Tag Archives: Chevrolet

Longer, lower… lighter

Significant changes are coming in the 2016 Chevrolet Cruze (Image: General Motors)

Significant changes are in store for the 2016 Chevrolet Cruze (Image: General Motors)

2016 Chevy Cruze gains power, too


After selling eleventy billion Cruze models in North America since the fall of 2010, it was time for something new from Chevrolet.

Last week’s unveiling of the second-generation of the brand’s big-selling compact sedan showed that a commitment to space and economy is still top of mind amongst GM brass.

And how could it not be, with the Cruze being such a big name in the ever-competitive compact sedan market?

Interior of the 2016 Cruze (Image: General Motors)

Interior of the 2016 Cruze (Image: General Motors)

The 2016 Cruze gains all-new looks and dimensions, coming in an inch lower, 2.7 inches longer, and a whopping 250 pounds lighter than outgoing models.

The ‘more space, less weight’ approach was recently tried on the 2016 Malibu, and like that model, the stretch should aid rear seat legroom.

The weight loss, coupled with a slippery new body, will allow the car to achieve 40 MPG (U.S.) on the highway, according to GM estimates. Before, only the specialized (but popular) Eco model broke the 40 MPG barrier.

Under the hood, the base 1.8-litre four has been mothballed, replaced by a standard 1.4-litre direct-injection turbo four.

The new engine, which comes with start/stop technology sees horsepower bumped to 153, compared to 138 on older models. Torque sees a big boost – 177 lb-ft, versus the 148 cranked out by the previous 1.4-litre.

(As the owner of a current 1.4-litre Cruze, I can only imagine how well this power increase would improve the vehicle’s performance, especially in hilly terrain)

Specs provided by GM show a slight displacement increase over the previous 1.4-litre – 1399 cubic centimetres versus 1364.

The 2016 Cruze is seeking a competitive edge over its rivals (Image: General Motors)

The 2016 Cruze is seeking a competitive edge over its rivals (Image: General Motors)

A 6-speed automatic and 6-speed manual will be available, while it looks like the triple-overdrive setup offered on the 1st Generation Eco models will be retired.

On the niceties front, the top-level LTZ will be replaced by a ‘Premiere’ trim line, while the addition of an ‘L’ version below the familiar LS and LT hints that Chevy might be pursuing a low entry level price.

A new diesel model will bow for 2017, the company claims.

The 2nd Generation Cruze is expected in dealerships in early 2016.

Britain sends an Envoy

1961 Envoy F-Series, spotted in Gatineau (Hull Sector), Quebec.

1961 Envoy F-Series, spotted in Gatineau (Hull Sector), Quebec.

When was the last time you saw someone driving an Envoy?

And no, I’m not talking about that innocuous SUV of the pre-bankruptcy GM era.

Canada’s mid-century love affair with cheap British imports is a well-known phenomenon, and this rare rolling artifact is another piece of that story.

The Vauxhall Victor F-Series was one of Britain’s most popular exports, with hundreds of thousands snapped up by cost-conscious buyers around the globe.

The model debuted in 1957 with distinctly American styling, but tell-tale British size. Powered by a 1.5-litre four-cylinder making 55 horsepower, the model wasn’t particularly fast, but by all accounts it was durable and reliable.

A three-speed column-mounted manual transmission put the power to the rear wheels.

The 'Longer, lower, wider' mantra of the 1950s doesn't seem to apply to the Envoy.

The ‘longer, lower, wider’ mantra of the 1950s doesn’t seem to apply to the Envoy.

In North America, Vauxhall Victors were sold through GM dealerships – Pontiac and Buick ones, to be exact – alongside their massive American brethren.

That left the other half of the GM stable (minus Cadillac) without a cheap import to sell.

Enter the Envoy.

Sold at Chevrolet and Oldsmobile dealers in Canada starting in 1959, the Envoy F-Series was a Vauxhall Victor with different options and better trim. Nowhere on the body is it mentioned that the vehicle is entirely a Vauxhall.

1960 Envoy ad. Notice the lack of colour on the car they call 'colourful'.

1960 Envoy ad. Notice the lack of colour on the car they call ‘colourful’.

Two-tone paint and interior fabrics showed that Britain was easing out of its postwar slump, and was now able to appreciate (and offer) nicer things.

Note: the aftermarket rims and mirror dice on this pristine example did not come from 1959. Not even close.

The Envoy, like the Victor, lasted in the Canadian market until 1970. The first generation, with its 1950s proportions, lasted until 1961, before Vauxhall adopted a modern, Ford Falcon-esque styling treatment.

