We viewed our upcoming time with the new 2012 Chevrolet Cruze ECO with a healthy dose of excitement. We were excited, because the domestic manufacturers have really been on a roll lately, and all of the Big Three are turning out some great products. Replacing the Cobalt, this is a bread-and-butter sedan for Chevy, and a key player in the small car market, which has been owned by the Asian imports for decades. We wondered, is it good enough to bring those buyers back into a Chevrolet store?
Well, it certainly is handsome enough. While you have the super-edgy style leaders like the Hyundai Elantra, and Mazda 3 on the one hand, and the more conservative Nissan Sentra and Toyota Corolla on the side, the Chevrolet Cruze sits in the middle. But don’t take this to mean boring. This is a handsome, athletic-looking sedan, with crisp lines that help make it look larger than the typical compact car. Helping our Blue Topaz Metallic tester stand out were standard forged polished 17-inch alloy wheels.
A bigger surprise was in store once we got behind the wheel. When you see the name ECO on the car and find out it’s powered by a 1.4-liter engine, you‘d probably expect a noisy and slow driving experience that could only make the most frugal drivers happy. While the Chevrolet Cruze ECO does have a 42-mpg highway rating from the EPA—the best highway mileage of any gas engine in America—this is a really nice car to drive.
First of all, the 1.4L is turbocharged and puts out a respectable 138 horsepower. Even more important, the ECO puts out maximum torque at just 1850 rpm, so it scoots along quite nicely. This is an extremely smooth running engine, and our tester’s 6-speed manual had the slightly heavy, but silky feel you find in Audis and VWs.
The ride also had us thinking European, with a surprisingly quiet interior, good road feel and plenty of handling grip. There was a little bit of steering slop in the center, but the only problem we really had driving the ECO was reeling in our enthusiasm in order to achieve top fuel economy. We didn’t. But even so, we averaged low-to-mid 30s, so no complaints here.
Chevrolet Cruze passengers enjoy the ride too. The interior is roomy and handsome, with plenty of aluminum-tone trim to add some bling. The quality of the materials is top notch, and care has gone into making the switchgear feel good to the hand. We especially like the steering wheel, with a nice thick rim, and thumbwheel remote controls that would be at home in an Audi. Also worth mentioning, the Cruze comes with 10 standard airbags—the most in its class. This is not the forgettable Chevy you rented five years ago.
The 2012 Chevrolet Cruze ECO starts at $19,425. Our tester had one option, a Convenience Package with a power adjustable driver seat (nice) and rear parking assist (extra nice) for $495—highly recommended. And it still came in under $20,000.
It’s probably wrong to think of the Chevy Cruze ECO as a gas-mizer econo-box. If just squeezing every last drop of fuel is your priority, you can spend less and go further. We think the 2012 Cruze ECO is a handsome, great-driving small car with quality and refinement at the top of its class. And the fact that it can return 42 mpg on the highway? Icing on the cake. www.chevrolet.com/cruze-compact-car/