GM has struggled since it seems like forever to produce a small car that people really wanted to buy and make money at it, but with the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze, it appears to be on the right track. Sales of the Cruze are topping 20,000 per month, doubling that of the admittedly stale Chevrolet Cobalt, from a year ago. It should as well. It’s a much better car, quiet to shut out the noise of Manhattan , a smooth ride, and a choice ranging from the base $16,525 Cruze LS to the leather-seated top-of-the-line Cruze LTZ, priced at $22,225. And over to one side, there’s the fuel-thrifty 2011 Chevrolet Cruze Eco.
The 2011 Cruze Eco, like other the rest of the Chevy Cruze lineup (except the base LS model), is powered by a 1.4-liter turbocharged four cylinder engine. It’s a stingy enough engine. It’s small size means it uses gas like a small engine, except that when called upon, the turbocharger makes it perform like, well, not exactly a big engine. But with 138 horsepower and, more importantly, 148 lb-ft of torque at an respectably low 2500 rpm, the 1.4-liter turbo engine makes the Cruze an easy car to drive around town. This is an engine, despite its tiny size, doesn’t have to spin like a White House press secretary to keep up with traffic.
The turbo engine is about more than just acceleration, however. Indeed, the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze Eco we tested has an EPA fuel economy rating of 28 mpg city and 42 mpg highway, the best of any gasoline-fueled car in its market segment. That particular segment doesn’t include hybrids but GM points out that the Cruze Eco tops the Ford Fusion Hybrid, Nissan Altima Hybrid and Toyota Camry Hybrid.
There’s a caveat, however. The Cruse Eco’s fuel use numbers apply only to the Cruze Eco with the six-speed manual transmission. A six-speed automatic Eco is available but it’s numbers are 26 city and 37 highway.
Of course, if the Cruze Eco 1.4 turbo engine is the same as that in other Cruze models…which get “only” 24 city/36 highway mpg fuel economy…what is it about the Eco Cruze that allows it to get the better fuel mileage?
A lot of little things, actually. One big thing is paring weight off everywhere the engineers could find a little excess. Less mass means less fuel used in getting it up to speed. Chevrolet calls it “mass optimization.” Chevy made more than 42 changes on the Eco to get the weight down. The result is that it tips the scales at 3,009 pounds. That’s 214 pounds less than the Cruze 1LT. Changes include hundreds of weld flanges on the vehicle being reduced 1 mm to 2 mm in length, which saved several pounds. The sheet metal gauge thickness was reduced by about 0.1 mm in select areas, saving weight while not reducing structural integrity.
The Cruze Eco also has lighter wheels and tires, 17-inch alloy rims with Goodyear tires that weigh only 36.5 pounds each. That’s a savings of 5.3 pounds per wheel over the 16-inch wheel and tire combo of the Cruze 1LT. The ultra-low rolling resistance 17-inch Goodyear tires are the same as those used in Chevrolet Volt extended range hybrid.
Chevy also made big changes to the Eco’s aerodynamics. The upper grille at the front of the car, for example, has more blocked off area, reducing aerodynamic drag of air going through the engine compartment. A moving flap blocks out the lower part of the radiator at speed for the same reason, reopening when the Cruze Eco slows down.