This example wore vintage 1961 Quebec plates, marking it was the last year of the first generation, and a badge showing its sale at a Farnham, Quebec Chev-Olds dealer.

Once commonplace, these imports are now a distant memory for older Canadians. Though imports of Vauxhalls died off, overseas GM subsidiaries (Europe’s Vauxhall and Opel, Australia’s Holden) now share hardware and designs with many of their American counterparts.

Are those 13-inchers?

Are those 13-inchers?

Camaro, volume 6

2016 Chevrolet Camaro (Image: General Motors)

2016 Chevrolet Camaro SS (Image: General Motors)

Last week’s launch of the 6th Generation Chevrolet Camaro was the biggest thing to hit Detroit since Chapter 9 bankruptcy.

For everyone who traditionally passes over the fabled (and sometimes maligned) muscle car, the newest version is something to take notice of.

To better do battle with its closest competitor – the Ford Mustang – and to ditch its lingering reputation as a gas-guzzling lead sled, the 2016 Camaro has shed weight, length and undergone a careful restyle.

Underpinned by the taught Cadillac ATS platform, the Camaro will offer its first 4-cylinder engine in over three decades.

Unlike the rough and tepid ‘Iron Duke’ 2.5-litre that graced Camaros between 1982 and 1984, the 2016 Camaro’s smallest motor is a turbocharged 2.0-litremaking a very respectable 275 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque.

To put that into perspective, the new four makes 185 more horsepower than the dismal Iron Duke. Ain’t technology grand?

When Chevy first introduced a 4-cylinder Camaro in 1982, it 'boasted' 90 horsepower.

When Chevy first introduced a 4-cylinder Camaro in 1982, it ‘boasted’ 90 horsepower.

Filling out the range of engines are a direct-injection 3.6-litre V6 making 335 hp and a 6.2-litre V8 making 455 hp. All three engines can be paired with GM’s new 8-speed automatic, though a 6-speed manual remains available.

Chevy put Camaro #6 on a diet before taking off the wraps, shaving off over 200 pounds to make the vehicle sportier and more fuel efficient. A 1.5-inch shorter wheelbase and 2-inch shorter body helps those attributes even more.

GM estimates that the 2.0-litre version will make over 30 miles per gallon (U.S.) on the highway.

From a distance, the profile of the new Camaro seems pretty much like the old one, but up close the differences are legion. Every element of the design looks better than what came before.

According to GM, “only two parts carry over from the fifth-generation Camaro to the new Gen Six: the rear bowtie emblem and the SS badge.”

Refinement seemed to be the name of the game when it came time to sculpt this Camaro. There was clearly a need to make people who would never stop to look at (or consider buying) a Camaro suddenly stop and take notice of it.

2016 Chevrolet Camaro RS (Image: General Motors)

2016 Chevrolet Camaro RS (Image: General Motors)

A close friend of the author, whose heart belongs solely to the Dodge Challenger, responded with a “wow” upon seeing images of the 2016 Camaro.

In its coverage, Forbes magazine declared that the muscle car had become “a different animal” in the wake of the launch, what the new model’s nod to both tradition and modern advancements in efficiency.

After it goes on sale later this year, it would be shocking to not see sales figures rise for the Camaro. No doubt Ford is casting a wary glance in its direction, and Dodge too, for that matter.


A whole new ‘Bu

The 2013-2015 Chevrolet Malibu ('15 seen here) will be a distant memory once the new model arrives, hints GM (Image: General Motors)

The 2013-2015 Chevrolet Malibu (’15 seen here) will be a distant memory once the new model arrives, hints GM (Image: General Motors)

2016 Malibu to repent for sins of the past

It’s no question that the current generation Chevrolet Malibu has been something of a failure to launch, posting declining sales figures even as a car-hungry public mobs dealerships in search of new rides.

Even with a name as recognizable as they come, Chevrolet hasn’t seen the same success with the Malibu that almost every other mass-produced midsize on the market has as of late. Sales of the Malibu have dropped since its 2013 model year introduction, despite an emergency styling refresh for 2014.

This is something of a fluke for a model that is normally quite consistent in sales, and it seems to have jarred the folks over at General Motors.

Heading towards the April 1 unveiling of the all-new 2016 Malibu at the New York Auto Show, GM appears ready to try and win back lost ground with their bread-and-butter midsize, even going as far as releasing a teaser video featuring a camouflaged test vehicle undergoing a torture test.




It’s hard to see under all the wrappings, but GM states the new ‘Bu will be based on all-new architecture, feature four extra inches of wheelbase (translating into better rear legroom and interior volume), and tempt buyers with a sleeker roofline and profile.

