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Chevy Cruze Eco is a commuting dream machine

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.

Specifications as-tested

Model Year: 2011
Make: Chevrolet
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)
Drivetrain: Front-wheel-drive

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

Equipped Options:
Connectivity Plus Package[$525]
6-speed automatic transmission [$925]

What’s different

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.

Hybrid like fuel economy

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.

How does it drive?

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.

What you get on the inside

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.


  • Despite weight cutting, the Eco drives every bit as solid as the regular Cruze
  • Perhaps the smoothest engine/transmission combination we’ve ever driven
  • Impressive technology offering; OnStar, OnStar app compatibility, USB slot, aux-in, XM Radio, and low rolling resistance tires to name a few


  • Interior feels rental car like- we miss the cloth interior inserts
  • 40MPG rating comes with a big catch – requires the manual transmission
  • Tame styling compared to 2011 Elantra

2011 Chevrolet Cruze Eco Photos

2011 Chevrolet Cruze is the game changer the compact segment has needed for years

Up until recently, the US consumer really couldn’t expect much from the compact car segment. Did it have four wheels, a cheap price, and get decent fuel economy? If so, then that was all you could really ask for. Special features like USB ports, heated seats, or a decent comfortable interior were, at most, a pipe dream. Small cars were only for folks who couldn’t afford a larger one.

Then, as is always the case, things changed. The precipitous fuel price increase to near four dollars a gallon in 2006/2007 time frame drastically changed the buying habits of the American consumer. Small cars were suddenly looking at a rather large increase in popularity. The problem was that while the compact car buyer had changed, the compact car had not.

<<Click here to check out our full 2011 Chevrolet Cruze Photo Gallery>>

This has led to a rather fierce battle among the automakers for current and future small car buyers. A once neglected group of vehicles is finding new found glory as Ford and Chevrolet introduce brand new models in 2011. The idea of a full featured compact car, once laughable, is turning out to be the fuel both companies plan on using to propel themselves into profitability for the foreseeable future.

The first of these newly redesigned compact competitors to hit the scene for us to sample is the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze.

2011 Chevrolet Cruze First Drive - Photo: Zane Merva /

The Cruze is a new model, from the ground up, intended to replace the outgoing Chevy Cobalt. Cruze will be offered in four trim models and with two engines. The base Cruze LS will feature a 1.8L Ecotec engine and 6-speed automatic transmission. The LT, 2LT, Eco, and LTZ models will feature a brand new 1.4L turbocharged Ecotec engine and a six-speed automatic transmission.

The 1.4L engine is tiny, yet powerful. 138 horsepower and 148 lb-ft of torque doesn’t read like much, but a light car like the Cruze doesn’t need much. Even at highway speed only a slight tip in of the throttle is needed to spool up the turbo, delivering a small river of torque for smooth downshift-less acceleration.

2011 Chevrolet Cruze First Drive - Photo: Zane Merva /

The 2011 Cruze starts at $16,995 for an LS and goes up to $22,695 for an LTZ. For those who wish a slightly more sporty exterior, the RS package adds unique rocker panels and front/rear body treatments for $695. Cruze ECO, a fuel economy package, will be priced at $18,895.

To compare the outgoing Cobalt to a Corolla or Civic would have been laughable. Now with the Cruze, I’m fairly confident Chevy has beaten both Honda and Toyota at their own game. On the road the Cruze drives with much of the feeling you’d expect from something larger and more expensive. The ride is solid at speed on the highway, almost Cadillac like in isolation. Steering is superbly crisp and communicative. Handling is tight, although geared towards comfort.

2011 Chevrolet Cruze First Drive - Photo: Zane Merva /

On the inside, the Cruze continues to revolutionize. Chevy options two types of interior trim. On the LS, and LT models, a highly textured fabric covers the front dash. You can get the fabric in full black or black with red accents. On LTZ models (and with leather seats), the dash is covered in a soft leather like trim.

GM’s new entertainment/navigation system with 40GB hard-drive, XM, USB/Aux/iPod ports, and the ability to pause/rewind live radio is an option on the Cruze. So are heated seats, remote start, and OnStar.

