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    Small cars have become essential, eco-friendly and significant social statements. Some folks have given up their cars altogether and many now want smaller cars to reduce their footprint and use of resources in this world. The small car bandwagon must be really picking up steam. Even General Motors, who has long neglected small cars, seems to have noticed that this is one of the hottest segments of the market. Rather than simply issue an updated version of its decent but uncompetitive Cobalt small sedan, we will soon be getting the Chevrolet Cruze, a car that GM claims will actually compete with the likes of Civic, Corolla, and Focus.


     To meet this expectation, the Cruze was designed around five key attributes: an upscale presence, segment leading fuel economy, exceptional safety, superior ride and handling, and outstanding quality and durability. After an extended test drive north of San Francisco, through scenic Marin and Sonoma counties.

    Like most automobile manufacturers, Chevrolet has fortunately realized that small doesn’t have to mean cheap, ugly, and no-frills. If anything, customers downsizing from larger cars will expect a higher level of style and quality, and more standard features. Luckily, even at first glance the Cruze is a dramatic improvement over the Cobalt in terms of appearance and presence. The interior is equally impressive, especially in top-level LTZ trim, which features plush heated leather seats and automatic climate control as standard equipment. Even the cloth seats found in lower trim levels are comfortable and appear well made, and there isn’t a bit of shiny hard plastic to be found. Interior room is quite good, especially for front seat passengers, and there is ample trunk space.

     To achieve its stated goal of high fuel efficiency, Chevrolet has taken a decidedly unconventional approach to the powertrain, at least for American cars. Although a 1.8 L 4-cylinder engine will power the base LS model, all other models feature a small 1.4 L turbocharged engine.


    The 2012 Ford Focus has been completely redesigned and it looks good. The interior redesign was first on the list and it now features more high tech options that assist the driver and keep them connected to their electronic devices. Available with the 2012 Focus are the MyFord and MyKey systems. MyFord integrates entertainment, navigation, and communication into a touch screen console. MyKey is a safety feature that restricts vehicle speed and stereo volume while your teen drives.

     Looking at this svelte sedan from outside, you are first struck by the clean-lined ethos of its design. The snout sits low while the butt remains slightly elevated to impart a feline rake to the static posture. Horizontal detailing around the front grill is handsome without being fussy. The side view looks racy and succinct, with windshield A pillars so extravagantly flattened that the sedan version posts a stellar wind tunnel coefficient of 0.297.

    The solidity of the platform, which Focus shares with the European C-Max minivan, is indisputable. Over the worst road irregularities, the Focus evinced no squeaks, groans or deflections. The interior remains ethereally silent no matter what racket the road surface beneath promises to impart. Handling of the base model Titanium hatchback is responsive and predictable. The steering is perfectly weighted, with lots of road feel passed back to you through the fat rimmed, two-tone steering wheel. Continental SportContactPro tires measuring 215/50R17 are standard.

     Performance of the 2.0 liter Duratec four cylinder motor is hardly scintillating, especially when coupled to the slow-shifting 6-speed dual-clutch gearbox. If you want more pop underhood you should wait for the 247hp turbo motor, coming sometime in the next year. In the meantime, opt for the 5 speed manual gearbox model to coax the most performance out of the Duratec base motor.

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