2012 Chevrolet Cruze Eco First Test
A Lesson in Lightness
If a top-of-the-line Cruze LTZ with the RS Package is like a delicious Thanksgiving feast with all the fixings, then the 2012 Chevrolet Cruze Eco we recently tested is like the leftovers -- just as delectable, but with (somewhat) better portion control.
Speaking of giving thanks, Chevy can credit the Cruze for lighting up its sales chart: 75,288 units through April 2012, making it the bowtie brand's third-best-selling vehicle. The compact four-door serves up superb EPA fuel economy figures, as long as you steer clear of the base, normally aspirated 1.8-liter four-cylinder. To make certain you don't squander your grocery budget, go straight to the 1.4-liter turbo-four delivering 138 horsepower and 148 lb-ft of torque. We've given the engine flack in the past for feeling underpowered, but the Cruze Eco's packaging tweaks help make a more encouraging impression.
Chevy's C-segment fuel-economy special can be had with a manual or automatic transmission, both tapping six forward gears, but we're here for the main course. The Cruze Eco manual earns the big advertising numbers -- 28/42/33 city/highway/combined mpg versus the automatic's 26/39/31 mpg -- and does so by way of a low-fat diet and smart planning. The Eco manual is the only Cruze that houses a 12.6-gallon gas tank, discarding three gallons of capacity to cut down on overall size and ditching the 19 pounds those extra gallons of 87-octane would have commanded -- think plain green beans instead of green bean casserole. It loses the spare tire for an emergency sealant and inflator kit. It also doesn't get the full sound-deadening treatment that makes the Cruze lineup among the quietest-riding compacts on sale today, but acoustic properties remain on par for its class.
Likewise, unsprung weight was an area of concern. To help, the Cruze Eco makes do with 17-inch forged aluminum wheels (like the Volt) rolling to the tune of 17 pounds when static. That's light, and the low-rolling-resistance Goodyear Assurance Fuel Max tires sized 215/55-17 weigh only a few more pounds than the round pieces of metal they're circumscribing. Up front, the anti-roll bar links joining the bar to the shock body are made of plastic, with orderly chunks hewn out to liberate a couple ounces (fear not, the mounting points are still metal). The Eco manual is also missing the Watt's linkage affixed to the torsion-bar rear suspension on other Cruze models, all in the name of saving fuel.
In all, our Cruze Eco manual tester weighed in at 3029 pounds, 179 less than the last LTZ we put through the ringer. It's not as feathery as a Ford Focus SFE (2962 pounds) or Honda Civic HF (2667 pounds), and the extra pounds are apparent in the way it rides and handles itself. But the Cruze carries 10 standard airbags, and the doors slam like it's a substantial slab of machinery, so we'll cut it a little slack.
Cutting weight is important, but so is optimizing aerodynamics and powertrain. Like carefully prepared side dishes with an entree, cohesion is the name of the game. Aero tricks include electrically operated shutters in the lower front grille that close at highway speeds to reduce drag. The main front grille is shrouded on the left and right edges to further diminish the amount of air that gets pulled through the radiator and into the engine bay, and the underbody is made as level as possible with pliable plastic guards.
We're more than familiar with the engine now, but it's the Eco-specific manual (made in Austria!) that really makes a difference. Compared with the six-speed manual transmissions paired with non-Eco Cruzes, our test car has a much wider overall gear ratio spread (Eco: 7.0; all other 1.4-liter cars: 5.8; and 5.2 for the 1.8-liter) to keep revs as low as possible. It shares a 3.83 axle ratio, but critically has three overdrive gears and a very tall sixth gear (0.61). Presuming the same tire size, a Cruze Eco manual will be spinning its engine nearly 18 percent slower than any other Cruze with the 1.4/manual combination while in top gear at any speed. In a most appropriate move, sixth gear on the shift knob's pattern graphic has a green circle -- the only gear to have the color.