The Cruze will play as a roll out vehicle for OnStar’s new application for iPhone, Android, and BlackBerry phones. OnStar subscribers will be able to access live information about their vehicle, including fuel levels, odometer, recent fuel economy, tire pressures, and lock status on their mobile smart phone. You’ll even be able to lock, unlock, and remotely start your vehicle using the phone app. This new service will debut on the Volt and Cruze this fall and is completely unique to General Motors.

2011 Chevrolet Cruze First Drive - Photo: Zane Merva /

The Cruze is the game changer the compact segment has needed for years. However, new versions of the Ford Focus and Honda Civic are both on the way and how well the Cruze stands up to them has yet to be seen. With that said, the Cruze raises the bar so high, it’s going to be one hell of a fight that poises to give the consumer a huge win.

We can’t wait to spend more time behind the wheel of the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze.

<<Click here to check out our full 2011 Chevrolet Cruze Photo Gallery>>

Notable features

– Advanced Z-link rear suspension design

-Acoustically treated body/chassis for noise reduction

– Laminated front windshield

– 10 standard airbags

-neodymium magnets used in speakers for weight savings

– ECO model will get around 40mpg


– Turbo 1.4 engine delivers exceptional low-end power and competitive fuel economy

– Solid driving performance on the highway befitting of a larger sedan

-All the tech goodies from the rest of GM’s line is available (Navigation, USB, Heated Seats)


– Not enough interior storage space for small items, such as cell phones

– “Upscale” exterior styling is potentially too conservative

– A perfect evolution of the compact car but not revolutionary

Price/Trim Levels

Cruze LS, starting at $16,995, includes:

• Standard 1.8L Ecotec engine and six-speed manual transmission

• The most standard safety features in the segment, with 10 air bags, StabiliTrak electronic stability control with rollover sensing, traction control, anti-lock brakes, collapsible pedal system, power rear-door child safety locks

• Standard OnStar, with a six-month subscription including Turn-by-Turn navigation

• Standard convenience features including air conditioning, power windows, power door locks with remote keyless entry, driver information center, an auxiliary jack for personal playback devices and XM Satellite Radio with three-month trial subscription

Cruze LT, starting at $18,895, includes:

• Standard 1.4L Ecotec turbo and six-speed automatic transmission

• 16-inch wheels

Cruze 2LT, starting at $21,395, includes:

• Standard 1.4L Ecotec turbo and six-speed automatic transmission

• Standard six-way power driver seat, leather seating surfaces, heated seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob

• Bluetooth phone connectivity, USB port with audio interface, steering-wheel mounted audio controls and remote vehicle start

• Standard 16-inch alloy wheels

Cruze Eco, starting at $18,895, includes:

• Standard 1.4L Ecotec turbo and six-speed manual transmission

• Segment-leading expected 40 miles per gallon highway

• Standard 17-inch alloy wheels with ultra low-rolling resistance tires, and enhanced aerodynamic performance package

Cruze LTZ, starting at $22,695, includes:

• Standard 1.4L Ecotec turbo and six-speed automatic transmission

• Standard six-way power driver seat, leather seating surfaces, heated seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob

• Standard cruise control, Bluetooth phone connectivity, USB port with audio interface, steering-wheel mounted audio controls and remote vehicle start

• Standard automatic climate control, auto-dimming inside rearview mirror, and ultrasonic rear-parking assist

• 18-inch alloy wheels with four-wheel disc brakes

RS appearance package, available on LT and LTZ models for $695, includes:

• Unique front and rear fascias

• Rocker moldings

• Front fog lamps

• Rear spoiler

Major available option features on Cruze include:

• In-dash navigation system with 40-gigabyte hard drive, enabling pause-and-play radio, downloading of audio CDs or transferring MP3 files from a USB memory device

• Pioneer Audio system, with nine speakers and 250-watt amplifier

• Ultrasonic rear park assist

On Sale: September 2010

Editor’s Note: The lodging,  transportation, and access to vehicles required to write this article were provided, free of charge, to the author by General Motors. routinely accepts such offers from automakers to expand our coverage, however no special treatment, bias, or special consideration is given in return.

2011 Chevrolet Cruze First Drive photo gallery

Although we’re under embargo for our driving impressions of the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze, we are allowed to share with you all the photos we took on our drive of the new compact competitor yesterday.

Our full first drive review will be posted at 12:01am, Saturday, July 31st, 2010.