First Drive: Chevrolet Cruze Eco

Hybrids are a great way to max out on MPG, but a new breed of conventional gas-powered cars are promising better than 40 miles to the gallon—at least on the highway. The all-new Chevrolet Cruze Eco, due out in late 2010, is one of those contenders. Last week, we gave it our first drive on a closed course at GM’s Milford Proving Grounds.

The Cruze Eco will be marketed as a compact, but nothing about it felt cheap or undersized to us—except maybe the expected price, which GM folks hinted will be in the mid-teen range. The car had the exterior dimensions, cabin space, trunk volume, amenities, and overall presence of a quality midsize sedan.

GM says the Cruze Eco will get 40 miles-per-gallon highway, and 27 in the city. (Official EPA numbers are not yet out.) Chevy engineers are still tweaking things in pursuit of a coveted 30/40 rating.

Gearing Up

The Cruze Eco uses GM’s new Ecotec 1.4-liter Turbo, outputting 138 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque. A turbo delivers the performance attributes of a larger displacement engine while maintaining the fuel economy of a smaller one. Despite the low fuel consumption, we experienced more than adequate mid-range acceleration and passing power. The Eco version is only available with a specially geared 6-speed manual transmission; the Cruze Eco’s fourth, fifth, and sixth gears have been set to overdrive for improved fuel economy.

Improved aerodynamics is another key strategy. The Eco version of the Cruze uses lower grille air shutters that open and close based on speed of the car and cooling needs of the engine—and to reduce aerodynamic drag at highway speeds. This is the first use of active air shutters for a compact car in the United States. Other functional add-ons include specific front grille closeouts, a lowered front fascia air dam, mid-body aero panels, a deck lid spoiler, a lowered suspension, and ultra low-rolling resistant tires on lightweight aluminum wheels. The use of high-strength steel across the Cruze line helps to reduce mass and weight.

For our test drive, we got behind the wheel of an engineering unit, which was about 85 percent finished. It showed no signs of lag, and off-the-line performance was strong. The same goes for highway speeds, with the added note that the engine is very quiet. GM applied 18 distinctive acoustical treatments to ensure the Cruze rides free of most engine and road noise. Shifts were seamless with quick gear engagement in all shifting scenarios.

Chevy Cruz Eco

The split between ride and handling was even. The Cruze is agile, but not particularly athletic—while the ride is comfortable, although not cushy. Aside from a well constructed body, all Cruze models will feature, count ‘em, 10 standard airbags: two front, two side, two front knee, two head curtains and two rear side.

When the Chevy Cruze Eco goes on sale late this year, it will be touted as a lower-cost alternative for those seeking hybrid-like fuel economy. We think its midsize feel and 40 mile-per-gallon-highway rating will force hybrid-makers to up their game. The next generation of hybrids will need to offer 50 MPG at a minimum—or even push toward 60 MPG—in order to keep up with Cruze Eco and other small fuel-efficient cars coming down the pike.

Cruze Eco pricing has not yet announced.


  • Nelson Lu

    Please correct me if I’m wrong, but if I remember correctly, the Cruze Eco doesn’t have a spare tire. I don’t think I’d ever recommend a vehicle that doesn’t carry one.

  • Old Man Crowder

    Well this certainly sounds promising. Especially the price and standard air bags. No spare tire? That’s why I carry a cell phone.

    The only thing that bugs me about GM vehicles is that while they get great highway mileage, they totally suck gas in the city. And unfortunately, that’s where many people spend the majority of their time. How much would it add to the price of the vehicle if they were to add the stop-start feature? I bet they’d reach their 30 mpg city pretty easily.

  • Anonymous

    Thats promising … now they just need to add a hybrid engine for improved city mpg and it could be a winner.

