Cruze a suitable sedan option in the electric field

By Allen Penticoff

I recently took a friend’s 2013 Chevy Cruze LT (with only 11,000 miles) for a test drive during a little road trip from Freeport to Forreston for a breakfast outing. He’s had the car since new, in fact having hunted down the exact features he was looking for and finding this car in Indiana. But when he learned he paid as much for his Cruze as I did our used Volt – he said, “I coulda had a Volt” (he’s a retired GM Mr. Goodwrench with Volt certification). But he is quite happy with the Cruze and its fuel economy generated by the 1.4 liter turbocharged engine.

Each manufacturer has some “eco” name for the use of turbochargers with small displacement engines. In Chevrolet’s case, they call it ECOTEC. It works the same for all – basically a small displacement engine can be made to have the horsepower needed for acceleration and passing, while sipping fuel at steady highway speeds or puttering about town.

The Cruze and Volt share some body components, but they don’t look much alike, inside or out. The Cruze is a bit roomier inside and thus more comfortable. I found the knee room in the Cruze considerably better than in my own Volt. My friend finds his right knee bumps the cabin temperature knob and changes it – I did not have that experience. The seats are equally firm and the ride is similarly taut. Instrumentation in the Cruze is a mix of both analog gauges and digital. The tachometer is analog, while the speedometer is both an analog (needle) gauge and a digital display in the center between the two. I, like my friend, found the digital speed display to be the one I relied on for speed information as the other is somewhat hidden by the steering wheel. The digital info includes odometer, instant mpg, and fuel range read outs. The instant mpg read out was a bit useless on our drive with much hill climbing and coasting. I saw 2 mpg while accelerating hard uphill, and 100 mpg coasting down one. But it seemed to settle on about 40 mpg while cruising at 60 mph. I find the “upside down” analog fuel and temperature gauges odd – requiring a bit more thought to read than necessary. The Cruze has the usual buttons and screen on the center console for infotainment, and like all newer Chevrolets, has 4G wireless WiFi via OnStar available.

The little engine did not lug up hills even with the cruise set at 60. There is some buzz from the engine as one would expect with a small car with a small four-cylinder engine revving hard. The six-speed automatic transmission has a manual select mode – so I ran it very hard through the gears, finding the shift point it liked was at the 6,000 rpm redline – dropping back to only 4,500 rpm with the next gear up selected. Zing, zing, zing it goes as the turbocharger is working its magic at these kind of rpm. However, when downshifting to slow down – the small 1.4 liter displacement shows its nature – there is no significant reduction in speed with downshifting – the engine revs up, but you just keep rolling along. Expect to coast a ways or use the brakes to slow down. This will help with fuel economy though – coasting at speed uses essentially no fuel while still covering ground – that’s where that 100 mpg comes from on the display.

Warning – boring stuff ahead: The Cruze has three engine options with two transmission options (both six-speed). For 2016 those listed as “Limited” models with the “ECOTEC” 1.8 liter four-cylinder with 138 horsepower/125 foot-pounds of torque gets 22 city/35 highway with automatic and 25/36 with the manual transmission. The turbocharged ECOTEC 1.4 has 138 horsepower/148 torque and 26/38 mpg with either transmission, while those sold as “limited ECO with the 1.4 turbo get 26/42 with the specially eco-geared manual and 28/42 mpg with an automatic. 2015 had a 2.0 liter diesel (automatic only) that gets 27 city/46 highway mpg. Whew. Horsepower/torque specs from the Chevy Cruz website. 2016 Fuel economy estimates are from the EPA’s website.

The Cruze is a nice smaller sedan; I guess “compact” is what category it fits into, comparable to the Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic, Ford Focus or Chrysler 200. Honestly, they are all very similar in every way. And all built to some extent in the USA. You’ll find the 2015 Cruze base price at $16,170 and a well equipped one for $25,660 MSRP.

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