It would be fair to say that most entry-level US market cars don’t get much praise from visitors from this side of the pond. We fetch up at the AvisHertzDollarBudget counter, bleary-eyed after 8-12 hours crammed into an aluminium tube, eventually get handed a solitary key and find, after a search through a car park the size of some English counties, that we have to actually insert said key in a lock, and, shock, manually crank open the glass to eradicate the stale odour of the previous renter’s fried chicken dinner. Whadya mean no remote lock ‘plipper’ or, at the very least, electric front windows?
Used to paying far more than our transatlantic cousins for small cars, we have at least been placated somewhat by what, in recent years, has become a pretty generous level of standard kit, even in entry-level versions. So I eyed the list of goodies in GM’s next rental desk base model special with some interest. Remote locks? Check. Cool air? Check. Fast glass? Check. Free-trial satellite radio? Check. And stability control, anti-lock brakes and 10 airbags should some jet-lagged Limey forget which side of the road to drive on.
Of course, Messers Hertz or Avis might wish to discuss a special run of ‘fleet models’ that have far less of the above to keep the price down but we can live in hope. And that the cheapskate renter also gets the 1.4-litre turbo engine with more torque and better fuel economy than the standard 1.8.
While the Cruze is barely a blip on the radar over here – Chevys are not sold in the same dealerships as GM’s volume Vauxhall brand – it’s clearly going to be big in the US. The Ohio plant, which built the Cobalt predecessor, will run three shifts and GM is also spending big on making EcoTec engines in three plants. Cruze publicity has been cranked out for a couple of years now and a certain Mr Obama has been seen on national TV with prototype Cruze bodyshells in the background as he addressed the Lordstown workforce.
As well as doing sterling duty on rental and company fleets, the Cruze will also introduce some buyers to Chevrolet for the first time. It’s not the smallest Chevy but it is bound to be on some parents’ ‘college car’ consideration lists as Jr heads back after the summer break.
It will also introduce Americans to something we in Europe have had for a while – small engines turbo-boosted to give torque outputs in particular comparable to a size or two above. How buyers in a market where cubes once counted will react to ‘only a 1.4’ in the showroom spec comparison remains to be seen. All it would take would be another fuel price spike. Or a demonstration drive up an LA freeway on-ramp without getting swallowed whole by a fast-upcoming Hummer.
I’ll be watching this one with interest.