  • Lost Prius to wife

    Old Man Crowder and Anonymous, I agree with both of you. This really is promising. Maybe they could use what I believe is the idea of Hyundai to use an electric motor in the torque converter’s position to make it into a hybrid. I think they are shooting for a lower costing vehicle first, check the various patents and patent rights, and then build it into a more expensive maybe hybrid vehicle. This would add to the overall horsepower and torque and yet increase the vehicle’s MPG. That would be a very interesting vehicle.

    Also, Nelson Lu, they could put “run flat” tires on the car to allow one to have a flat and yet be able to get one to the next source of help. Do not know how well that would work in real life, but it could work well enough.

  • Dom

    Actually, I think it’s the other way around… many Americans spend more time on the highway than in the city… but I guess it really depends on where you live. I do agree that a start-stop system would be cheap to put on this car. A lot of recent European models are coming with this I hear.

    I think it’s cool that the Eco is manual only (take that automatics!), and I like that the transmission is find tuned (geared) for economy. Reminds me of the VW Bluemotion models that also have special tall geared transmissions.

  • Andrew Hime

    Manual only? Ridiculous. Why not a CVT? Does it really cost that much more?

  • Scott Z

    CVT? I am sure an engineer will correct me if I am wrong but to my knowledge all things being equal a manual transmission is more efficient then a CVT let alone a normal automatic.

    Again I distrust all things GM but I hope they deliver. The market pressure this price point and MPG stat would bring is worth its weight in gold.

    I so want a 60+ MPG car.

  • ex-EV1 driver

    Dom,
    I guess for the good of all, the question is more: Where is most of the world’s gasoline used? Highway or City.
    That, of course, assumes you’ve already eliminated having an electric motor since a well-designed hybrid will get better mpg than a pure ICE in BOTH highway and city driving.

  • Shines

    I’m glad GM is working on efficiency (they have to with the Govt. mandates). And a nearly midsized ice car that gets 27 city and 40 highway for $10k less than a hybrid may be a big winner.
    However I think Chevy/GM needs to look at some type of automatic transmission option. If they just market it as “The Crize Eco gets 40mpg.” And buyers discover the only transmission choice is manual, many will be dissappointed. Yes a manual transmission is the most efficient for an ICE but people will want choices. If they can also offer an automatic (CVT or otherwise) that maybe gets 25 city and 36 highway (and still costs $8K less than a hybrid) I still think they would have a winner.

  • Lost Prius to wife

    Dom and ex-EV1 driver, DOE and EPA set the national standard at 55% city driving and 45% highway driving with the average driver going 15,000 miles per year. Their combined site is http://www.fueleconomy.gov. They use the gas and mileage information from drivers like me that are in this for the long term (I have been submitting every gas receipt for over four years). The advantage of doing this can pay off in real saved money. By tracking my gas data I know the BigO tires that I bought cost me 2.8 MPG on our Prius. This will cost me over $350+ compared to the original tires (I did not save any money by buying the slightly cheaper tires, did I?). If I had bought better rolling resistance tires than the originals, I might have increased my mileage ~2 MPG. In other words, my poor decision will cost me probably $600+. Tell me that does not hurt one’s wallet. I can also show that for the cars that we drive the cheapest gas is premium, not regular or mid-grade. And since it tracks the miles that my wife and I drive, we leased a car (in hopes that a hybrid or electric version will be ready in three years) at the cheaper 12K miles per year, not the standard more expensive 15K miles per year. Am I worried that we might go over that 36K total? Not in the least since we will probably put only 30K on the car based on four years data. As you can see, it is a free site that one can use to save money.

  • simon@syd

    That sounds like an awsome website. If it could be integrated with a cars electronic system and made automatic? That might have as much impact on ones fuel consumption as the choice of drivetrain.

  • DownUnder

    No spare tyre? The Luxury Prius only has tyre repair kit.
    What if we mate that engine to a hybrid drive train to capture the energy otherwise lost when braking?

