Chevrolet Cruze Station Wagon - First Drive

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Chevy finds some European flair

Engine: 1.7-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel

Transmission: six-speed manual

Power: 130PS

Torque: 300Nm between 2,000 and 2,500rpm

Fuel consumption (combined cycle): 4.5 litres/100km (approx 62.8mpg)

CO2 emissions: 119g/km

Top speed: 124mph

Acceleration: (0-62 mph): 10.4 seconds

Price: £19,785 (prices for the Station Wagon start at £15,375)

Three years after it first hit UK roads, the Chevrolet Cruze is now very nearly the car it should have been at the start. It hasn't suddenly got better – there's always been a perfectly good car in there somewhere trying to get out – it's just that Chevy has finally got around to offering its successful mid-sized world car with the sorts of body styles and engines it needs in order to take the fight to rivals such as the Skoda Octavia, Kia cee'd and Hyundai i30 in Europe.

Early Cruzes were petrol-engined saloons. That reflected the tastes of customers in the US and the big emerging markets that would account for the bulk of the car's sales, but left the Europeans, who like diesel-engined hatches, out in the cold. What we got was a car that was certainly roomy and comfortable, and also a decent handler, albeit in a safe rather than exciting way - although that was hardly surprising given that the Cruze shares much under the skin with the comparatively polished Opel/Vauxhall Astra. On the other hand, the 1.6 and 1.8-litre petrol engines, while quite smooth, were paired with quite low final gearing and also lacked low-end torque. For a minority of more traditionally-minded customers, the first Cruze models were quite a good choice but they didn't really cater for mainstream tastes.

But things have got a lot better since then. First there was a two-litre diesel, which was pretty quick, and later on, a hatchback arrived, alongside a smaller, better 1.7-litre diesel. Now, finally, there is an estate version, or Station Wagon, as Chevrolet prefers to call it in deference to the company's American origins, even if the Cruze is probably best thought of as Korean, and is built in almost a dozen locations around the world. That means that the Cruze can fight on a much broader front against its obvious competitors, the Skoda Octavia, Hyundai i30 and Kia cee'd.

Driving and riding in the Cruze Station Wagon is pretty much as you'd expect, because the car appears to be largely unchanged apart from the alterations to the rear bodywork. I drove the top-of-the-range LTZ 1.7-litre diesel with sat-nav, and this was quite a bit smarter inside than some of the cheaper versions, which have an unusual expanse of woven fabric on the dash which looks surprisingly good in darker colours but a bit odd in lighter shades. The diesel works well but is perhaps slightly on the loud side. Solid, slightly unexciting but reassuring dependability is what this car is all about. But the arrival of the hatchback and the Station Wagon versions does more than just give the Cruze an added helping of practicality; the tail-gated pair are also a lot prettier than the rather staid saloon, and I suspect it is this, as much as their load-carrying ability, that will help push the Cruze into the mainstream. The saloon, by the way, is now expected to fade away, at least as far as the UK is concerned, although Chevrolet will probably still sell you one if you really want it.

And why is the Chevrolet Cruze still not quite the car it could or should be, at least as far as the UK market is concerned? Well continental European buyers have access to a wider range of engine options than their British counterparts. We shouldn't really lose to much sleep about missing out on the 2.0-litre diesel, which isn't in the initial UK line-up but may come later – the 1.7-litre does a more than decent job anyway. But there's also a 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol that we won't be getting in the UK, at least not to start off with. Although it has a smaller capacity than the existing 1.6 and 1.8, it offers better power, torque, performance and economy than either; on the road, it's probably not quite as nice as the Volkswagen group's 1.2 and 1.4-litre TSI engines but it still does a good job; it has plenty of heft, and can support long gearing, which makes for relaxed cruising. I understand the 1.4 turbo may still come to the UK – apparently it depends on whether Chevrolet can find a way to sell it at the right price and still make a profit.

The Chevrolet Cruze hasn't really set the world alight but most parts of the world like it and buy it in big numbers. Now that the Station Wagon has arrived, more UK buyers can be expected to join in.

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