The gas-powered Chevy Cruze gets hybrid-like mileage at a much lower price.
To highlight how much fuel-economy improvements automotive design engineers are still wringing out of internal combustion engines, just spend some time in the Eco version of Chevy's Cruze compact car.
I had a week with the car, equipped with a 6-speed automatic transmission with overdrive, and in nearly 500 miles of Interstate and mountain driving I logged 37 mpg on the car's trip computer—right on the EPA highway mileage number (26 mpg, city). The 6-speed manual transmission version is listed as 28 mpg (city) and 42 mpg (hwy). The engine in both versions is a 1.4-L (138 hp, 148 ft-lb torque) four cylinder.
But you don't have to take my word for it. Automotive Traveler magazine's Richard Truesdell drove the manual version (I assume) from California to New Jersey and achieved 40 mpg for the trip.
Base price for the Eco on the sticker I have is $18,175. Add a $525 connectivity package (cruise control, USB interface, Bluetooth, leather steering wheel and shifter, etc.), automatic transmission ($925), compact spare tire ($100), and destination charge ($720) and the total is $20,445.
Previously, I had driven the luxury LTZ model (nice stitched leather, sport suspension) of the Cruze with the automatic and pulled 30 mpg in limited suburban driving. I was impressed with the handling and pickup for a compact car, with similar performance in the Eco.
As an ex-aero engineer, I was impressed with the aerodynamic and other features the GM engineers have designed into the Eco to improve mileage from the standard Cruze. These include:
Lower front grille air shutters to regulate engine airflow to cut cooling drag
Front fascia air dam
Mid-body aero panels
Low rolling resistance tires, also used on the Chevy Volt range-enhanced electric vehicle
Engine-wise, there is variable valve timing (four valves/cylinder) and the air conditioner is decoupled from the engine for less load when not in use
Here's a video of GM engineers explaining some of these features:
The Eco also had one of the best manually adjusting seats I've seen. It is movable eight ways, including front and rear tilt, and height adjustment. The car is fairly quiet and the body style allows a deep trunk. All in all, the Cruze is a fun, economical, and practical package.
(In case you're not familiar with the Cruze, it's the car that our favorite ex-Cylon, Grace Park'scharacter, Kono, in the new Hawaii Five-0 TV series drives with some aplomb.)