2011 Chevrolet Cruze

2011 Chevrolet Cruze

We write about a lot of advanced technologies here, including hybrids, diesels, electric cars, and even natural-gas vehicles. But the hard truth is that all of those added together will be only a small fraction of cars sold in the US, even 10 years from now.

Most of the green cars of tomorrow will be powered by gasoline, though they will use less of it than before. Within 18 months, both General Motors and Ford will offer us their best global compact contenders: GM will launch the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze next year, followed several months later by the completely redesigned 2012 Ford Focus.

We haven't driven a 2011 Chevrolet Cruze, exactly, but dozens of European and Asian auto writers have. Their consensus verdict: This is a very competitive car.

Compared to the aged and unimpressive 2009 Chevrolet Cobalt, which it replaces, the 2011 Cruze is far more stylish, has an infinitely nicer interior, and gets far better gas mileage from smaller and more advanced gasoline engines.

We'll get the choice of a standard 1.8-liter four-cylinder, producing about 140 horsepower, or a smaller but equally powerful  1.4-liter engine with both gasoline direct injection and turbocharging. Those two technologies are key in letting carmakers meet the aggressive CAFE standards announced in May by the Obama Administration without turning all new cars into golf carts.

The 1.4-liter turbo engine is said to return a combined fuel efficiency of 40 miles per gallon, though as always, we'll wait for the US Environmental Protection Agency to weigh in with its ratings.

Though we weren't driving that engine (far from it), we were able to experience the interior of a Chevrolet Cruze, which served as the test mule for the Chevrolet Volt powertrain we drove earlier this year.

The instrument panel was stylish, the controls were easily accessible, and back seat room was fine for 6-foot-tall males. We didn't think to check the trunk space, but it too gets good marks from reviewers overseas.

How crucial is the Cruze? British auto journalist Neil Winton sums it up in Brit-speak: "The Cruze is massively important to GM." We couldn't have said it better, and we're eagerly waiting to drive a US-spec model.

2011 Chevrolet Volt mule - Cruze interior with test-car kill switch

2011 Chevrolet Volt mule - Cruze interior with test-car kill switch

[Detroit News]