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  • 2011 Chevrolet Cruze Eco

    Posted on January 27th, 2011 ninarussin

    Midsized sedan averages 35 mpg in city and highway driving

    By Nina Russin

    2011 Chevrolet Cruze Eco

    Last year, Chevrolet rolled out the Cruze: a five-passenger sedan which replaces the Cobalt. Midsized sedans are bread-and-butter products for automakers, since they comprise the biggest part of the passenger car market.

    Developing an eco version of the Cruze is a savvy marketing strategy for GM, providing a less expensive alternative to hybrid and electric cars.

    Base price for the Cruze Eco is $18,895 including destination and delivery charges. While my average fuel economy during the test drive didn’t quite match the automaker’s estimated 42 mpg on the highway, the car is certainly thrifty enough to significantly reduce costs of ownership.

    The Cruze can’t match hybrids such as the Toyota Prius for fuel economy, nor can it match the low-end acceleration of an electric motor. On the other hand, buyers aren’t paying a premium for hybrid technology. The Cruze Eco is also less expensive than European diesel sedans, with prices that start over $20,000.

    Developed on three continents

    2011 Chevrolet Cruze Eco

    Development of  the Cruze took place in the United States, Europe and Asia: a similar strategy to the Buick Regal and LaCrosse. A Korean studio designed the Cruze interior. Trademark features such as the waterfall buttons on the center stack reflect the Asian influence. Engineering took place in America and Europe.

    A turbocharged engine improves fuel economy versus naturally aspirated powerplants. An exhaust driven blower forces air through the engine, enhancing its efficiency. The technology which has been popular in Europe for years, is finally gaining momentum stateside.

    The Eco is one of five Cruze models, beginning with the LS priced from $16,995. Three of them, including the LS, LT and Eco, meet our urban category standard, with pricing starting under $20,000.

    All models come with four-cylinder engines and a six-speed automatic or manual transmissions. The turbocharged engine on the Cruze Eco is slightly smaller than the 1.8-liter naturally-aspirated block on other models, yet offers similar performance.

    Engineers enhanced fuel economy on the Cruze Eco by reducing vehicle weight, an aerodynamic front grille shared with the Volt, low rolling resistance tires and lighter wheels.

    Building a better mousetrap

    When I went to mechanic’s school in the mid-1980s, we were taught than internal combustions were at best, 40 percent efficient. From recent conversations with engineers, I understand that efficiency has increased to 60 percent, thanks to computer controls and lighter, more robust construction materials.

    While these numbers might surprise some readers, they shouldn’t. Think about how hot an engine gets when it’s running. That heat, created by internal friction, is energy lost. In addition, a certain amount of gas entering the engine never burns, and comes out the exhaust as carbon monoxide.

    Unfortunately, engineers have yet to invent a better mousetrap, at least one that doesn’t require a separate infrastructure. Diesel engines offer better fuel economy than gasoline, but still waste a lot of fuel. Electric and fuel cell powertrains hold promise, but both require different types of recharging or refueling stations: an expensive proposition.

    In the meantime, engineers are doing their best to improve engine performance by reducing internal friction, and improving the efficiency of fuel delivery and airflow through the engine. Fuel injection and more recently direct injection reduce the amount of fuel which never reaches the engine cylinders.

    Swirl combustion chambers minimize quench areas on the edges. These areas aren’t as hot, so gasoline fails to ignite.

    The turbocharger housing for the Cruze Eco is part of the exhaust manifold, reducing weight and improving thermal efficiency compared to a bolt-on part.

    Engineers reduced weight throughout the vehicle by using thinner sheet metal and using shorter weld flanges. The wheel/tire package is five pounds lighter than on other Cruze models, minimizing unsprung weight.

    The effect is similar to the transition from training shoes to racing flats: efficiency and performance improvements are significantly greater than for parts of the car supported by the suspension. Low rolling resistance tires further improve fuel efficiency.

    Test drive in Southern California

    Chevrolet Cruze Interior

    I recently had the opportunity to jump behind the new Cruze Eco for a brief test drive between Los Angeles and San Diego. Since the drive was shorter than what I normally do, this review won’t include some information about around-town performance, the interior and cargo area.

    The test car had a manual transmission as opposed to the automatic, something I would recommend to buyers who don’t mind the inconvenience of shifting. Manual transmissions allow the driver to choose his shift points: later for power, or earlier for gas mileage. Because of that, it makes the car a more versatile machine.

    While turbocharging allows the four-cylinder engine to develop peak torque at low speeds, it can’t make up for the fact that the engine is small, and hence, not particularly powerful. I found the sweet spot to be somewhere in the 2500-to-3500 rpm range. The automatic transmission models shift much earlier: something the driver might not welcome when trying to make an evasive maneuver.

    From a structural standpoint, the Cruze feels like a much more solid car than the Cobalt. Improved torsional rigidity has improved high-speed performance and on-center response.

    With the manual transmission, I had no problems accelerating into high-speed traffic, or getting around slower cars on the highway. On long drives across the desert, I would use the large overdrive gears, since power is not an issue.

    The Cruze has thick B pillars which limit over-the-shoulder visibility to both sides. Visibility to the front and rear were not an issue.

    The 17-inch alloy wheels are not only lighter than the rims on the base model, they are also larger, providing  a wider footprint for braking and cornering.

    Engineers cut costs by using a torsion beam suspension and drum brakes in the back of the car. This doesn’t affect performance on dry pavement. On a front-wheel drive vehicle, most of the car’s weight and braking activity happens up front. I would be interested to experience performance on rain and snow-covered roads.

    An electric power steering pump saves weight and space over a hydraulic setup. It also eliminates mechanical parts than can wear out over time. The electric steering system feels well tuned to the car, performing very much like its mechanical equivalent.

    Braking on the dry pavement is firm and linear.

    Standard safety

    The Chevrolet Cruze Eco comes standard with front, side and side impact airbags, antilock brakes, stability and traction control.

    The Cruze Eco is currently rolling into Chevrolet dealerships nationwide.

    Likes: An inexpensive sedan with exceptional fuel economy.

    Dislike: Thick B pillars limit visibility to either side of the car.

    Quick facts:

    Make: Chevrolet
    Model: Cruze Eco
    Year: 2011
    Base price: $18,895
    As tested: N/A
    Horsepower: 138 Hp @ 4900 rpm
    Torque: 148 lbs.-ft. @ 2500 rpm
    Zero-to-sixty: N/A
    Antilock brakes: Standard
    Side curtain airbags: Standard
    First aid kit: N/A
    Bicycle friendly: No
    Off-road: No
    Towing: No
    Fuel economy: 28/42 mpg city/highway


    3 responses to “2011 Chevrolet Cruze Eco”

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