About 300 pounds lighter than the current model, the slimmed-down 2016 Malibu promises to make mileage gains from its 2.0 and 2.5-litre four-bangers.

All of these changes are in response to criticisms of the 2013-2015 model, which was either too cramped, too heavy, too bland or too thirsty, depending on who wrote the review.

A wheelbase stretch should give the 2016 Malibu a sleeker profile than present (Image: General Motors)

A wheelbase stretch should give the 2016 Malibu a sleeker profile than present (Image: General Motors)

To show prospective customers that the Ninth Generation Malibu will be Like a Rock as well as Tried, Tested and True, Chevy claims that 43 years of data collected from their car’s onboard spy modules went into the development of the new sedan.

This information, sourced from the Nixon era onwards, supposedly helps Chevy determine how to plan for – and prevent – vehicle wear.

Will the new Malibu wear on people’s patience, or return the model name to prominence? We’ll find out once it goes on sale in the fall of this year.





Recapturing the spark

Rough road ahead for Chevy Volt ‘2.0’ ?


Featuring longer range and other improvements, the 2016 Chevy Volt goes on sale in the second half of 2015 (Image: General Motors)

Featuring a longer range and new styling, the 2016 Chevy Volt goes on sale in the latter half of 2015 (Image: General Motors)

The next-generation Chevrolet Volt has been revealed, and yes, it does look a lot like a 2013 Honda Civic (with a bit of Acura TL thrown in).

With that admission out of the way, let’s explore the car itself, and the challenges it faces in today’s market.

Chevy’s ground breaking Volt, first sold in the U.S. in late 2010, showed car buyers that a middle ground could exist between hybrids and full-electric vehicles – one that prevented range anxiety while still being as green as the owner wanted.

Unusually proportioned at release, the Volt’s design quickly aged, and its exclusivity eroded as competitors began emerging in the form of plug-in hybrids and new EVs.

While Tesla’s Model S has since provided the market with a truly viable long-range EV, newer plug-ins took the hybrid concept and added a longer all-electric range (via a larger battery pack).

Sales of the first-generation Volt slipped in 2014.

Sales of the first-generation Volt slipped in 2014.

The Volt, which offered about 40 miles (65 km) of all-electric range, sort of split the difference between the plug-in hybrids and lower-end EVs like the Nissan Leaf.

But the market has proven a tough one – for hybrids and EVs. Sales targets for vehicles like the Volt (as well as market share predictions for EVs) didn’t materialize, even though high gas prices accompanied the Volt’s introduction in late 2010 and continued until the latter half of 2014.

Sales figures show a marked drop in Volt sales in 2014 (18,805 U.S. sales) when compared to the two previous years (23,461 and 23,094 in 2012 and 2013, respectively).

The Volt’s declining fortunes in 2014 could be attributed to a number of factors – increased competition, an aging exterior, and the oil crash late in the year. Whatever the reason, GM knew an update was needed and had an extensive re-work planned for some time.


Under (its) skin


Still a liftback, the 2016 Volt adds an extra passenger seat in the back (Image: General Motors)

Still a liftback, the 2016 Volt adds an extra passenger seat in the back (Image: General Motors)

The 2015 Volt bows with a new (yet strangely familiar) body – certainly leaner and far less awkward-looking than before – as well as improved electric range and gas mileage. Acceleration is improved, and a fifth seat has been added to the interior.

The Volt’s electric drive unit has shed 100 pounds, and its newly enlarged 18.4 kWh battery pack is now 21 pounds lighter, thanks to a fewer number of cells. Electric range has been boosted to 50 miles (80.5 km), with an improved total range of over 400 miles (644 km) made possible by a direct-injected 1.5-litre four-cylinder gas generator.

In comparison, the first-generation Volt’s 1.4-litre unit returned worse mileage and ran on premium fuel.

Chevrolet claims that all of these improvements came from suggestions posed by existing Volt owners. Clearly, those owners wanted some more low-end ‘oomph’, because the new Volt’s drivetrain launches the car to 30 mph (48.3 km/h) 19% faster than before.

Owners of first-generation Volts were consulted during the design process for the 2016 model.

Owners of first-generation Volts were consulted during the design process for the 2016 model.

When I test drove a Volt in 2011 I noticed that the low-end acceleration, while buttery smooth, was more tepid than I had been expecting. It gave the car a feeling of being slightly overweight.

The boosted low-end grunt means a seven percent improvement in the Volt’s zero-to-60 (0-97 km/h) time. It now takes 8.4 seconds to reach highway speeds.

As well, the Volt’s brakes have been swapped for ones that offers better regenerative braking ‘feel’, and its portable charging cord set has been redesigned to be simpler and more compact.

