Cruzin’, Not Bruisin’

cruze_1

For anyone who doesn’t watch television or read magazines, then it may come as a surprise that Chevrolet is now building one very nice little compact car…named Cruze.

This Cobalt replacement is based on General Motors’ Delta platform and should be a much better vehicle than the Cobalt or the Cavalier.

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As you can see from this photo, Cruze is following in the same interior design footsteps as Malibu, utilizing two tones, chrome and pleasing curves.

Niceties include standard air conditioning, available leather, navigation, upgraded radio with up to nine speakers, XM satellite radio, aux jack, USB port and bluetooth connectivity, for starters.

Power comes from either a 1.4-liter Ecotec turbocharged four-cylinder or a larger, non-turbo 1.8-liter Ecotec. The 1.8 has 138 horsepower and 125 lb.-ft. of torque. The 1.4 has the same horsepower but torque rises to 148 lb.-ft.

You also get two  transmission choices, both feature six forward gears, one manual and one automatic.

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Styling is handsome, with creases and character lines set off by the “Chevrolet Grill” up front that flows over the headlight clusters and onto the fenders. Another character line comes off the front fenders and flows all the way into the rear taillights, making a complete circuit that is pleasing to the eyes and follows the corporate design theme.

Pictures do not do Cruze justice as it is much better looking in person, with much more character and attitude than pictures could ever hope to show.

Cruze starts at just under $17,000 and there are five models to choose from, including an “eco” model that comes with aerodynamic tricks to eek out even better mileage.


And now for today’s Retro Review:

2003 Subaru Baja

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A New Sport-Ute/Truck Thingy from Subaru

by James E. Bryson

Bucking conventional wisdom and a continuing trend in the major magazines to compare, at least initially, the new Subaru Baja with the late 70s-ish Brat, we are going to talk about what the Baja is for Subaru’s future not what a small, strange looking vehicle the Brat was for Subaru’s past.

That said, the Baja is nothing short of a wonderful exercise in what a compelling vehicle can be.

The Baja is based on the highly popular Outback line, which is based on the popular Legacy wagon. Subaru, seemingly, took a page out of GM’s playbook and chopped the back end off of said wagon, like an Avalanche. The major difference being the lack of the Avalanche’s Midgate design; though there is a small pass-through that works similarly, without the whole back end opening up.

This pass-through is big enough for some skis or 2-by-4s but not much else. Our test vehicle also came with a tubular "bed extender" that flipped out of its resting position, which veritably cut the bed in half and made for a good cargo net, and onto the folded-down tailgate. While it’s a really nice, even thoughtful, touch we found the extender to be flimsy and not capable of holding the cargo we had back there very securely (this was probably due to the attached straps that limited the motion of the extender, but seemed to be fitted correctly nonetheless).

The bed is small as you might expect but the walls are quite tall, resulting in a good capacity for cargo, be it supplies, luggage or anything else you might stick back there. A tonneau cover would be nice for winter travel, something like the Explorer Sport Trac’s hard tonneau would be perfect. On another front, or should we say back, we would like to see some sort of sliding rear window to help move air through the cabin. It’s a nice feature on pickup trucks that is missed in the Baja.

The Baja, to us, looks a little better than the Outback it’s based on. The screaming yellow version we drove had gray plastic trimming the wheel arches and rocker panels and had a more distinctive profile than the Outback; due, of course, to the cutout of the wagon roof and side glass.

From the front, the only easy way to tell Baja from Outback is the large floodlights mounted to the roof. We disliked the location and working of these lights (they can only work when the parking brake is applied) as they will interfere with almost anything mounted to the standard roof rails. You’d be hard pressed to put skis, a snowboard, boogie board or even bikes up there without some aggravation from those lights, even though they look really cool.
Inside, you get most of the accoutrements of the Outback, albeit with a lesser luxury quotient.

Sure, the seats are perforated-leather-covered, there was the ever present outside temperature gauge and all the switches and knobs had a certain well-engineered feel to them. But it was all at about seven-tenths of the Outback’s look and feel. Which, in a lifestyle vehicle like the Baja, makes all the difference. You aren’t going to want to load all your dirty buddies and their gear into your $30k-plus Outback and risk getting it really messy. But with the Baja, you can throw the gear into the bed, toss your buddies (ever so nicely) into the cabin and be off with yourselves. Cleanup of the interior should be quick and easy, as it should be with an activity-based vehicle.

The sunroof was a nice touch but if opened only a crack, it whistled worse than aunt Ester’s false teeth during her rendition of the Star Spangled Banner. We figured most of the noise was coming from the roof rack and light bar and not from the opening itself. Still, we tended to either have the roof totally open or totally closed because of the noise.

On the road, we were surprised to find that the tires whined excessively at the smallest prodding around corners. We did find comfort with the fact that grip was much better than we expected from such noisy tires.

Power from the opposed four-cylinder was decent without much straining in the driveline to get us going. We have always liked this 2.5-liter powerplant and were happy to see it here. But, we’d LOVE to see the six-cylinder in the Baja. It’s a shame Subaru is keeping that wonderful engine in only the top-of-the-line Outback.

We had a great time driving the Baja, especially when we were on the highway and a Nissan Xterra driver slowed down to get a better look, then gave a big "thumbs up". It proved to us that Subaru hit its target market dead on.

Expect to pay about $24,000 for a Baja and expect that it will be nicely equipped. Ours had the automatic transmission, power moonroof and six-disc in-dash changer as well as other goodies and it was all standard.

We are highly impressed with the Baja, it’s price to feature ratio should please even the tightest of penny-pinchers. But more than a good price, you get a solid vehicle from a passionate company.


Here’s a nice oldie from the Red Rocker:

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James E. Bryson

Cars make the world go 'round!

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