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Chevy Cruze Eco: A Great Choice To Beat High Fuel Costs

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On: Thu, May 19, 2011 at 12:03PM | By: Chuck Arehart

Chevy Cruze Eco: A Great Choice To Beat High Fuel Costs

When General Motors announced the new Chevy Cruze as the replacement for the Cobalt, it was easy to dismiss it as another ho-hum small car from GM that lacked refinement and was nothing more than basic transportation. Let's face facts. GM has a nearly 40-year record of making small cars that never competed for top-of-class honors. The new Chevy Cruze changes that.

All it took was years of red ink and the death bed of bankruptcy, but GM finally put the resources that transformed the rest of its line from middle-of-the-road to world-class into creating the Cruze. The result is what we always knew GM could do and the Cruze really can go toe-to-toe with Japanese competition. Those words are typed from the fingers of a driver who's owned Japanese products for the last 20 years.

The ECO model test vehicle was equipped with a 1.4 liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine and six-speed manual transmission for maximum fuel economy. It served that purpose well, delivering an impressive 36 mpg over 400 miles of combined city and highway driving. In these $4/gallon times the fuel mileage alone makes the Cruze ECO a worthy consideration. Along with the efficient powertrain, ECO is equipped with low rolling-resistance tires and slick aerodynamics that include an air shutter behind the lower grille that automatically closes depending on speed. A tire inflator kit replaces the spare tire to save weight. EPA ratings are 28 mpg city and 42 mpg highway.

The diminutive turbocharged powerplant produces a respectable 140 hp, but the gear ratios were chosen for fuel economy. Torque isn't the ECO's strong suit which means a lot of shifting for proper response while carving your way through daily commutes. Forget about starting from second gear when creeping along at pedestrian speeds; there simply isn't enough torque at low RPM levels. Yet the transmission shifts wonderfully and the clutch effort is light and enhanced by positive engagement. It's never a chore to drive in congested traffic and is almost impossible to get a gear wrong. High fuel mileage is further encouraged with an upshift light on the instrument panel that comes on when the electronics say it's ok to go into the next gear to help maximize efficiency. The Austrian-built powertrain is smooth and what little noise there is from the engine is mechanical music.

Cruze is quiet and comfortable inside. The seats are superbly supportive and feel better than expected. The rest of the interior is rich in detail that stimulates the senses. The feel of quality comes through the leather on the steering wheel and shifter and there are no buzzes or rattles to offend your eardrums. The only evidence of penny pinching is the sheen of the plastic door panels.

Considering the fact that Cruze is built on a GM of Europe platform, the excellent ride and handling qualities should come as no surprise. It feels taut and well tied together, a fantastic departure from the small cars of GM's past. Steering is direct while the suspension soaks up rough pavement and delivers sharp response. The only flaw in the test car was longer than expected brake pedal travel.

For $18,175 the Cruze Eco comes well-equipped with niceties such as 17-inch polished alloy wheels, tilt and telescopic steering wheel, and eight-way adjustable front seats. A $525 connectivity package includes cruise control, USB port, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, Bluetooth phone connection, and steering wheel controls. With the exception of the leather trim, most of that should be included as standard equipment considering the target market. The test car was dressed in Crystal Red metallic paint for $325, bringing the total to $19,745.

The Cruze ECO hits the mark for economy and affordability while delivering an enjoyable driving experience.

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