No doubt many a Volt owner spent a very involved evening with his GM questionnaire.


What the future holds


My crystal ball isn’t returning a prediction, because it doesn’t exist.

If demand for hybrids and EVs were solely due to high gas prices, it would be safe to say the Volt – no matter how improved – will go over like a lead balloon. But that isn’t the case, and never has been.

The relatively high cost of hybrids and EVs always outweighed the inherent savings in gas and maintenance, so oil and gas prices can’t be the sole determining factor. After all, while sales of the Volt declined in topsy-turvy 2014, sales of the Nissan LEAF rose compared to previous years.

People who found the previous Volt an attractive buy back in 2010/2011 will likely think the new and improved Volt is that much better. More versatility and more refinements equal an attractive car, no?

While the 2016 Volt – which goes on sale in the second half of this year – won’t likely be remembered as a modern-day Edsel, it does have a tough slog ahead of it. Beating away competition, both gas-powered and electric, while carving a thin slice of market share for itself won’t be any easier than it was five years ago.




My kingdom for a Ute

1978-79 Chevrolet El Camino, spotted in Hull, Quebec.

1978-79 Chevrolet El Camino, spotted in Hull, Quebec.

Of all the extinct American cars I’d like to see resurrected, the Chevrolet El Camino tops the list (the Lincoln Continental, ideally with suicide doors, is a close second).

It’s been 27 years since the last El Caminos rolled off U.S. assembly lines, bringing an end to the car-pickup era. Despite having been produced since 1959 (with a gap between ’60 and ’64), by the end of its life the midsize sedan-turned-pickup had gained a somewhat undeserved stigma as the ride du jour of hillbillies and moonshiners.

Designed to compete with the Ford Ranchero (introduced in 1957), the El Camino was initially based off the full-size Impala for ’59-60, before switching to the mid-size Chevelle platform from ’64 onwards. From 1978 to 1987, a slightly lengthened Malibu platform was put to work underpinning the fifth and last generation of El Camino. Despite being associated with the U.S. (especially the Southern U.S.), the car-pickup – aka the coupé utility, aka the ‘ute’ – was an invention and treasured automotive oddity of Her Majesty’s Commonwealth of Australia.

First marketed by Ford of Australia in 1934, the new body style was created in response to a 1932 letter from a lady who asked if they could build her a vehicle that could drive her to church on Sunday, while still being able to haul livestock on Monday.

2010-2011 Holden Ute. Since the mid-1930s, GM's Australian division has been cranking out Utes without stopping (image: OSX/Wikimedia Commons)

2010-2011 Holden Ute. Since the mid-1930s, GM’s Australian division has been cranking out Utes without stopping (image: OSX/Wikimedia Commons)

The need to compete with this strange new vehicle hybrid led General Motors subsidiary Holden to bring a ute to market the following year. The Holden Ute is still in existence, and speculation has been neverending about a Chevrolet-badged version coming to our shores.*

(* Note: while I love the idea of a returning El Camino – something that probably won’t happen for years, if ever – I despise the Holden Ute’s roofline. That pinched effect where the door frame and C-pillar meet turns me off. Having the door integrated into a solid sail panel, like on El Caminos of the 60s and 70s, would eliminate this effect, and I could go back to loving it completely.)

American or Australian, the intent of the ute was to offer buyers a comfortable, car-like ride with a side of utility, made affordable by using as many existing parts as possible. And that’s the way things stayed for the El Camino (and its twin, the GMC Sprint/Caballero), though the muscle car era saw the Chevelle-based El Camino adopt the same hot powerplants and paint as its stablemate.

The El Camino Royal Knight. Just like a Trans Am. Only based on a Malibu. With a pickup bed.

The El Camino Royal Knight. Just like a Trans Am. Only based on a Malibu. With a pickup bed.

The fifth and final generation of El Camino saw the ute slimmed down (as was the style in the late ’70s), now based on the midsize Malibu platform. The wheelbase gained an inch over the Malibu, but otherwise, the tradition of make do with what you have carried on. The front end of the ’78-’87 El Camino was pure Malibu.

The long doors were borrowed from the Monte Carlo coupe, while the rear tailgate was sourced from the Malibu wagon. Under the hood, the El Camino reflected the lean times it found itself in. For ’78, the base engine was a 200-cubic-inch inline six making a paltry 95 horsepower. The upgrade was the respectable and long-lived 305 cid V-8, making 145 horsepower.

A ballsy 350 c.i.d. small-block V-8 topped the range, and was the engine of choice if you were the type who longed for an eagle painted on your hood.