So the gearing is long, but a nice, short first gear helps thrust the Cruze Eco from 0-60 mph in 8.1 seconds, quickest of any Cruze we've tested so far. Not that the fuel-conscious drivers can be bothered, but getting useful tire spin at launch isn't difficult as you hurl the car through the quarter-mile in 16.2 seconds at 86.4 mph (also the best of any tested Cruze). Handling is understandably not its forte considering its low-grip rubber (0.81 peak lateral g), but it sure tried real hard around the figure eight, bobbing and leaning its way to a 27.6-second run at 0.60 average g.
It's not a quick car by any means, but the Cruze Eco is exceptional at momentum conservation. Shift throws are short and direct, so you're always willing to row through the gears to utilize engine braking rather than friction braking (60-0 mph in 121 feet). The car's unhurried coastdown characteristics are key to it achieving excellent mpgs in the real world, as are keeping steady acceleration and managing the turbo boost. Curious with what we extracted MPG-wise? Check back in the near future for greater in-depth analysis.
The cabin is still the same handsomely laid-out arrangement we remember, but it's short on immediately reachable storage space around the center console. It's also inundated with old-school-looking blue-green-tinged lighting within the gauge cluster and head unit. The edges on the steering wheel spokes at 9 and 3 are still sharp, though that's more a Chevy thing than a Cruze thing. The USB audio control interface could use some refinement, too. When comparing the Eco to the LTZ model, it's a bit discouraging to know one can be primped for so much more visual appeal than the other. Again, different priorities.
And the price for all this lesser-frills goodness? It's $20,120. For another $495, the Driver Convenience Package throws in a six-way power driver's seat and Rear Park Assist; $995 nets a navigation system. In the middle of the Cruze pack, the Eco's servings may be just right, and for that fuel misers can give thanks.
|2012 Chevrolet Cruze Eco|
|DRIVETRAIN LAYOUT||Front engine, FWD|
|ENGINE TYPE||Turbocharged I-4, iron block/alum head|
|VALVETRAIN||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl|
|DISPLACEMENT||83.2 cu in/1364 cc|
|POWER (SAE NET)||138 hp @ 4900 rpm|
|TORQUE (SAE NET)||148 lb-ft @ 2500 rpm|
|WEIGHT TO POWER||21.9 lb/hp|
|SUSPENSION, FRONT; REAR||Struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar; torsion beam, coil springs|
|BRAKES, F;R||10.8-in vented disc; 10.5-in disc, ABS|
|WHEELS||7.0 x 17-in, forged aluminum|
|TIRES||215/55R17 93H M+S Goodyear Assurance Fuel Max|
|TRACK, F/R||60.7/61.3 in|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||181.0 x 70.7 x 58.1 in|
|TURNING CIRCLE||33.7 ft|
|CURB WEIGHT||3029 lb|
|WEIGHT DIST., F/R||62/38 %|
|HEADROOM, F/R||39.3/37.9 in|
|LEGROOM, F/R||42.3/35.4 in|
|SHOULDER ROOM, F/R||54.7/53.9 in|
|CARGO VOLUME||15.4 cu ft|
|ACCELERATION TO MPH|
|PASSING, 45-65 MPH||4.5|
|QUARTER MILE||16.2 sec @ 86.4 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||121 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.81 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||27.6 sec @ 0.60 g (avg)|
|TOP-GEAR REVS @ 60 MPH||1900 rpm|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$20,120|
|AIRBAGS||Dual front, f/r side, f/r curtain, front knee|
|BASIC WARRANTY||3 yrs/36,000 miles|
|POWERTRAIN WARRANTY||5 yrs/100,000 miles|
|ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE||5 yrs/100,000 miles|
|FUEL CAPACITY||12.6 gal|
|EPA CITY/HWY ECON||28/42 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY||120/80 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS||0.59 lb/mile|
|RECOMMENDED FUEL||Unleaded regular|