Chevrolet Cruze Eco sets fuel standard
So, what kind of driving do you do?
Is it mostly highway, mostly city or a combination of the two?
If your answer is mostly highway, listen up.
You don’t have to go the more-expensive hybrid or diesel route to get great fuel economy — just give the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze Eco a try.
While the plug-in Chevrolet Volt is getting all the ink, it’s cars like the Cruze Eco that will sell in much higher numbers.
And, as gasoline climbs above the $1.35 per litre mark, more and more people will be looking for ways to make their commuting dollars stretch a little further.
Starting at $19,495, the Cruze Eco comes with a Natural Resources Canada fuel-economy rating of 4.6L/100 km (61 m.p.g.) highway for manual-transmission models.
That is the lowest highway fuel-consumption of any gas-powered car in Canada today.
The city rating is also an impressive 7.2L/100 km (39 m.p.g).
This is all with a 1.4-litre turbocharged inline four-cylinder gasoline engine that also delivers decent performance, producing 138 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque.
So, how does Chevrolet achieve this head-of-the-class fuel consumption rating?
Quite simply, it comes through improved aerodynamics, lighter weight
and powertrain enhancements.
According to Paul Hewitt, GM Canada’s product manager for the Chevrolet Cruze, special treatments were used to make the car more fuel-efficient.
Many of these tweaks were developed and refined in more than 500 hours of wind-tunnel testing of the Volt, which shares some of the basic architecture with the Cruze, which was named 2011 Car of the Year by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada.
An example of the special treatments used to improve fuel economy are air shutters in the lower grille that open and close based on speed and cooling needs of the engine to improve the car’s aerodynamics.
This alone reduces the drag coefficient by 0.16 and is the only application of this technology on a car in the compact segment.
The car also sits 10 millimetres lower than the other Cruze models and has a unique front air-dam extension, a rear spoiler and underbody panels to smooth the airflow.
In all, aerodynamic drag was reduced by 10 per cent as the Eco comes in at 0.298, tops in the compact segment among mainstream vehicles.
The use of lighter, high-strength steel helped contribute to a weight reduction of 97.2 kilograms (214 pounds), compared to the Cruze LT Turbo.
In all, 42 changes were made to the Eco to reduce weight, bringing it in at 1,367 kilograms (3,009 pounds).
The Eco also features lighter wheels and tires. The 17-inch alloy wheels weigh only 16.6 kilograms (36.5 pounds) each, 2.4 kilograms (5.3 pounds) less than the ones on the Cruze LT Turbo.
Low rolling-resistance tires also add to the fuel savings.
All in all, there are a lot of features here that would appeal to the cost-conscious among us.
But, none of this would matter if it were simply a cheap car.
There’s a lot of value to be found here, with features like 10 standard airbags, anti-lock brakes, traction control and stability control.
Even the six-speed manual transmission (or optional six-speed automatic transmission) would never have been offered in an economy car a few years ago.
The success of the Cruze is crucial to General Motors because the compact market makes up 20 per cent of all sales here in Canada.
And, with the new Cruze, GM hopes to increase its market share against segment leaders like the Toyota Corolla, Mazda3, Honda Civic and the Hyundai Elantra.
I had an opportunity to drive both manual and automatic versions of the Cruze Eco during a recent outing with a small group of auto journalists.
During the leisurely six-hour event, we drove north from Toronto to the picturesque town of Port Perry and back, with a lunch stop thrown in.
The morning drive was a mixture of urban and rural, both highway and secondary roads in a black-granite metallic-coloured Cruze Eco with a six-speed automatic transmission ($1,450).
Also included was a connectivity package ($745) featuring Bluetooth, six-month OnStar subscription, USB port and steering wheel audio controls.
A driver-information centre ($275) and premium paint ($195) completed the option list, bringing the total to $22,760.
The cabin is plain, yet well-finished and what strikes you after a couple of hours driving is how quiet it is.
Not something you would expect in an economy car like this.
The ride is firm, yet not overly so, and the electric steering performed well in city and highway situations.
In all, this was an enjoyable car to drive and with the automatic transmission it has a Transport Canada fuel-economy rating of 5.1L/100 km (55 m.p.g.) on the highway.
On the way home, I got into a silver-ice metallic Cruze Eco six-speed manual with similar options as the earlier car.
It priced out at $21,855.
Not many people will opt for the manual transmission but, if fuel economy is your number one priority, it’s the way to go.
The Eco is the only Cruze model that offers a stick shift.
The transmission’s gearing is optimized for fuel economy with a ‘tall’ sixth-gear ratio for highway driving, resulting in lower revs.
It also means you may have to downshift to pass slower cars, but I spent most of the drive home on three- and four-lane highways and didn’t have to overtake any one in a hurry.
I found the clutch a bit touchy, but it might be because my own car is a manual with a slightly different clutch take-up.
GM Canada expects 10 per cent of Cruze sales to be the Eco model with the LT Turbo being the model leader.
However, after driving the Eco, it would be my choice.
There is just the right balance of economy and performance.
If the bulk of your driving is stop-and-go city driving, a hybrid may be your best bet for great fuel economy.
But, if highway Cruzing makes up a good part of your commute, the Eco may just fit the bill for you.