It’s been a long time coming, and the Chevrolet Cruze is finally here in Malaysia. Unveiled hours ago at the KL Convention Centre by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, the C-segment global car by General Motors is a fresh start for the Chevrolet brand in Malaysia, which is now handled by sole importer and distributor Pavilion Crest Sdn Bhd, a Naza Group company.

The PM also read out the much anticipated price of the Cruze – RM97,888 for the 1.8-litre sole variant imported CBU from Korea. The on the road price excluding insurance is RM98,767.60. Where does that price stand in the segment? At below RM100K, the Cruze easily undercuts Japanese rivals such as the Altis, Sylphy, Lancer and Civic, but is slightly costlier than the Kia Forte 2.0, which retails at RM93,800 OTR plus insurance. The Forte is also marketed by Naza.

The Cruze is powered by a 1.8-litre Ecotec engine with 140 bhp and 176 Nm of torque at 3,800 rpm. The twin-cam 16-valve unit with DCVCP (Double Continuous Variable Cam Phasing) and VIS (Variable Intake System) is paired to a six-speed automatic gearbox with Shiftronic. The benchmark 0-100 km/h sprint is completed in 11.5 seconds while top speed is 190 km/h. The Chevy is the first in class to have six forward ratios.

Unlike the old Chevrolet Optra, which started life as a Daewoo before assuming other badges, the Cruze was designed as a “world car” that is meant to appeal to all markets, from Europe to China and India. Testing and development were spread across continents, with Korea being just one of the few global production hubs for the Cruze.

Underpinnings and construction methods are the best that GM has at present – the Cruze sits on the Delta II platform that also underpins the current Opel/Vauxhall Astra, while its body structure is said to be very stiff; torsional rigidity is up by 140% over the Optra, with 65% of the structure made of high-strength steel.

The suspension comprises front MacPherson struts and a rear “compound crank axle” unit, which is GM’s way of saying torsion beam. Disc brakes are at all corners, with the fronts being ventilated. The steering is a rack and pinion unit with hydraulic power assist. The Cruze rides on 16-inch wheels with 205/50 Hankook Optimo rubber.

Safety kit includes ABS with EBD, dual airbags and Traction Control. The equipment list also lists a six-disc in-dash changer (factory stereo reads MP3 and has AUX jack, steering buttons), climate control and telescopic steering wheel.

Size wise, the Cruze is 57 mm longer, 42 mm taller and slightly wider than a Honda Civic, while its 2,685 mm wheelbase is only 15 mm short of the Honda’s class leading 2,700 mm. Luggage capacity stands at 450 litres and there’s a full sized spare under the boot floor.

At the event, Martin Apfel, President of GM South East Asia, was full of praise for its new partner Naza, which aims to have over 20 Chevrolet dealers by the end of 2010. A three to four year network expansion plan will see 40 outlets across Malaysia, all 3S centres.

Apfel seems to know that Chevy’s brand image needs some repair though. Recognising that the car is a major purchase in life over here, he said that “it’s not about a sale, it’s about a relationship, and we have to earn back confidence from customers.” Naza boss Dato’ SM Faisal also talked about “repairing” relationships.

I drove the Cruze in Shanghai last year, although it wasn’t a comprehensive test drive in proper conditions. Click here for the brief first impressions.

More images from the launch after the jump.

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