Bottom line: Failure to consider the Cruze Eco or its siblings (LS, 1LT, 2LT and LTZ) in shopping for a small, fuel-efficient economy car is failure to act in your best interests as a consumer. Forget whatever you recall about the bad old days of Chevrolet’s small cars. Or, if it makes you feel better, hold on to those memories. But at least, drive and attempt to fairly evaluate the Cruze before crossing it off your list.
Ride, acceleration and handling: Very good in all three.
Head-turning quotient: Literally best in class, inside and out.
Body style/layout: The Cruze is a compact front-engine, front-wheel-drive economy sedan with four side doors and a traditional notchback trunk. It is available in five trim levels — the base LS; the turbocharged 1Lt, 2LT and Eco; and the upscale LTZ.
Engines/transmissions: There are two engines and two available transmissions. The Cruze LS gets a 1.8-liter, 16-valve in-line four-cylinder engine with variable valve timing (for a more precise metering of air-fuel intake) producing a maximum 136 horsepower and 123 foot-pounds of torque. The Eco gets a turbocharged 1.4-liter, 16-valve in-line four-cylinder engine (138 horsepower, 148 foot-pounds of torque). A turbocharger pulls more air into engine combustion chambers to produce more power without an appreciable increase in fuel consumption. A six-speed manual transmission is standard in the LS and Eco. A six-speed automatic is optional.
Capacities: There are seats for five people. Trunk space is a generous (for a small car) 15.4 cubic feet. The fuel tank holds 12.6 gallons of gasoline. Regular grade is recommended.
Mileage: The Environmental Protection Agency estimates 28 miles per gallon in the city and 42 mpg on the highway. In mostly highway driving, including much construction-caused idling, I averaged 40 mpg.
Safety: Rigid body construction; ventilated front disc brakes and rear drums; electronic brake-force distribution; four-wheel anti-lock brake protection; electronic stability and traction control; side and head air bags; OnStar emergency communications service.
Price: The base price on the 2011 Cruze Eco sedan is $18,425. Dealer’s invoice price on that model is $17,688. Price as tested is $19,895, including $720 in options (Bluetooth phone, iPod connectivity and special “black crystal metallic” exterior paint) and a $750 destination charge. Dealer’s price as tested is $19,072. Compare with Ford Focus, Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra, Kia Forte, Nissan Sentra and Toyota Corolla.