In this age of pursuing the outer limits of fuel economy, the big automakers are pursuing two distinct paths.
On the one hand at 10 o’clock, there’s the hybrid and electric route with its mix of charging stations and battery-aided engines. On the other hand over at 2 o’clock, you’ve got the developing science of lighter materials and higher compression engines looking to squeeze more fuel efficiency out of internal combustion power trains.
In the baseball and apple pie world of 21st century Chevrolet, GM’s designers came up with a car to head down each of those roads. The Chevy Volt is its electric entry, with its electric charger powering its motor and its back-up gasoline engine filling in the gaps toward an estimated mpg of 60 highway.
But, the 2012 Chevrolet Cruze Eco sedan is the line’s lighter build, high compression entry with a curb weight of only 3,009 pounds allowing its four cylinder engine to produce an estimated 42 mpg highway.
Unfortunately for the Troy, Michigan automotive giant, the much-hyped Volt has the occasional tendency to burst into flames following an accident. The design glitch has proved serious enough to provoke a Chevy recall under which the company will buy back any Volt that owners fear might crackle a bit in a pinch.
That leaves us with the Cruze Eco as the Chevrolet champion of gas price-fighting fuel efficiency. We took charge of one for a week-long test drive to see how the Cruze performs while it’s saving on all of those fossil fuel dollars and cents.
The Cruze comes in multiple varieties, ranging from the LS, 1LT, 2LT, LTZ and our Eco version. Amongst the different set-ups and amenity packages, the Eco offers a 1.4-liter, increased compression engine that produces 138 hp, governed by a six speed manual or automatic transmission with sport shifter. The front wheel drive set-up may not look to include the Cruze in too many high performance scenarios, but the MacPherson strut front suspension and torsion beam rear suspension makes sure the car goes where you point it.
The ride quality is smooth and civilized, with just enough spice under the hood to get out in front of traffic when necessary. You’re not going to win quarter mile drags in the Cruze, but it’s determined enough to get you away from the soccer mom in the mini van next to you.
The Cruze Eco isn’t the most technology-loaded car, but you get a sufficient amount of features, including an impressive set of 10 airbags, anti-lock brakes, stability control, traction control, anti-theft alarm with engine immobilizer, power windows, AM/FM/CD/Sirius XM (optional) stereo and optional guidance assistance.
The outward styling is modest, but attractive. It doesn’t have the magnetic zing of a Camaro, but its rounded lines and aggressive grill work might turn a head or two.
The only complaint of the car’s overall design shows up in the ergonomic category. The driver’s side door is set a little but too far forward for comfortable use – especially for a taller driver who needs the front seat set back several inches.
With the driver’s seat set toward the back seat to allow for maximum leg room underneath the steering wheel, the operator has to lower himself or herself into the Cruze driver’s side door before lurching backward into the seat with a healthy rub of his or her behind against the door frame. It’s not the most comfortable or dignified way to climb into a car. But, that’s obviously a problem not every driver will experience.
For an estimated $18. 475. the Cruze Eco is economically responsible and reliable transportation with just enough technical flair to make it interesting. It’s a respectable competitor to similar compact sedans like the Nissan Sentra, Toyota Corolla and Ford Focus.