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We first drove the new Chevy Cruze last year and loved it. Small car size with large vehicle options. Now, after a successful launch, Chevy has rolled out another trim level to the popular vehicle; the Cruze Eco. It promises hybrid beating fuel economy at a lower, more conventional price-point. Is this just hype or does the Eco deliver? Lucky for you, we recently drove one and have the answer.
Model Year: 2011
Model: Cruze Eco
Engine: 1.4L turbo 4-cylinder / 138 hp at 4900 rpm and 148 lb.- ft. of torque at 1850 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic (6-speed manual available)
EPA Fuel Economy: (auto/manual) 26/28-mpg city & 37/42-mpg highway
Observed Fuel Economy: 35.8mpg
Base MSRP: $18,425
As tested MSRP: $20,625
Connectivity Plus Package[$525]
6-speed automatic transmission [$925]
The Cruze Eco, from any angle, really isn’t very visually different from any other Cruze you’ll pass on the road. There are only three distinguishing features can identify an Eco from the outside; unique light-weight aluminum wheels, a rear spoiler for aerodynamics, and a small green Eco badge on the trunk lid. Although that doesn’t seem like much, rest assured, it’s what you can’t see that makes the Eco different.
Developed alongside the Chevy Volt, the Eco has benefited from several technological advances born out of the Volt program. For example, the Cruze Eco wears the same low-rolling-resistance tires as the Volt. The two cars, which share a common platform, also share some of the same aerodynamic tricks such as smooth underbody panels and closing out part of the front grill. The Cruze is even equipped with an electronically actuated front lower air-dam, which can balance engine cooling and aerodynamics on the fly as needed. From these outside enhancements, coefficient-of-drag has been reduced 10% over non-Eco models to an impressive .298CoD. For reference, that’s only slightly more than the C6 Corvette.
GM also targeted weight savings. Over 200lbs of weight was shaved off the “regular” model. One example, the Eco-specific 17-inch aluminum wheels, save 21-lbs over the 16-inch wheels found on the Cruze 1LT. Welds and metal thicknesses were also examined for weight reduction and in some places the sheet metal is 1/10th of a millimeter thinner.
There have also been changes to the standard 6-speed manual transmission to improve fuel economy. A taller 6th gear and more aggressive 1st/2nd gears are Cruze Eco specific. The 1.4L turbocharged four-cylinder has not been changed over the non-Eco models and still produces a healthy 138-horsepower and 148lb-ft.
All these small changes add up to a big result. A Cruze Eco with a manual transmission gets nearly 6-MPG better than its non-Eco counterpart. That equates to 42-MPG on the highway, according to the EPA. Unfortunately, the Cruze Eco we drove had an automatic transmission and was only rated for 37-MPG highway. We’re a little miffed that customers have to pay $925 more for the automatic only to get less than the widely advertised 42MPG.
Still, high 30’s MPG isn’t anything to scoff at. With a manual, low 40’s MPG is downright impressive considering the Cruze Eco isn’t a hybrid. Don’t believe us? Remember, 42MPG will actually beat some hybrids on the road, like the Camry and Fusion Hybrids. It’s important to note, however, that the Cruze Eco is much smaller than either of them. As a rough comparison, the Eco is in the same fuel economy range as the first generation Toyota Prius, but without the added weight of all that hybrid “technology”
Putting the heat on full-size hybrids it’s no surprise the Eco also leads the compact car class in fuel economy too. Even with the lower rated automatic, Cruze Eco bests the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic, rated at 35MPG and 34 MPG on the highway respectively.
However, it’s worth noting that the Civic and Corolla are currently both a few model years old. Newer competitors such as the 2011 Hyundai Elantra and 2012 Ford Focus are hot on the Eco’s heels. Both the Elantra and Focus promise 40-MPG or better. Even more of a concern for Chevy is that the Elantra promises 40-MPG standard, with no additional trim levels (The Eco is an extra cost trim level). So, while the Cruze Eco has a hot upper hand now, the comparisons are going to get much tighter over the next year.
The Cruze really excels as a showcase of practical techniques for fuel economy improvement without expensive technology like battery packs and electric motors. The benefit in this is that, the Cruze is and drives like a normal car. In our time behind the wheel, only the low-rolling-resistance tires gave any hint of a Cruze that drives differently than a similar non-Eco model. With those tires, the Cruze tends to ride slightly softer and coast more effortlessly.
The 1.4L turbocharged Ecotec, used across the entire model, is a new favorite engine of ours. There are very few engines that run as smooth as this, folks. It never feels stressed, strained, or buzzy, even at high RPMs. As mentioned above, our example Cruze Eco came equipped with the automatic, so we can’t comment on the manual for now.
Despite the lower fuel economy rating, we were still determined to see what our automatic Eco could really do. The EPA says our model should be able to push out 37MPG on the highway. On the winding roads and highways of New Hampshire, we squeezed out a respectable 35MPG, but no more (on winter gas). We only saw the full rating once; at speed, fully warmed up, 60mph, using cruise control. We’re left to conclude that to see the full potential of the Eco you’ll need to live somewhere flat and with straight roads. Otherwise known as, not New Hampshire. With that said, 35MPG is still amazing and would take you over 500 miles on a single tank of regular gas. Other media outlets who have tested the Cruze Eco with a manual transmission have reported fuel economy as high as 44MPG.
The Cruze Eco is no different inside than the base or LT models. You can get many of the same features as other models offer, but not all. If you choose the automatic, you can order up a remote start key fob, power driver’s seat, and reverse parking assist. Cruise control, a USB port, steering wheel mounted controls, and a leather wrapped steering wheel are required when you get the auto and optional when you choose the manual.
No matter which transmission you order, there are things you cannot get on the Eco at all. Navigation system, heated seats, and the premium stereo are all off the table. We’re fine doing without navigation but the lack of heated seats is disappointing. We also wished the Eco came with the cloth dash interior found on other models, however the only option is a faux-leather covering that looks rather dull.
A daily long-haul commuter’s dream in the nightmare that is rising fuel prices. If fuel economy is what you crave, the Cruze Eco is a home run in every way.