No Compromises Required | 2013 Chevrolet Cruze Eco

September 2012 View more

NMAG0912_ForTheRoad_1Why buy a hybrid? That’s the question that Chevrolet seems to ask with its delightful Cruze Eco, a version of its sharp Cruze sedan that maximizes the car’s fuel economy while creating a truly enjoyable driving experience.

The Cruze Eco’s engine speaks to the engineer’s art and science. It used to be that if you wanted to have fun driving, you chose a big V8, and if you wanted to save gas, you chose a small four-cylinder. But check out the Cruze Eco’s tiny turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder. It makes the same 138 horsepower as the larger gas engine in other Cruzes, but it does so at much lower engine speed. Even better, it makes 148 pound-feet of torque, compared to 125 for the standard engine. The result? Lots of zip, virtually whenever you need it.

NMAG0912_ForTheRoad_3But with even a modicum of self-control, drivers do not get penalized for dipping into the engine’s power. Because with the standard six-speed manual transmission under hand, and the dashboard’s “upshift now” light as a guide, drivers can tap into that torque to get into higher, more efficient gears, more quickly. The result? Up to 28 miles per gallon in city driving, and up to 42 mpg on the highway. An automatic transmission is an option, but it slightly decreases the fuel economy rating.

With all this talk about technology, let’s not forget about the Cruze Eco being delightful. Great fuel economy is nice, but not if you’re miserable walking up to your car in a parking lot. The front-wheel-drive Cruze has sleek lines and a nicely executed cabin for a car at this price. Inside and out, it will be a pleasant surprise to anyone whose last reference point for small Chevrolets is the Cavalier.

The Cruze Eco’s engine and suspension invite both darting-in-and-out city driving and long left-lane interstate trips. In town, it’s flexible enough to let you claim an open spot in traffic at will. On the highway, the Cruze does its best imitation of a larger, heavier car—smoothly coasting along, engine calm and quiet, road noise mostly quelled.

The Cruze Eco also imitates larger, more expensive cars in another way: It boasts five-star crash test ratings in front and side collision tests.

The Cruze Eco faces a range of worthy competitors, from the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla to the Hyundai Elantra and Mazda3. But one of the most interesting showroom comparisons is to Chevy’s own high-mileage champ, the plug-in electric Volt.

NMAG0912_ForTheRoad_2Like the Cruze Eco, the Volt is a pleasure to drive and the Volt’s sleek design is a rolling billboard for both advanced technology and the driver’s commitment to the environment. But look at the numbers, and the Cruze Eco might be a better choice for some families. It seats five to the Volt’s four. It has more front and rear headroom and legroom, and more overall passenger volume. It also has a much bigger trunk. And it has a sticker price that’s less than half of the Volt’s.

Granted, the Cruze Eco has no plug, so you will be paying for gas rather than electricity. But if you have a lengthy highway commute, that up-front cost savings and the promise of 42 mpg, might just tip the scale.

As of this writing, prices were not available for the 2013 model, but expect a slight increase over the 2012 Chevy Cruze Eco’s $19,325 window sticker. While the Eco’s standard features will satisfy many buyers, two option packages are worth considering. One adds a power-adjustable driver’s seat, a rearview camera, and heated side mirrors; the other adds a blind spot detector, a rear “cross-traffic” alert, and rear parking sensors.

Photos courtesy of General Motors.