Before the launch of this car, lots of Chevrolet's UK offerings had been rather forgettable from a design perspective. The Cruze changed that. It's a handsome compact saloon with an athletic stance and sharp, sculpted lines. The headlights curl around the corners and smear back to a point along the bonnet line, while the roof drops away towards the rear, meeting with the stubby boot if you're looking at the saloon version. The car is around 4.6-metres long and about 1.8-metres wide, putting it in the same size bracket as booted versions of the Mazda3 and the likes of Volkswagen's Jetta.
Interior quality is a sticky issue for any budget car, as materials quality and eye-catching design are usually amongst the first things to be sacrificed to achieve an eye-catching price. The Cruze defies expectations on this score however, because it's actually quite slick when you clamber inside. Some of the switchgear (the steering wheel, stalks and the headlamps switch) will be familiar to owners of the Vauxhall Insignia (which is good news) and the dashboard design is smart - the stereo controls being a particular high point. Unlike other models in the brand's line-up, there are no hard, scratchy plastics to be found. Chevrolet also built in a wide range of adjustment for the driver's seat and steering wheel which should help most people get comfy.
In the rear, headroom might be a bit limited for the very tall but overall, there's a lot more space than you would expect from this class of car - plenty of room for four adults to travel comfortably, though the narrowness of the cabin and the chunky transmission tunnel means that five would be a squeeze. Storage space around the interior is good too: there are adjustable cup-holders between the front seats and bottle holders on the doors. As for luggage space, well this saloon model offers a 450-litre boot: better than you'd get on a rival car like, say, a Mazda3 4-door and enough to swallow, for example, two sets of golf clubs lying sideways, with enough space for two compact golf trolleys in front of them. If you need more space, the rear seat back split-folds down 60:40.
This Chevrolet's engines and gearboxes are used in a variety of GM models are largely problem free. However, some commentators claim that the Cruze is hard on tyres, so make sure to check those treads. As with all cars that get used to ferry children back and forth, check for rips, stains and other damage to upholstery and minor trim parts. Also bear in mind that the Cruze will likely have been often used as an urban runabout, so check for parking knocks. Other than that, expect the usual Chevrolet reliability but check the service history to ensure it's been looked after properly.
(Estimated prices, based on a 2009 1.4LS) Parts prices are hardly astronomical. Standard wear and tear items will cost you no more than they would in something comparable like an Astra or a Focus. As for tyres, well depending on the brand you look at, budget in the £60 to £85 bracket per tyre.
Handling excellence is not something Chevrolet is known for but this car headed its brand in the right direction, as you would expect from its Vauxhall Astra-based underpinnings. Aside from very quick and direct steering, the whole experience is geared more for comfort than sporting endeavour - which will almost certainly be something suited to its likely clientele. So it is that there's more body roll and less grip than you'd get in a Focus or an Astra but as long as you don't rev the engine too much, refinement is impressive, suggestive of a much larger and more expensive model, while the ride is pretty good over all but the poorest surfaces. Extra effort went into stiffening the body structure and this is a central reason for the car's reasonably polished performance on the road.
The early engine choices saw buyers in search of petrol power decide between 113PS 1.6-litre and 141PS 1.8-litre engines, with a six-speed automatic gearbox available as an option. Those prepared to pay the premium for diesel power got a 2.0-litre common-rail unit with either 125PS or 150PS on tap. A 1.7-litre diesel was also offered for budget-minded folk. Performance from all these engines won't deliver too many fireworks, but it's quite adequate, even the feeblest 1.6-litre petrol unit managing 0-62mph in 11.8s on the way to 115mph, whilst at the other end of the line-up, the 150PS 2.0-litre VCDi diesel version makes 62mph from rest in 8.7s on the way to 130mph.
Chevrolet is a massive name in the global car industry but the brand never quite made it in the UK. That doesn't mean that some of its products don't make a lot of sense as used buys though - and here's a good example. It surpasses any previous Chevrolet offering in terms of quality and is priced low enough to make it an attractive budget option.
Overall then, the Cruze delivers on what this American brand is really all about. Its core strength remains the value proposition on offer but with sharp looks, a good safety spec and a decent quality interior, it has the capacity to surprise you if you're prepared to look beyond the obvious candidates in your search for an affordable compact used family car.