  • Nelson Lu

    The Prius does have a spare: http://www.toyota.com/prius-hybrid/features.html (select “safety”). And in any case, this lack of a spare tire is hardly a standard thing and it was also a major reason why I didn’t consider a Malibu Hybrid, instead buying a Fusion Hybrid (which has one). (I also believe that it was the lack of a spare tire that was partially responsible for the Accord Hybrid’s lack of sales and subsequent demise.)

    As for “run-flat” tires — first, a run-flat tire can still blow out, and you can’t run flat or repair a blown-out tire. Second, a run-flat tire will have significantly worse fuel efficiency than the low roll resistance tires that all hybrids and now, “Eco” trim cars have.

    As for “that’s what a cell phone is for,” again, even if you can call for help, the arriving tow truck 1) might not have a proper tire to fit on your car and 2) if it did, you can be sure to be charged through the nose for it.

  • DownUnder

    Nelson,

    In Australia, spare for the Luxury model is optional while the tyre repair kit is standard:

    http://www.toyota.com.au/prius/specifications/i-tech

    I prefer a standard tyre though.

    I was told that a combination of diesel and hybrid drivetrain will be extremely expensive, at least for now.

  • Dom

    Scott Z said “CVT? I am sure an engineer will correct me if I am wrong but to my knowledge all things being equal a manual transmission is more efficient then a CVT let alone a normal automatic.”

    I’m not an engineer either, but the cars I’ve looked at that have a manual and a CVT option, the manual still gets a higher mpg rating. Two examples off the top of my head are the original Insight, and the Jeep Compass.

    Andrew Hime said “Manual only? Ridiculous. Why not a CVT? Does it really cost that much more?”

    Yes, actually it does. The cars I’ve looked at it’s usually at least another $1000 or so for the automatic, of not more. Automakers have yet to design an automatic transmission that is all of the following compared to a manual: cheaper, more efficient, simpler, and more durable. Sorry. And it continues to amaze me that the US is one of the few countries where just about everybody HAS to have an automatic. I’m not sure if we’re spoiled or just lack coordination…

  • mls21

    I read on the GM Media site that the Cruze Eco will be offered with a six-speed automatic as well as the manual. It said the details of expected fuel economy would be available closer to the product launch. For what it’s worth, the image above does show an automatic transmission so I’m guessing it wasn’t a picture from the test car?

    http://media.gm.com/content/media/us/en/news/news_detail.brand_gm.html/content/Pages/news/us/en/2010/Mar/10NYAS/chevrolet/0328_GM_cruze_eco

    I love driving a manual, but claiming that this car would be launched as a manual-only option didn’t pass the smell test. That would be sales suicide for this ECO version in the US.

  • Lost Prius to wife

    Dom and Scott Z, the efficiency and cost of a CVT will depend on its design / complexity, amortized R&D cost, and ease of manufacture. The following is quoted directly from Wikipedia as to epicyclic (planetary) gearing’s advantages and disadvantages:

    “Advantages of planetary gears over parallel axis gears include high power density, large reduction in a small volume, multiple kinematic combinations, pure torsional reactions, and coaxial shafting. Disadvantages include high bearing loads, inaccessibility, and design complexity. The planetary gearbox arrangement is an engineering design that offers many advantages over traditional gearbox arrangements. One advantage is its unique combination of both compactness and outstanding power transmission efficiencies. A typical efficiency loss in a planetary gearbox arrangement is only 3% per stage. This type of efficiency ensures that a high proportion of the energy being input is transmitted through the gearbox, rather than being wasted on mechanical losses inside the gearbox.
    Another advantage of the planetary gearbox arrangement is load distribution. Because the load being transmitted is shared between multiple planets, torque capability is greatly increased. The more planets in the system, the greater load ability and the higher the torque density.
    The planetary gearbox arrangement also creates greater stability (it’s a balanced system) and increased rotational stiffness.”

    This is why Toyota went with their power split planetary gear system: low efficiency loss along with four planetary gears for high torque density and greater load ability. This is also why the combined 110 horsepower can get about 48 MPG without any fancy technique. But not every CVT is a power split planetary device. Some, including one of Toyota’s initial experimental hybrid designs, have standard transmissions in combination with the variable part of the transmission. This increases the efficiency loss. Hence the CVT / standard transmission efficiency losses are greater as compared to just a standard transmission.