Three and four-speed manual transmissions came standard in lower trim levels, though most buyers opted to let the ubiquitous 3-speed Turbo-Hydramatic do the shifting for them. In ’79, the El Camino saw the stopgap 267 c.i.d. V-8 join the engine lineup, while in 1980 the base engine was dropped in favour of a 229 c.i.d. V-6 making 115 horsepower. The 350 option was also dropped that year.

The 1981 model is my favourite from this generation, mainly because Chevy ditched the egg-crate grill and went with horizontal chrome bars. Desperate to please the EPA and meet their stringent emissions requirements, GM joined most other automakers that year in adding a lockup torque convertor to their 3-speed automatic in an effort to boost highway mileage.

The following year, 1982, saw the El Camino adopt the quad-headlights and blunt front end of the refreshed Malibu, a style it would carry to its demise. GM’s notorious 350 c.i.d. diesel  was offered from ’82-’84, while the 267 was dropped.

The ad says 'Chevy Trucks', but the El Camino was all car underneath.

The ad says ‘Chevy Trucks’, but the El Camino was all car underneath.

Despite strong initial sales of the fifth generation El Camino, buyers drifted away and the model withered on the GM vine through most of the 1980s.

As the top photo shows, this model of El Camino (especially the pre-1982s) had some style to work with, and made the best of a two-tone paint job. Despite the stigma that grew mostly after the car ceased production, a lower-end El Camino with a V-6 and three-person bench dished out a fair bit of practicality and would have been useful in a number of situations.

And wasn’t this the original intent of the body style all those years ago in Australia?

Whether or not the El Camino rises from the ashes in North America is a question for gamblers. I figure if there was real demand for the vehicle, it would have happened by now.

Maybe the body style is too polarizing for modern sensibilities (mention the El Camino at a party and you’ll quickly see it’s either ridiculed or revered), or, maybe there are just too many new vehicles today that already have room to haul our stuff.

I’d still like to see it come back one day. And not solely as a limited-edition performance car, either – that would be GM thumbing its nose at history and the intention of the model.

Motoring for the masses

A long-term look at Chevy’s global compact


Sadly, the Eco doesn't come with fog lights, unlike higher-end Cruze models.

Sadly, the Eco doesn’t come with fog lights, unlike higher-end Cruze models.

It’s been four years since Chevrolet began erasing the sins of the past with the help of its compact Cruze sedan.

In the fall of 2010, a freshly bailed out GM sprung a new model into the marketplace designed to compete, rather than just show up for participation marks. The Cruze rolled out with a splashy advertising campaign crafted by nervous executives and their secretly terrified underlings, designed to make people forget about the blandmobile that preceded it (and the one that came before that).

Offered strictly as a four-door sedan positioned on the large side of the compact spectrum, the Cruze was engineered to be everything the Cobalt and Cavalier weren’t. More rigidity, more spaciousness, more technology and more miles to the gallon was needed to wage war with the perennially popular Civic and Corolla, as well as lower volume offerings like the Focus, Sentra and Jetta.

Unlike the Chevy Cobalt and Pontiac G5 twins (as well as the Cavalier/Sunfire that came before them), the Cruze was truly a global car, manufactured in four continents and sold in five. Only in Australia was the Chevrolet nameplate shoved aside to make way for a regional GM division name – in this case, the Holden Cruze.

With a ho-hum yet competitive 1.8-litre four-banger serving as a base North American engine, the Cruze raised eyebrows by offering only 6-speed transmissions (both manual and automatic) – a game-changer for the compact field. GM took a risk by offering, as an uplevel powerplant, an engine smaller than that of its base model – a 1.4-litre turbo making the same horsepower (138), but with more torque (148 ft-lbs versus 125).

Lightweight 17-inch alloy wheels set the Eco apart from lesser (and greater) trim levels.

Lightweight 17-inch alloy wheels set the Eco apart from lesser (and greater) trim levels.

The cheap gas of the 1990s and 2000’s was by then no more, thanks to the oil spike of mid-2010, but memories of the big engine displacements it fostered were still fresh. A volume engine in a roughly 3,100-pound car that displaced less that a litre-and-a-half was a foreign concept for GM, and America as a whole.

The public would no doubt question it. Would it pull its own weight? Would a driver used to brawny V-6’s be able to tolerate this motorcycle-worthy 1,364cc mill? Was the car as a whole a flimsy piece of junk?

The passage of time told the story. The Cruze sold well as gas prices remained elevated for years amid a struggling economy, while the automotive industry quickly moved in the direction of smaller displacement turbos and transmissions with economy gearing aimed at wringing more MPG’s out of their lineup.

Horsepower sells, but so does gas mileage when money’s in short supply.

