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December 11, 2009 4:40 PM | By Mark Atkinson, MSN Autos

2009 LA Auto Show: 2011 Chevrolet Cruze and Volt



2011 Chevrolet Cruze (© Photo: Mark Atkinson)
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  • 2011 Chevrolet Cruze (© Photo: Mark Atkinson)
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  • 2011 Chevrolet Cruze (© Photo: Mark Atkinson)
  • 2011 Chevrolet Cruze (© Photo: Mark Atkinson)
  • 2011 Chevrolet Volt (© Photo: Mark Atkinson)
  • 2011 Chevrolet Volt (© Photo: Mark Atkinson)
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2011 Chevrolet Cruze

An up-close look at two of the most important Chevrolets to hit the market in the coming years

2011 Chevrolet Cruze (© Photo: Mark Atkinson)

The 2009 Los Angeles Auto Show was a perfect choice to display a pair of Chevrolet's new vehicles, and MSN Autos Canada was invited to a pre-show sneak peek of the cars that will help bring General Motors back from the brink.

Held at a covered patio tucked somewhere nearby the Los Angeles Convention Center, journalists were given free rein to poke around and sit in the new offerings, and pester assorted Chevrolet management about the brand, the products and the future.

Brent Dewar, vice president of global Chevrolet, said that the company's focus would be to reinforce the brand's fun-to-drive theme while acknowledging that there is an energy crisis going on. "Gas Friendly to Gas Free" is the theme that will provide focus for everyone involved.

Gallery: 2011 Chevrolet Cruze and Volt

While GM officials spent a good portion of time talking about the Volt range-extended electric vehicle, which we'll touch on later, the reveal more important to Canadians is the Chevrolet Cruze, which replaces the aging Cobalt for 2010. And, for the first time in years, Cruze is Cruze around the world, and only in two markets out of 80 (Australia and South Korea) will it not be known as a Chevrolet. This is great news for General Motors as it has fallen victim to segmenting and regionalizing its products to death.

2011 Chevrolet Cruze (© Photo: Mark Atkinson)

So a new global car for a new global Chevrolet? Sounds promising, especially since it's been on sale in Europe and Asia for nearly a year. While we weren't able to drive one, the details released are enough to get us interested. The Cruze is larger than most of its competitors, both inside and out. Dewar said that the longer wheelbase and increased overall length meant it would deliver closer to mid-sized space in the compact class.

Power comes from a pair of brand-new four-cylinder engines: a 136 hp 1.8-litre in entry-level cars, and a 138-hp turbocharged 1.4-litre in upscale versions. The latter not only produces more torque (148 lb.-ft.), but also allows for the 40 mpg (US) highway fuel economy rating that Chevrolet is pushing very hard, and even the turbo will run on regular gas. Power is sent to the front wheels through either six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmissions.

2011 Chevrolet Cruze (© Photo: Mark Atkinson)

Michael Simcoe, the Aussie who managed the Cruze's design, said that it was a global collaboration, with input from styling studios in North America, Europe and Asia. The result of all that work is a more specific set of Chevrolet brand design themes, which boil down to a focus on the 'bowtie' up front, and four lights in the rear, regardless of whether they're disguised by lenses or not.

The upscale Cruze unveiled at this event wore 16-inch alloys, but Simcoe said that 17- and 18-in versions were coming.

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2011 Chevrolet Cruze (© Photo: Mark Atkinson)

Inside, the overall shapes and detailing are inspired by the current - and excellent - Malibu but go beyond, with chrome-ringed gauges, soft-touch plastics, available two-tone leather and piano-black trim pieces. There's even room for an optional large LCD screen for a navigation system. Current Cobalt owners will be hard pressed to identify the Cruze as a GM product. "Our execution is better than anything in its class," Simcoe said. And Dewar explained that the 10 standard airbags allowed the Cruze to record the highest ever score in the Euro NCAP crash testing.

Getting the public out of their Honda Civics and Toyota Corollas will certainly be difficult, but on first blush, the Cruze will allow Chevrolet to start from a position of strength.

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2011 Chevrolet Cruze (© Photo: Mark Atkinson)

As mentioned previously, GM's other vehicle previewed should already be on the road, given the number of times it's been brought out to an auto show. Not much new news surrounding the Chevrolet Volt range-extended electric vehicle has been released, although getting a walk around of the near-production development units helps to underscore the company's desire to get it right the first time around.

Lead designer Bob Boniface continually emphasized how aerodynamically efficient the Volt's design is, highlighted by touches like a sealed radiator grille and full LED lights, including daytime running lights and turn signals. And although GM has yet to officially release the Volt's drag coefficient, Chevrolet did get current Toyota Prius and Honda Insight models into the wind tunnel, and were quick to admit that the Volt was comfortably ahead in that regard.

2011 Chevrolet Volt (© Photo: Mark Atkinson)

The interior design hasn't changed much - it still apes Apple's current smooth, white, futuristic touches, but Boniface explained that it will be available in black as well, presumably for those who aren't as fastidious about cleaning their cabins.

Dewar explained that there are 180 similarly hand-finished Volt preproduction units floating around that have undergone over 400,000 km of testing, and that GM had one traveling around Los Angeles to keep the awareness up before going on sale sometime in early 2011.

It will be interesting to see just how much our frigid winters and suboptimal conditions do to the Volt's claimed 70-km electric only range, although the range-extender gasoline engine acts as a generator to get the car another 500 km worth of electricity, if needed. While California and 'similar markets' (i.e. the coasts) are going to be the Volt's first markets, Canada will only have to wait a couple months before we can get our cold, mitten-covered hands on them.

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