  • BRYAN

    MOST OF CHEVY’S VEHICLES DO NOT COM standard WITH A SPARE TIRE…THEY COME WITH A TIRE INFLATION KIT TO SAVE WEIGHT AND COST…BUT ALL HAVE A SPARE TIRE option AND ALL STILL HAVE A TRADITIONAL SPARE TIRE WHEEL WELL IN WHICH TO PUT IT

  • BRYAN

    yes, the cruze ECO model will only have a 6 speed manual trans….but the regular cruze will come with both 6 speen manual and auto trans and still offer almost the same mileage (maybe 2 mpg less, so like 38 hwy).

  • Nelson Lu

    Bryan wrote:

    “MOST OF CHEVY’S VEHICLES DO NOT COM standard WITH A SPARE TIRE…THEY COME WITH A TIRE INFLATION KIT TO SAVE WEIGHT AND COST…BUT ALL HAVE A SPARE TIRE option AND ALL STILL HAVE A TRADITIONAL SPARE TIRE WHEEL WELL IN WHICH TO PUT IT”

    And I call that cheating, because if you add the spare tire yourself, cost goes up, and fuel economy goes down. So if, for example, a Chevrolet Cruze and a Ford Focus will eventually get the same EPA fuel efficiency numbers, the Ford is, reality, significantly better fuel-effiiciency-wise.

  • ex-EV1 driver

    Nelson Lu,
    Do you think it is also cheating for cars not to come with built in tool boxes and tools? What about a crank for emergency starting, a tow chain, or tire pump? Most cars used to come with all of these things but reliability and availability of repair facilities increased to where carrying these things became less useful.
    Tires today are so reliable that it is worth considering the value of carrying a spare, especially with run-flats.
    I’m not sure it is really cheating.

  • mls21

    All I can go by is this statement from that GM Media article I linked to above:

    “City fuel economy, as well as estimates for the Cruze Eco equipped with an available six-speed automatic transmission, will be finalized closer to launch.”

    According to GM they do plan to put out an ECO option with the automatic transmission. Honestly though, I really don’t care. People can believe whatever they want. GM either will or won’t put out an automatic version of the ECO.

  • Anonymous

    @mls21: That’s right. GM will definitely put out the manual, but has not committed to the auto version. Only time will tell. The key question is how many of either/both they will produce and sell. The company’s hybrid sales are dismally low.

  • Nelson Lu

    ex-EV1 driver:

    No matter how reliable the tires are, there are going to be events that make them pop or otherwise unreparable. Take a look, for example, at Edmunds’s long-term BMW 750i. (http://blogs.insideline.com/roadtests/Vehicles/2009-bmw-750i/) Edmunds was unusually unlucky with it, I’m sure — I highly doubt that it’s that the 750i was particularly awful with tires. Yet claiming that “Oh, tires never get destroyed anyway, so we don’t need a spare tire” is cheating — and, again, even if, arguendo, it is not cheating, it still does not make the equipment to be equivalent with, for example, a Ford Focus that carries one.

    Besides, if GM is going to take the line of, “It is just wasteful to have a spare tire because tires are so reliable that you don’t need one,” that would be contradicting itself in that a spare tire is standard on Buicks. Surely you’re not going to tell me that they give Chevrolets better tires than Buicks?

  • chevy dealer in virginia

    For those of you only reading about the “eco” model Cruze.. let me clarify a few issues. Chevrolet chose not to include a spare tire as standard equipment for two reasons.. 1. to keep weight distribution down. 2. with the standard warranty they offer full road side service and towing for the first 5 years that you own the car along with free transportation if the car needs to be in the shop. No other manufactor in this “compact class” offers that without an additional charge. Although the Eco model only comes with a 6 speed manual there will also be the LT model that will be available with an automatic transmission and you have the option to add a spare tire to any configuration if you chose to.