First contact

In November of 2011, a younger (but no more idealistic) version of myself wanted to drive one of those new sedans. Not surprisingly, I ended up with a volume LT model as a tester, equipped with the 1.4-litre turbo and automatic.

My review was published in a now-defunct chain of Ottawa-area weekly newspapers.

Going into the Cruze, I recalled driving a base Chevy Cobalt rental in the Rocky Mountains the year before. While the 2.2-litre engine made decent power, its antiquated 4-speed automatic put the ‘S’ in slushbox and made mountainous driving an irritating chore.

The 6-speed in the Cruze didn’t need the accelerator to be floored in order to necessitate a downshift, and the tiny engine pulled with surprising ease. As well, the interior of the Cruze put the never-ending soft-touch plastic of the Cobalt to shame, thanks to its two-tone fabric inserts in the doors and dash.

Red fabric inserts in the dash and doors contrasts nicely with the black interior.

Red fabric inserts in the dash and doors contrasts nicely with the black interior.

A tilt/telescopic steering wheel and a 6-way driver’s seat (that travels an incredibly long way rearward) made it easy to get comfortable behind the wheel, even with my 6’4″ frame.

The driving dynamics of the Cruze, from steering to braking and cornering, were substantially improved over the Cobalt. While I didn’t mention it at the time, the design of the Cruze, though cautious, was reasonably attractive and promised a long shelf life.

With the Cruze only just out of the gate at the time, and with GM compacts steeped in negative stigma, I pretty much declared the new model a winner in terms of value and content.

As it turns out, a lot of people chose to hand their money to GM in return for a Cruze. The 3 millionth Cruze rolled off assembly lines in Ohio in August of 2014.

Of those sedans that rolled out of Lordstown over the past four years, one was mine.

2011 Chevy Cruze Eco

The Cruze Eco was Chevy’s ‘Wow – look at those numbers!’ model.

With a triple overdrive 6-speed manual mated to the 1.4-litre engine, in addition to significant weight savings, aerodynamic improvements (including grille shutters that close above 20 km/h), and low rolling resistance tires, the Eco was designed to deliver head-turning mileage numbers.

The high-mileage model was a phenomenon that soon became common place for domestic auto manufacturers. Ford and Dodge soon had theirs in the form of the Fiesta SFE and Dart Aero, respectively.

Don't think for a second that dropping a gear is going to make something happen...

Don’t think for a second that dropping a gear is going to make something happen…

The highway mileage figure for these cars is great for use in advertisements – you’ll see them preceded by the words ‘up to’.

The Cruze Eco, which seemed to only be sold in the colour red, subtly improved on the appearance of the base LS and volume LT models with chrome-plated 17-inch alloy wheels and a low-profile rear lip spoiler.

Inside, the two-tone upholstery (black and red seems popular!) is complemented by a similar motif on the doors and dashboard. There, the somewhat cheap-looking black plastic is broken up by fabric mesh inserts that are pleasing to the eye and seem durable enough.

The centre stack and console is trimmed in bright silver plastic that won’t fool anyone into thinking it’s aluminum, but makes for a brighter, more engaging interior nonetheless.

With the Cruze now an established presence, deals can easily be found on used and off-lease models. The Eco no longer carries a price premium after three years (it seems), making it a good deal for mileage-conscious shoppers.

Hence why I got into one.

The Drive

I’ve mentioned the comfortable driving position and handling characteristics of the Cruze already (Hey, how ’bout that turning radius?!), so we don’t need to venture into that. For a compact car, backseat space is acceptable, and a 15 cubic foot trunk puts it near the top of its class in terms of cargo volume.

As a past owner of several GM sedans, going back to the early ’90s, I was happy to see that the horrific 1st generation anti-lock braking system had been tossed on the trash heap of history. A ’93 Chevy Corsica and 2003 Pontiac Grand Am came equipped with them, and I loathed every second I spent trying to come to a full and complete stop.

On a 163 km journey from Killaloe, ON to downtown Ottawa, the Cruze Eco managed an average of 66.5 mpg (Imp.), or 4.2 L/100km.

On a 163 km journey from Killaloe, ON to downtown Ottawa, the Cruze Eco managed an average of 66.5 mpg (Imp.), or 4.2 L/100km.

The anti-lock system on the Cruze, which featured rear drums for weight savings, stops far faster and with far less pedal pulsation that the older GMs. On ice and snow the difference is even more noticeable – slick conditions confused those earlier brakes, and both cars had a tendency to give up on slowing down if the surface was slick, even with the brake pedal to the floor).

