Turns out the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze Eco is even greener than we were led to think: 42 mpg.
That makes the 2011 Cruze Eco the most fuel-efficient traditional gasoline-powered vehicle in the U.S.—excluding hybrids, diesels, and electrics, of course. Only a few VW and Audi diesels—the 2011 Volkswagen Jetta TDI, Jetta Sportwagen TDI, and 2011 Audi A3 TDI—match the 42 mpg highway rating. Admittedly, those diesels are slightly higher in the EPA city rating, at 30 mpg.
GM points out that the Cruze Eco is 23-percent more fuel-efficient on the highway than the Honda Civic, and that it's more fuel-stingy than the 2011 Ford Fusion Hybrid, Nissan Altima Hybrid, and Toyota Camry Hybrid on the highway.
The 2011 Cruze Eco starts at just $18,895, including destination charges, so it costs considerably less than those hybrids and diesels, too. For comparison, the 2011 Ford Fusion Hybrid starts at $27,950, and the others cost nearly that much.
Green without the sacrifices in comfort, refinement
As our companion site Green Car Reports has outlined, the 2011 Cruze Eco isn't just a Cruze slapped with uncomfortably tall gearing, no A/C, and a basic, chintzy interior—we saw some of those strategies in the 1980s with vehicles like the Dodge Omni Miser and Chevrolet Chevette Scooter, or the HF versions of some Hondas. GM says that aerodynamic improvements alone—through extensive wind-tunnel testing—contributed about six mpg to the Cruze Eco's highway fuel economy, while a rear spoiler, lowered ride height, and underbody panels, plus grille air shutters, helped optimize airflow. In all, the Cruze Eco has a coefficient of drag of just 0.298.
Weight is also a factor. The Cruze Eco tips the scales at just 3,009 pounds—more than 200 pounds lighter than the Cruze 1LT, thanks to weight savings in the suspension, thinner sheetmetal, and reduced weld flanges, along with lighter wheels and tires.
The Cruze Eco uses the same 1.4-liter, turbocharged Ecotec four-cylinder engine that's used in most other Cruze models (except for the base LS, which gets a non-turbo 1.8-liter). The engine makes just 138 hp, but over several drives, The Car Connection has found it to be quite smooth, torquey, and responsive; it also works well with the six-speed automatic transmission (26 mpg city, 37 highway as such).
And as we found in a preview drive of a pre-production prototype of the 2011 Cruze Eco early this year, the Eco's manual transmission and taller ratios aren't much if anything of a handicap; it still feels like a very enjoyable, drivable powertrain even if it's not as quick as the other Cruze versions with the automatic.
We'll bring you more up-close impressions of what it's like to live with the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze Eco as soon as we can line up a longer drive.