We used to know what to expect from a budget Korean-built family car.
Its design and dynamics would be some distance off the pace set by mainstream alternatives, the interior would be a festival of grey plastics and the engines would maintain a safe distance from the cutting edge.
On the plus side, there would be generous equipment levels and low, low prices.
Chevrolet’s Cruze is a Korean-built family car but even in entry-level 1.6 S form (£13,795 on the road), it isn’t quite what’s expected.
The 1.6 is the entry-level Chevrolet Cruze engine and with 112bhp available, fireworks never look likely. So it proves. Performance is adequate in most situations but this reasonably modern powerplant (it features variable valve timing and cam-phasing) doesn’t have a lot more to give when you need to put your foot down.
The noise levels increase as the rev counter homes in on the redline but without the corresponding boost to performance, the best policy is usually to change up early.
The ride can be jittery over bad surfaces but is generally composed and, appropriately enough, the Cruze is a comfortable cruiser. It also handles much better than expected, resisting roll admirably and showing a nice neutral balance through corners.
The steering in the 1.6-litre models is noticeably sharper and more direct than in the plusher diesel cars which have the extra weight of a big oil-burning engine over their front wheels.
The Cruze is a handsome-looking thing from most angles with the sharp creases around the bonnet and the lower body mixing well with the long curve of the roofline.
he short overhangs front and rear produce a well planted stance on the road and the face is distinctive – large headlights and a tall grille complete with a big yellow Chevrolet bow tie.
Interior space is pretty good for four occupants. Only headroom might become an issue for taller rear seat occupants. The boot can accommodate 450-litres, which is good for the class.
The 1.6S is the entry-level option but it still has the essentials on its equipment list. Features like air-conditioning, remote central locking, a CD stereo with an AUX input for MP3 players and electric front windows are standard.
On the safety front, there’s an equally encouraging showing with the S getting ESC stability control plus front, side and curtain airbags.
The 1.6-litre engine returns a distinctly average 41.5mpg on the combined cycle in the Chevrolet Cruze, with emissions of 159g/km. It’s not going to break the bank but there are more cost-effective options.
If you’re considering a compact saloon from the budget end of the market, Chevrolet’s Cruze deserves at least a portion of your attention.
The problem for Chevrolet is that if you’re a motorist in the UK, the odds are that you aren’t considering anything of the sort – small saloons don’t sell very well in the UK and there are no plans to develop a hatchbacked version.