Traction control keeps the Cruze planted while cornering (at reasonable speeds) on snow and gravel, and can be shut off in order to slog through the deeper drifts.

At low to moderate speeds, the Cruze’s steering is just what you want it to be. Precise and power assisted at low speeds, the steering firms up nicely as speed rises.

On the highway, travelling on straight stretches, I take issue with the need to perform minor, ongoing steering corrections, due to an otherwise firm wheel that offers a little bit of play – play that translates into unwelcome trajectory changes. With your hands off the wheel, the car doesn’t wander, but with a two-hand grip, you’ll find yourself constantly making subtle corrections.

Most of the time these actions are subconscious, but it’s still an issue that should be addressed in the second-generation Cruze.

The Cruze's design fared well, but will be updated significantly for the 2016 model year.

The Cruze’s design fared well, but will be updated significantly for the 2016 model year.

The triple overdrive gear set on the Eco’s 6-speed manual can take most of the credit for the model’s great highway fuel economy, but it does make around-town driving a little tricky. Don’t think that dropping a gear in any situation (even on the highway) is going to make an appreciable difference in acceleration.

Given the loftiness of those top three gears, dropping two ratios is almost always required to perform your average ‘manoeuvre’. The mileage that comes from that gearbox and all the other fuel-saving gizmos is appreciated, though, especially when you see the price at the pumps.

GM lists the Cruze Eco’s highway fuel economy at 4.6 L/100km, or 61 MPG (Imp.), which is 11 MPG more than the least efficient Cruze model.

On a 163-kilometre drive from the rural Valley town of Killaloe to my driveway in downtown Ottawa, the Cruze Eco managed to average 66.5 MPG, or 4.25 L/100km. The trip was made on secondary highways and a four-lane highway, and I kept to the speed limit (but didn’t drop below).

Driving normally, highway jaunts usually return mileage in the 57-58 MPG range.

The Cruze was a big step up in late 2010 and it’s still a capable, competitive vehicle. I’ll be interested to see the specs on the second generation model, which comes out next year as a 1016 model.

Shakedown Cruze

The next-generation Cruze will aim for significantly improved fuel economy.

The next-generation Cruze will aim for significantly improved fuel economy.

Chevy Cruze buyers can expect more choice starting with the second-generation 2016 model.

The GM Authority blog dished out almost all that can be said of the future Cruze last week, revealing that the new car will come with new Ecotec engines (note: pural), less weight, and an optional 7-speed dual-clutch transmission that could be standard on high end models.

A partnership between GM and a Chinese company is behind the creation of this new transmission. The 6-speed automatic and manual will continue to be offered in the Cruze line.

All of these changes to the popular Chevy compact are designed to make the vehicle more competitive, as well as more fuel efficient. Sources are saying mileage gains will be 14 – 21% higher than the first generation Cruze.

That kind of a bump is considerable, given that the original model wasn’t exactly known as a gas guzzler.

Chevy marked a milestone in August, as the 3 millionth Cruze rolled off the GM assembly line in Lordstown, Ohio. When it was introduced in late 2010 as a 2011 model, the Cruze was a significant departure from the bland-as-dry-toast Cobalt that preceded it (not to mention the Cavalier…). Rather than being an also-ran whose only appeal lay in a low starting price, the Cruze offered competitive equipment and technology.

At the time, having a diminutive turbo engine of less than a litre-and-a-half displacement as the volume powerplant seemed daring, but the industry has clearly moved in that direction since then. It helped that summer, 2010 marked a spike in gas prices that continues to this day.

The 2016 Cruze will launch sometime in late 2015.



Volt 2.0

Next-generation Chevy Volt to debut in January

On sale since mid-2011, a total of 3,394 Volts have found buyers in Canada (as of the end of July, 2014).

On sale since mid-2011, a total of 3,394 Volts have found buyers in Canada (as of the end of July, 2014).

A car that’s still something of a mystery to many is getting a makeover.

General Motors announced on Aug. 7 that the 2nd-generation Chevrolet Volt will debut in January at the 2015 North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

The press release – imported straight outta Acme, Michigan – gives little to no details on what changes can be expected with the new Volt, which will go on sale later in 2015 as a 2016 model. Besides a teaser mage of the new Volt’s rear trunklid, there’s no information on range, performance, weight, underpinnings – any of that juicy stuff.

There is, however, much gushing over the current Volt, complete with facts and figures garnered from customer feedback surveys.

“Volt owners are driving more than 63 percent of their overall miles in electric vehicle mode, collectively logging more than 500 million gas-free miles since the Volt’s retail debut in 201o.”

Boy howdy! Those Volt owners sure do like to maximize their use of that battery – it’s almost as if they purchased the vehicle for that specific reason!

