PetrolBlog's New Car Editor, Robin Brown has been to Old Trafford to test the new Chevrolet Cruze SW. I'l resist the urge to deliver some football cliches at this point, because at the end of the day we need to blow the full time whistle on such antics. It's a game of two halves.
Without anyone noticing, Chevrolet has quietly amassed a fleet of competent cars that should win consumers around with a variety of attractive asking prices, high kit levels and strong aftersales. And Manchester United sponsorship - currently beaming Chevrolet into a living room near you several times a week. At Old Trafford there are banners everywhere proclaiming the brand's striker (Camaro), defender (Captiva) and so on.
The Cruze SW, an estate, is yet another competent car that should give the American brand a larger share of the competitive C-segment market; and the increasing number of small estates within it, now representing around one in six of all lower medium sales. That means lots more Hyundai i30 estates, Kia cee'd SWs, Skoda Octavia estates, Ford Focus estates and zzzzzzzzz. Sorry, I drifted off there.
It's fair to say that the C-segment estate market isn't setting the world on fire, but they do represent some of the best-value cars on the road - and it can be interesting to see car manufacturers trying to position their new charges. It's a delicate balancing act that combines pricing, specifications, running costs, interior space, gadgetry, practicality and – increasingly – driveability.
What, though, to say about the car itself? Well, like the hatch it's chunky and looks a bit different from the rest of the competition. Like most cars in the (whisper-it) budget sector there's attractive asking prices, decent kit levels and very good aftersales.
Skoda, Hyundai and Kia are the most obvious competitors here, but Chevy will certainly tilt at the bigger brother the Vauxhall Astra and the likes of the VW Golf estate and Ford Focus estate if there are customers looking to save cash - or even the likes of crossover SUVs and MPVs.
I think the most important element of the Cruze SW is the new turbodiesel engine, which makes it more than able to handle a bit of B-road abuse, while returning fuel economy consistently at - or around - 50mpg.
The 128bhp 1.7-litre VDCi turbodiesel, a flexible engine that offers a pleasing turn of pace in the mid-range and genuinely decent fuel economy, returns a notional 62.7mpg - I managed just either side of 50mpg during a mix of motorway driving, stop-start city driving and quite a bit of B-road abuse, which struck me as pretty good. Emissions are 119g/km, which should have penny-counters raising an appreciative eyebrow.
Elsewhere the GM 1.4 turbo petrol engine is a decent engine, so naturally it isn't available, while the 1.6-petrol, which isn't especially decent, is. There's also a 1.8 petrol. I didn't manage to drive either in the Cruze SW, however. Having driven both of them in different cars I'd go for the diesel unless you're just after a runaround, otherwise you're unlikely to make your money back on cheaper diesel fuel and lower road tax.
You'll want some more details, not doubt? Well the Cruze SW is longer than both saloon and hatch and offers 500 litres of boot space, extending to almost 1,500. So it's plenty roomy, though not the largest in the sector. There are lots of nice touches - binnacles and a fitted tonneau cover and so on - that boost practicality.
What's standard? Well, a roof rack, which is a nice touch. So too are stability control, air-conditioning, remote central locking and electric front windows.
The Cruze SW range kicks off at £15,375 for a 1.6 LS, which is certainly at the low end of the small family estate market; these days as crowded as a Smart Fortwo in a world record attempt.
There's quite a jump to the turbodiesel, which I think will make the most sense for many buyers – but bear in mind that the best value usually resides in the cheapest option. The range-topping LTZ with the 1.7 VDCi gains Bluetooth, satnav and parking camera but weighs in at nearly £20,000. Surely too much for a Cruze?
Where the saloon is a rare example of a small, booted family car and the hatch rather chunky, the Sport Wagon extends the visual cues but like all compact estates, the SW just isn't very interesting to look at.
The interior is maybe a smidge below where Vauxhall is, but I think your average car buyer would be hard put to recognise the difference. Tech and kit levels are fairly strong for the price, which doesn't quite fit the 'budget' handle that many reviews will probably use to refer to the Cruze (we need suggestions for what this sector is known as going forward - the Budgies? The Affordables? The Everydays?).
Look again at the prices new Chevrolets, Hyundais and Kias and there's not a huge amount to differentiate them from the Fords, Vauxhalls and Renaults of this world. Chevrolet et al will argue that their warranties and standard specifications are more generous therefore represent better value - and they may be - but it's become almost impossible to introduce a notional barrier between brands that were, just a few years ago, clearly inferior to the more established volume players in family car segments.
While prices have continued to rise across the board, the gap between perceived quality and what is offered on new cars as standard has narrowed. This has muddied the water in terms of making it clear to car-buyers which cars might suit them best, but it has put brands like Chevy, Skoda and Kia firmly on the must-see list for families.
How to sum up the Cruze SW then? On the night of the launch, at Old Trafford, we were treated to an audience with Gary Pallister and Denis Irwin. Both were funny, warm and down-to-earth - even indulging me as I ribbed them over the 5-0 thrashing Newcastle United doled out to them in 1996.
Irwin struck me as the unsung hero of the 90s heyday of United. Quiet, unfussy, almost passing unnoticed during many years of excellent service - in fact Alex Ferguson considered him the best pound-for-pound player he ever signed.
Can you see where I'm going with this? That comparison may not particularly flatter Irwin, but it's a serviceable metaphor for these new Affordables. I genuinely doubt that many car-buyers could tell you the difference between a Cruze SW and a similar car from Ford or Vauxhall. Car buffs may not fancy them; they may never win the plaudits, they're the unsung heroes of the sector.
The Cruze SW then, Chevrolet's left-back.
Chevrolet Cruze SW 1.7 VDCi LTZ
- Pint of Milk: The Cruze is hardly a car to look forward to driving, but it handles reasonably well and the turbodiesel is enjoyable: 5
- Filling station forecourt: If you can remember what the Cruze looks like after staring at it for an hour I'll be impressed. Inoffensive: 4
- You don't see many of those: Despite Chevy selling enormously around the world it hasn't quite broken through in the UK, but this should change in coming years: 8
- Is it worth it?: Tough question. As with some other Chevy cars, the higher specced- cars don't seem to represent very good value, but list prices for entry-level cars and the useful aftersales stuff boosts value. Good running costs from the VDCI too : 7
- PetrolBloggyness: The addition of the turbo 1.4 petrol might turn this into a warm-ish hatch. As it is the 1.7 diesel is representing. Which doesn't make the Cruze SW a very Petrolbloggy car: 4
- Total for the Chevrolet Cruze: 56/100
Full details of the scoring can be found here.