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2012 Chevrolet Eco Cruze Road Test

2012 Chevrolet Cruze Eco Road Test

by Martha Hindes

2012 Green Car Buyer's Guide - Top 10 Picks

Chevrolet Cruze Eco

Infiniti M35h

Chevrolet Volt

Toyota Camry Hybrid

Hyundai Sonata Hybrid

2012 Green Car Home

If "electric" is the latest green car buzzword and "hybrid" its current category staple, whatever happened to yesterday's internal combustion engine? Past history, right? Well, no. Rather than being a fuel economy pariah, Chevrolet's 2012 Cruze Eco sedan is showing the energy elite just how it should be done.

Wearing the self-anointed crown as the "most fuel-efficient gas-powered/non-hybrid vehicle in America" in GM-speak is one thing. Living up to it is quite another. After time behind the wheel of a cheery cherry red Cruze Eco, I think that might be an understatement.

OK, so I didn't get the promised 42 highway miles to a gallon of regular. Fault the driver not the vehicle. I mean you wouldn't expect to punch the accelerator and get a "gee whiz" kind of seatback thrust if the car you're driving was designed to leave barely a shred of environmental impact. And without using an electric motor somewhere as part of its propulsion package.

I put the key in the ignition, shoved the overdrive-spiced six-speed manual tranny into gear, and expected a mild mannered response as it inched into traffic. Boy was I wrong. The Cruze just spun forward with an aggressive "own-the-road" attitude, catching me by surprise. Where did that come from? Was this a tread lightly reject in earth-tuned disguise?

Driving the Cruze Eco became a favorite past time for the rest of the test week. I couldn't wait to spin it tightly around corners, come to quick stops and (occasionally) pump out a jackrabbit start from its turbocharged, 1.4-liter, VVT ECOTEC four (generating 138 HP and 148 lb-ft of torque). Before you get critical, just wait. I know the idea is to save fuel, snuff out emissions, not make waves. But if you really expect someone who's been accustomed to plain fun driving to simply give that up... Well, maybe you get my point.

The stingy gas consumption is evident in some subtle ways. A fuel-economy yardstick sits dead center in the gauge cluster, just teasing one into saner driving patterns, despite an occasional vent. A noticeable quirk, however, was an occasional tendency for the engine to quit at a stop light with the shifter in neutral. At first I thought, like other gas-starving autos, it was designed to turn off. But not when I had to restart it myself. Maybe my lead foot was anticipating the light change. But that began to toy with my conscience, and I aimed at getting the yardstick marker higher than the low 30s rating I initially earned.

The 2012 Cruze is an attractive compact car for five, with a cool, sophisticated exterior, user-friendly console plus upmarket plastic and cloth treatments for a handsome and functional interior. Flip-down rear seats expand the spacious trunk.

Among amenities on my U.S.-assembled Cruze were rear spoiler, leather wrapped steering wheel and shifter, advanced telematics, message center and 10 standard airbags, for a base (sans destination) of $19,245.00. The only option: $325 for crystal red metallic paint. Was anything lacking? How about no need to search for an electric charging station?

For more info on the Chevy Cruze Eco, click here.