Joking aside, the Volt remains a unique and interesting vehicle, albeit one that’s in desperate need of a style injection.  If the teaser image is anything to go by, the public can expect more eye appeal when the wraps come off in Detroit.

The 2016 Chevy Volt is rumoured to be less awkward-looking than the current model.

The 2016 Chevy Volt is rumoured to be less awkward-looking than the current model.

The speculation amongst auto writers is that the new Volt will see a reduction in price (much needed to keep it competitive), an increase in EV range (above the current 38 miles/61 kilometres), and more interior space thanks a reduced battery size. The current 1.4-litre, 4-cylinder generator range extender will likely be ditched in favour of a more fuel-efficient 3-cylinder.

Price has always been a point of contention with the Volt, with many claiming that the vehicle’s higher cost puts sustainability out of reach for most car buyers, limiting possible sales.  There’s certainly truth to this, but, in its defence, the amount of technology packed into the vehicle is significant and prices have come down since the Volt first entered the marketplace.

First retailing for $41,000 in 2010, the Volt’s MRSP is now $34,170 (U.S. market, 2015 model), and that’s before a potential federal tax credit (provincial in Canada) is factored in. Any further reduction in price – plus additional range – will only serve to make the Volt a more competitive vehicle.

Clearly, GM is banking on bigger sales numbers from this improved Volt.

Back in 2011, I test drove a Volt the first week they showed up on dealer’s lots. During a 43-kilometre all-electric urban jaunt, the car impressed with its interior comfort, ride quality and drivetrain smoothness.

Given the Volt’s price at the time, I wrote in my published review:

“This isn’t an electric car for the masses … but it is proof that a quality electric car that drives and feels like a regular luxury car is possible from a mass-market automaker.”

With a lower price (is sub-$30K possible?), Chevrolet will have positioned the 2016 Volt closer to that ideal.



Monza mash

1963-64 Chevrolet Corvair Monza, spotted in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

1963-64 Chevrolet Corvair Monza, spotted in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

It was a typical late winter day in Pennsylvania – chilly, flat grey overcast, ice breaking up on the Susquehanna, and Tiny Dancer playing on the car radio.

Everything around me conspired to put this driver into a wistful, reflective mood (the kind where you think about life choices). Thankfully, this funk was soon shaken off by the appearance of a controversial automotive classic – the loved, hated and sometimes feared Chevrolet Corvair.

The late-first generation Monza coupe I stumbled across – the Corvair’s most popular body style by far – was a pretty plain-Jane affair, with blackwall tires and pie-plate hubcaps complementing its spartan exterior. Likely, this model came equipped with the base 2.4-litre flat-six engine, making 80 or 95 horsepower depending on whether it was a ’63 or ’64 model.

The upgrade engine was a 2.7-litre, 110-horsepower flat-six, though signing off on a Spyder model would net you a 150-horsepower, turbocharged version of that same engine. In keeping with the car’s reputation as a rear-engined automotive oddity, the Corvair’s powerplants were air-cooled and had aluminum engine blocks.

Touted as a ‘poor man’s Porsche’, the Corvair sold in large numbers following its 1960 launch and was available in a wide variety of body configurations – even a pickup and van was offered – but the car’s sporty, go-anywhere lustre was replaced by a sales-killing stigma in 1965.

Unsafe at any speed?

Unsafe at any speed?

That year, lawyer and consumer activist (and later failed presidential candidate) Ralph Nader published Unsafe At Any Speed, a hard-hitting look at the American automotive industry that revealed an aversion to fixing known safety issues. The Corvair, and the rear swing-axle suspension it used between 1960 to 1963 – was featured heavily in the book.

Nader referred to the vehicle as a “one-car accident”, stating the suspension design, along with the omission of front anti-roll bars, made the car vulnerable to fatal rollovers. Though his assertion was sometimes disputed – even by scientific studies – the damage was done, and the Corvair’s reputation as a rolling death trap was created.

Despite being redesigned in 1965 (and not containing the controversial suspension components), sales of the Corvair tanked following the release of the book. After a 50% sales drop for the 1966 model, and a 75% drop the year after, the Corvair withered on the vine until it was dropped from the Chevy lineup during the 1969 model year.

Going from industry darling to social pariah, the Corvair’s fall from grace served as a harbinger for the automotive scandals that cropped up in the 1970s – mainly, the fire-prone Ford Pinto and crappy-all-over Chevy Vega.

While those two vehicles are classic lessons on the dangers of cost-cutting, the Corvair exists as a cautionary tale – an example of the rewards and challenges facing any automaker intent on doing ‘something completely different.’