2. The 2-litre diesel lump isn't far behind on 49mpg but its 126g/km places it in a higher VED band, so it'll cost you £70 more to tax every 12 months. The automatic transmission version of the 2-litre diesel engine isn't worth bothering with unless you're exceptionally lazy, as it puts the car in yet a VED bracket that's higher still.
The petrols are even less frugal. The 1.8-litre manual transmission option returns 35mpg and 156g/km, while its automatic transmission counterpart claims 32.7mpg and 170g/km.
Equipment & Value
The Cruze comes in LS, LT and LTZ trim levels. The entry-level LS, priced at £15,375, bags you the 1.6-litre petrol engine with manual transmission, air conditioning, follow-me-home headlamps, electrically heated and adjustable wing mirrors, front electric windows, roof rails, rear and boot 12v power sockets, cargo restraint hooks, remote central locking, electronic stability control and traction control as standard.
£16,475 bags you the LT spec, which gives you a choice of 1.6-litre petrol manual, 1.8-litre petrol auto or 1.7-litre diesel manual propulsion. Inside, LT adds a leather steering wheel and gear knob, rear parking distance sensors, front fog lamps, cruise control, electric rear windows and 16-inch alloys.
The top of the ladder LTZ, priced at £19,785, comes with the 1.7-litre diesel, a sat-nav and Chevrolet's MyWay infotainment system, which lets you view photo galleries and play movies while the car is stationary. LTZ also brings 17-inch wheels, a rear view camera, electronic climate control and a rear view mirror that dims automatically to stop idiots blinding you with their high beams.
It's unlikely you'll bother to push the Cruze beyond its limits -- it's just not that sort of car -- but you should be safe and sound if the worst happens. All versions of the Cruze come with ABS brakes and electronic stability control. The car also gets front, side and roof curtain airbags and the saloon was hardy enough to score a 5-star Euro NCAP rating, so this estate model should be pretty sturdy too.
The Chevrolet Cruze is a car you'll buy with your head rather than your heart. It won't set your pulse racing, but it ticks most of the boxes required. It's a good looking, spacious estate that is easy to live with day to day. It's not the most thrilling car to drive, but it provides good value for money and, while it's unlikely to inspire, it's also unlikely to disappoint.
Model tested: Chevrolet Cruze SW 1.7 VCDi LTZ Nav
Engine: 1.7L diesel MT
Acceleration: 0-62mph in 10.4 seconds
Top speed: 124mph
Emissions: 119g/km CO2