You know what they say…,..40 is the new 30. Well it is sure is when it comes to miles per gallon these days. With gasoline well over $4 per gallon in many cities, consumers are starting to look to fuel efficient cars, and 40 mpg is quickly becoming the new standard.
Back when I reviewed the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze, I deemed it the most competitive compact car on the market. Thing is, quite a few competitors have launched new compact cars since then, with more on the way. I spent a week with the Eco model of the Chevrolet Cruze to see if it is still top of the compact class, and to determine if that 42 mpg highway rating really realistic.
Now that the Cruze has been on sale for a little while, I am seeing them on the roads. I stand by my initial analysis of the exterior design. The front is good looking with the aggressive swept back headlights and impressive hood stamping.
The plastic blanks in place of front foglights are quite noticeable though. Worse, the rear end is just plain boring. You wonder if the designers decided they wanted to go out for a beer after all the hard work on the rest of the car, so they just slapped something together for the rear. I mean, it’s a clean design, but boring.
The Eco model receives a standard rear deck-lid lip spoiler and unique 16-inch chrome plated wheels. I actually liked the deck-lid spoiler and wouldn’t mind seeing that on all Cruze models.
Inside the Cruze Eco you will find the same design as any other Cruze model. The swath of leatherette-like material across the dashboard helped break up the hard plastic on the dashboard. The interior has more than enough space to comfortably seat four people, but five will be crowded.
Even without navigation my tester had Bluetooth and it downloaded my contacts. When someone would call their name would appear on the display for the radio. Bluetooth also handles streaming audio for those with smartphones.
With a clean gauge cluster design and overall solid feel, the interior of the Cruze is not a bad place to spend your time. It puts the Corolla to shame, and the Civic on notice.
The Cruze Eco model is powered by a 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with direct injection. Rated at 138-horsepower and 148 pound feet of torque, it is available with either a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic transmission.
Make sure to note that the highly marketed 42 mpg EPA rating that the Cruze Eco has is with the manual transmission. Choosing the automatic will drop you a few mpg.
I actually found the manual transmission to be fun. The little engine has some go to it and feels well connected with the transmission. I do feel the throws were rather long, but did note how clean they were. When I spoke with an engineer he mentioned they actually shortened the throws on the manual transmission for the U.S. market. I’d hate to see how long the throws on a non-U.S. spec model are.
Both fifth and sixth gear are very tall, meant mainly for highway cruising. For any real power you have to downshift to fourth or sometimes even third gear.
One of my largest gripes about the Cruze Eco is the electric power steering. It was over-boosted and had little to no weight. It was to the point that I felt it had no on-center feeling, particularly on the highway. This caused me to make many tiny steering corrections throughout my highway trip.
Around town in suburban highway driving I saw an average of 34.1 mpg. Once on the open highway with the cruise set north of 70 mph, I saw an average of 45.5 mpg over the course of 250 miles.
While this is all great, it is worth keeping in mind that most of the competition now offers a compact car that in some model is rated at 40 mpg. To top that off, the new Hyundai Elantra is rated at 40 mpg across the board on all models, with many people coming close to 45 mpg. So the Cruze is no alone in the 40+ mpg club.
My tester had a sticker price of $19,420. This is considerably more than a base Elantra.
So after a week with the Cruze Eco, do I still feel it is at the top of its class? I would say it depends, on what you are looking for. If you want a larger compact car that is comfortable and gets great fuel economy, the Cruze Eco is your choice. But there are competitors that offer more technology, better value, and better driving dynamics. So at the end of the day, it really depends on what your top priority is. The Cruze Eco is definitely competitive, it just isn’t best-in-class for everyone.
Full Disclosure- The review vehicle was provided by General Motors