  • Spektor

    Rubbish to a lot of these posters. First off, it’s a brilliant idea to produce a car like this. Cheap, newly designed, relatively good looking, and, even compared to the imports, extremely efficient. ( My Hyundai Sonata sedan, with a stick and a 134hp 2.4 4-cyl is a dog and is only rated at 29 highway!) So GM, offering this type of car for the masses can effect a far greater impact on gasoline use in the US than perhaps all the Toyota Prii(?) put together. (Can someone please do the math on this?). 40 mpg in a gasoline powered, safe, modern U.S.-model is extraordinary. Europe has had these high-mileage models for decades and it’s high time we got some here in the US. The FIAT 500 will probably top 40 when it comes next year.

    And for heaven’s sake, regarding the hand wringing over the tire issue, the cars without spares do so to save weight and fuel, a laudable goal, and they come with an emergency sealant and electric air pump kit in the trunk. It weighs less and can easily seal most punctures. So stop fretting. If you get a flat in most cases you will be just fine with the pump solution. Are you a green person? Then ditching a spare in these models is one more way to be green. And if it really bugs you and you want to lug around an unnecessary, fuel wasting spare for years and years and years, pleasing BP, your dealer will sell it to you as an option. Sheesh! It doesn’t mean the whole car is bad!

  • Eco Friendly Cars

    Chevrolet Cruze Eco is an environment friendly car. It has greater fuel economy. It has very less weight and less rolling resistance. The Cruze Eco delivers hybrid-like efficiency.
    http://www.greenliving9.com/eco-friendly-cars.html

  • Shawn Kipp

    A spare tire is optional for approximately $100 if it was desired. Most new GM cars come with an inflator kit as standard.

  • JB737

    It looks like Cruze is starting to arrive at dealers, but not yet the Eco version. I’m unhappy about several things. The biggest one is the manual transmission being available only on the base LS model, and even worse, cruise control is not even an option with the manual. That’s a dealbreaker for me, and I don’t think I’m abnormal for people who like manual transmissions. It is a very clear signal that they don’t wish anyone to buy the manual trans, essentially a sham offering probably to pump the city MPG from 24mpg to 26mp in advertising while never intending to sell any.

    I’m on the MA/NH border. There are automatics available several places within 10-50 miles from me. There are only 2 manuals available within 500 miles of me, at one dealer in Philadelphiia.

    While I bought a 2001 Prius when they first came out, and practice some “hypermiling” techniques in all my vehicles, I’m in the camp that a mini spare is a good compromise between a fullsize spare (Remember those? I do) and just a can of Fix-A-Flat. Unless the majority of a given car model is actually delivered without a spare, the EPA tests should include the spare, and so should the base price of the car (in this case with a delete option of -$100, rather than +$100 for a minispare). No dealer in his right mind is going to order most of these cars without a spare, and the number of people who order a car to be built is minimal, so it is indeed cheating out of the expected apples-to-apples comparison with competitors, no different from unexpectedly charging for the meal on an airplane.

    I like that they are making a version of it with gear ratios chosen for better mileage. I hate stupid gearing…e.g., Hyundai Elantra Touring has a nice overdrive transmission, but in the USA has a tall final drive ratio that negates it, giving about 3000rpm at 65mph. So stupidity isn’t limited to Detroit, but is more correlated with the products they all choose to push in the USA market. Few manufacturers worldwide give us any respect for intelligence, as shown by the choices in the European market vs here.

  • JB737

    I of course meant the Elantra Touring has a short (but high numerically) rather than tall final drive ratio, driving up the rpm. The ratio is 4.19 or so, when it should be under 3 (given the gearing in the trans)to allow cruising around 2000rpm at 60-65mph for good mileage.

  • emily

    hey hey hey, no fighting. i like this car EVEN IF IT DOESNT HAVE A SPARE TIRE.