General Motors has been stringing out its publicity for upcoming cars--for three years in the case of the electric 2011 Chevrolet Volt--given its recent, ummm, challenges.

But now we've finally had a chance to drive its crucially important 2011 Chevrolet Cruze compact sedan, which will hit dealerships this summer. It's a far more important car to GM's fortunes than the few Volts the company will sell over the next few years.

2011 Chevrolet Cruze Eco

2011 Chevrolet Cruze Eco

2011 Chevrolet Cruze Eco

2011 Chevrolet Cruze Eco

Our colleague Bengt Halvorson spent part of his weekend at a press event where, for the first time, we were able to get behind the wheel of a 2011 Cruze.

We've been seeing the Cruze at auto shows for well over a year now. It's been in production in Asia and Europe, in fact, for almost two years. So how does the actual vehicle stack up "in the flesh"?

On the plus side, lauds:

  • Engine: 1.4-liter turbo "feels stronger" than its 138 horsepower might suggest, has "more low-RPM torque" than the Cobalt's 2.2-liter
  • Acceleration: "low first gear makes it feel really quick from launch—quicker than its estimated 9-second 0-60-mph time might suggest."
  • Fuel Economy:  1.4T Eco model "tops out at an impressive 27 mpg city, 40 highway" (and the "very hard-driven Eco test car averaged 27 mpg out at the proving grounds, per the trip computer—not bad at all for a car that will exceed 3,000 pounds")
  • Handling & Steering: "nimble and quite light in ordinary handling, with good on-center feel"
  • Safety: "huge improvement versus the Cobalt and in terms of equipment will leapfrog nearly all the competition" with 10 airbags
  • Interior: "feels very functional and stylish; you can even see a little influence, in the center stack, from the much-acclaimed Cadillac CTS"

On the other hand, said Halvorson, the Cruze isn't top-of-the-class in:

  • Styling: "a little conservative, almost a little homely, and looks more like a blunted Malibu than it probably should"
  • Refinement of Eco model: "the Eco model is slightly noisier inside" and has "noticeably more body motion during hard cornering over choppy surfaces"

We also couldn't properly assess fit and finish, since the cars were all pre-production prototypes.

In any case, head over to for Halvorson's full review. We'll have our own assessment of the 2011 Cruze compact when our names come up on the drive list.