2011 Chevrolet Cruze ECO: The Most Fuel Efficient Gas Car You Can Buy
Christina DesMarais, Mon, 02 May 2011 06:35:37 PDT
I recently tested a non-Eco Chevrolet Cruze and found it to be a capable, fuel efficient, and affordable compact sedan. So when I signed up to test the Eco version I expected a similar experience. I was wrong. The Eco is a different kind of car.
How the Eco is the same as the regular Cruze
What is most impressive about the Chevrolet Cruze is its roomy interior and large trunk.
It has everything you'd need in a car, but not much more. For $18,000 you're not
going to get many bells and whistles.
That said, the Cruze offers the usual accoutrements we're seeing in virtually all new cars today: hands-free calling, satellite radio capability, music player or USB connectivity, and vehicle diagnostics that will tell you when your oil has been degraded to the point of needing to change it (versus the old and inefficient method of replacing it every 3,000 miles).
The interior is constructed with quality materials. The seats are comfortable. The controls make sense.
How the Eco is different from the regular Cruze
First, it comes with a six-speed manual transmission. I found this to be a positive and negative thing.
In stop-and-go traffic, a stick shift can be a pain in any car. Because it's not placed all the way over to the left (reverse is), I had trouble finding second gear several times. With practice, I got better at hitting it.
On the highway the six speeds are a little baffling, but also enthralling. Let me explain.
Back in the day, when a car only had four or five gears it was easy to know when to shift up. The RPMs increased to the point where you could hear and feel the need to shift.
This is not the case with the Eco. You can be in fourth gear driving 55 and the RPMs are around 2,000 so you don't get any of the normal indicators that tell you to keep shifting into the higher gears.
What told me to switch up was the dummy light (I wish I could include a sad face emoticon here). Let me say, though, no self-respecting woman who learned to drive her first car with a manual transmission will allow herself to be bossed by a little green light.
Better highway fuel economy than any other gas vehicle
Once at "Cruze-ing" speed (a hem) I just kept shifting up and watched the instantaneous fuel economy climb. The more I shifted up, the higher my average fuel economy. Since I had to drive to a wrestling tournament three hours from my house, I had plenty of time to experiment with this. By the time I gave the car back to Chevrolet, my average mpg was at nearly 39. I'm confident that with more time in the car I could literally "drive" that number even higher. The EPA, by the way, rates the Cruze Eco at 28 mpg in the city and 42 on the highway.
How is GM getting its fuel economy numbers so high? It turns out all the research put into making the super-efficient Chevrolet Volt also went into designing the Cruze.
It's a remarkably aerodynamic car. For instance, it has an air shutter in the lower front grille that shuts at higher speeds to reduce drag and opens at lower speeds to help cool the engine. Other factors that influence the Cruze's aerodynamics include a lowered ride height, more closeouts in the upper grille, special panels on the mid-body and underbody, and a rear spoiler. Ultra low-rolling resistance tires mounted on 17-inch lightweight wheels also increase the Cruze's fuel economy.
With a 1.4-liter turbocharged engine, the Cruze Eco is snappier than the non-Eco model. Considering the affordable price of the car, I was really blown away by how effortlessly it can get to and hang at 80 mph or pass others on the road. Not only that, but the ride and handling feel like what you'd experience in a far more expensive car.
While no one likes buying gas, I'm worse than most people and I mean that in two ways. First, I loathe stopping at the fueling station. Second, my hatred for filling up influences my behavior as a wife. You're not going to like this, but I'm trying to make a point. True confession: I regularly time the sharing of my car with my husband so he usually gets stuck fueling up. It's terrible, I know.
But if I owned the Cruze Eco, I could theoretically get an extra hundred or so miles out of a tank. That is significant in my world. And considering the Eco's price ($20,445 for the model I drove), buying the Cruze would actually be possible for me and many other Americans still being hit hard by the economy.
Chevrolet couldn't have picked a better time to offer the Cruze, especially the Cruze Eco, a beautifully economical car.