Chevrolet Cruze 1.6i LS

Price: £12,595 approx.

Engine: 1.6 litre four-cylinder petrol, 113 horsepower, 153 Newton metres of torque

Transmission: five-speed manual

Top speed: 115mph

Acceleration: 0-60 mph in 11.8 seconds

Fuel consumption: 41.5 mpg (combined cycle)

CO2 emissions: 159g/km

Rivals: Hyundai i30, Kia cee'd, Skoda Octavia

It is customary to preface every road-test of a UK-sold Chevrolet with a short paragraph explaining that these Korean-built products have little in common with their famous American namesakes, and are the cars that used to be sold as Daewoos. But when it comes to the Cruze, the position is not so clear-cut.

This new car does come from General Motors' former Daewoo operation in Korea but it is part of a worldwide GM model family – the forthcoming next-generation Vauxhall Astra is a sister model – and it will also become a proper American Chevrolet in the sense that it will be produced at a GM plant in Ohio for the US market as well.

With a background like that, it's no surprise that the Cruze represents a big improvement over the old Daewoo-derived models sold as Chevrolets in Europe, a development that also chimes with one of the most important industry stories of the decade – the huge advances being made by the Korean motor manufacturers, who are now beginning to turn out models that compete on broadly equal terms with some of the best cars produced by mainstream European and Japanese brands. In fact, the Cruze is a direct competitor for two of the most impressive cars from Korean companies, the Hyundai i30 and the Kia cee'd – or at least it would be if it were available as a hatchback. For the time being, at least, the Cruze can only be bought as a saloon, not a hatch or an estate.

So what are the Cruze's strengths? These mainly lie in the area of comfort and space. The Cruze performs particularly well for a car of its price and size in terms of what's known in the industry as NVH – or noise, vibration and harshness. It is generally quiet, with low levels of road noise in particular, and has a roomy interior, which, if it has slightly more in the way of shiny surfaces and light grey shades than Europeans tend to prefer, is comfortable, stylish and well equipped.

This emphasis on comfort extends to the Cruze's behaviour on the road; the suspension set-up is biased more towards ride than handling but at the same time the depth of development work that has gone into this car's chassis shines through strongly at all times, which augurs well for the new Vauxhall Astra.

Our test car was fitted with the entry-level 1.6 litre petrol engine. After reading some lukewarm, even critical, comments about the 1.8 litre petrol unit that is also available in the Cruze, I feared the worst where the 1.6 was concerned - but in the event was pleasantly surprised. This smaller engine can certainly leave you wanting more shove when you are trying to accelerate onto a busy motorway or want to get back up to speed as quickly as possible after slowing down for a roundabout on a fast A-road run, but compensates to some extent by being comparatively smooth and quiet, especially once the Cruze is settled into a steady cruise.

Overall, the Cruze is quite an impressive effort, which, at least in terms of refinement and comfort, almost feels like something from the size or price bracket bracket above. Chevrolet will probably have to broaden the Cruze's appeal by offering a hatchback or estate alternative to the current saloon body, though, if this car is to achieve the success it deserves.

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