Remember when fuel efficient cars were drab, uninspired and a chore to drive? Sure, the Geo Metro delivered over fifty miles to the gallon in the highway, but it was dangerously underpowered, noisy and ill handling. It’s sole concession to luxury was a keyed ignition, although later versions did include safety features like ABS and dual airbags. The Metro wasn’t exactly ugly, but no one other than it’s designer would accuse it of being good looking.
Times change, and the safety equipment required to meet current NHTSA crash standards adds considerable weight to modern automobiles. Weight, coupled with rolling resistance and parasitic drag, is the enemy of fuel economy. Chevy took all this into consideration when they designed the 2011 Cruze Eco, which just received an EPA fuel economy estimate of 28 MPG city and 42 MPG highway. That puts the Cruze Eco atop its class besting the Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic, Ford Fiesta and Hyundai Elantra. The Cruze Eco even gives hybrids a run for their money, losing only to the Ford Fusion Hybrid in combined fuel economy.
Chevy made the Cruze Eco as aerodynamic as possible, and even developed an “air shutter” to reduce drag while maintaining sufficient airflow across the radiator. The net result of the Cruze Eco’s aerodynamic improvements is a gain of approximately six MPG on the highway. In wind tunnel testing, the Cruze Eco recorded ten percent less aerodynamic drag than other Cruze models, and achieved a slippery drag coefficient of just 0.298.
A fuel efficient car also needs to be light in weight, so Chevy made some 42 modifications to the Cruze Eco to lighten it up. The net result is a car some 214 pounds lighter than the Cruze 1LT, which itself only weighs 3,223 pounds. To shave weight, engineers reduced the thickness on select welds and used thinner steel in non-structural components. Even the lightweight wheels and tires used by the Cruze Eco weigh 21.2 pounds less than those used on the Cruze 1LT.
The Cruze Eco is powered by a 1.4 liter, turbocharged four cylinder motor, good for 138 horsepower (about double that of a Geo Metro, in case you’re keeping score) and 148 ft lb of torque. Peak torque is made between 1,850 and 4,900 RPM, which means that you don’t need to wind the Eco’s motor out to make power. The standard transmission is a six speed manual with a tall sixth gear, ideal for highway driving. If you don’t want to shift it yourself, a six speed automatic is also available, but fuel economy is reduced to 26 MPG city and 37 MPG highway.
The Cruze Eco goes on sale in January 2011, at a base price of just $18,895. That’s a whole lot cheaper than a hybrid, an electric car, or a turbodiesel. If you’re in the market for a fuel sipping commuter car, the Cruze Eco may just be the perfect blend of amenities, fuel economy and affordability. Like the rest of the Cruze models, it’s even good looking and should be comfortable to drive; I promise a full review as soon as I can get my hands on one.