The Chevrolet Cruze Eco, the most fuel-efficient version of GM’s replacement for the Cobalt and its first truly global car, is the first of two contenders in this MPG Beatdown, against the Hyundai Elantra.
The Chevrolet Cruze is based on the Delta II platform, like GM’s other car that’s even more serious about altering the consumer’s perception of fuel economy: the Volt. As a global platform, other countries like India get the Chevrolet Cruze too, and countries like Australia and Korea get their own versions (the Holden Cruze and Daewoo Lacetti, respectively) that have different badging but are essentially identical.
Thus, the Chevrolet Cruze could actually be described as GM’s biggest investment yet in Planet Earth, which should give an indication as to how crucial of a role it serves in formerly-bankrupt GM’s survival.
So, how does the Cruze fare with that kind of responsibility resting on its shoulders?
On a smaller scale, will the Cruze still deserve to wear the little green Eco badge on its trunklid after the MPG Beatdown is over?
Well, a Chevrolet Cruze Eco wears that badge for several reasons. The initial, and most obvious, reasons are the front chin spoiler, 17″ wheels with ultra-low rolling resistance tires, and a small trunk lip spoiler. Those cut down on aerodynamic drag. Another trick up the Cruze Eco’s sleeve is a front lower grill air shutter, which blocks off the lower opening in the front bumper when maximum engine cooling isn’t needed… another aerodynamic enhancement. This helps bring the Cruze Eco’s coefficient of drag down to 0.30.
The engine is the other reason. The base Cruze gets a 1.8L Ecotec 4cyl making 138hp. The loaded Cruze models and the Eco get a downright microscopic 1.4L Ecotec 4cyl, but with a turbocharger and intercooler, making the same 138hp as its naturally-aspirated counterpart, but with more torque – 148ft-lbs versus the 1.8’s 125ft-lbs.
It’s quite a remarkable little mill. The small and fast-spooling turbo is part of the exhaust manifold, so that the exhaust pressure creates immediate boost. It has a variable-displacement oil pump for more precise metering of oil delivery and a reduced load on the crankshaft. Finally, through a formula I’ve still yet to decipher, Chevrolet has managed to keep the compression at 9.5:1, without direct injection and without requiring premium fuel. Thus, while many other automotive publications claim the Cruze Eco has a lot of turbo lag, I’m simply unable to agree. I experienced almost no turbo lag whatsoever.
So, to put the Chevrolet Cruze Eco through its paces, I planned to not put it through its paces at all… by driving it as eco-mindedly as possible down to south Florida, carpooling with friends who had a wedding to attend in Key Biscayne while I was going to a car show in Boca Raton.
As shocking as this may seem… I don’t always drive with my right foot buried in the firewall. In fact, if my goal is fuel economy, I’ve actually been known to go overboard on the other side of the spectrum as well: hypermiling and trying other methods of saving fuel that border on irrational and put time constraints and comfort in jeopardy. Turning off the A/C until the other passengers start complaining is a prime example.
So I told my co-roadtrippers that we would be leaving ahead of schedule so that I could set the cruise in the Cruze (pun intended) at the Florida Turnpike’s posted speed limit of 70mph for as much of the trip as possible, and though there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth, I somehow restrained myself and managed to do just that.
One of the passengers, whose mother owns a Cobalt, commented on how much nicer the interior was in the Cruze, and she’s absolutely right. GM’s interiors have typically been a shortcoming; even a few Cadillacs have occasionally been guilty of having an overly plasticky interior. Though it isn’t perfect, the Chevrolet Cruze has made a monumental leap forward in interior design and fit-and-finish, and is, in my opinion, one of its major selling points. The Eco Driver Convenience package on the test car added a power driver’s seat and remote start, while the Connectivity plus Cruise package added cruise control, Bluetooth, and a USB port. So, entertainment and comfort for the 3-hour trip was handled as well.
I would, however, have preferred the standard six-speed manual transmission over the optional six-speed automatic the test car came with. Not just for the added enjoyment, but because the Cruze Eco stickshift models have a taller sixth gear for more relaxed and economic highway cruising. The automatic, while a smooth transmission, had the engine at close to 2500rpm at 70mph, when the first five ratios could have been spaced more closely together so the sixth could be the same tall overdrive as the manual.
The Chevrolet Cruze Eco did feel like it was the little engine that could, perhaps as a result of the shorter gearing. The numbers are adequate: 0-60 time of 8.9 seconds, and a quarter-mile time of 16.7 seconds at 83mph. But they don’t quite do the car justice. The torque peak is at an astoundingly low 1850rpm, and even with such a little turbo offering a fair amount of punch, I’d actually call the Cruze Eco a somewhat engaging car to drive, at least for zipping around town.
The time has come, though, for the Chevrolet Cruze Eco to throw its fuel mileage figures down, and try to emerge victorious out of the MPG Beatdown.
I averaged 29.3 mpg throughout the course of the test drive. There were approximately 200 miles worth of in-town driving in there, but the rest of the 801 miles I put on the Cruze were highway miles. That the total average falls closer to the EPA city rating of 28mpg than the EPA highway rating of 37mpg is a bit disappointing, especially when I tried so hard to give the Cruze Eco a chance to achieve its posted fuel mileage figures.
But the Chevrolet Cruze Eco is definitely a strong contender in the compact car market in general, offering a lot of style and equipment for its as-tested MSRP of $21,325, as well as a sign of hope that US taxpayers have funded the rebirth of GM as a world-class car company.
Price as tested: $21,325
0-60mph: 8.9 sec
¼-mile time: 16.7 seconds at 83mph
Lateral skidpad acceleration: 0.79g
60-0 braking distance: 122ft
Torque: 148 ft-lbs
Fuel economy: 29.3mpg
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