What if you could have near-hybrid-level gas mileage without the added expense of a hybrid car? No, we’re not talking clean diesel here — we’re talking about a new, right-size car that applies efficiency technologies to our old friend, the internal-combustion engine. This non-hybrid mpg champ is the 2011 Chevy Cruze.
The Cruze’s standard model with manual transmission has an EPA highway fuel economy rating of 36 mpg (26 mpg in the city), with a suggested retail price of $16,995. However, at a suggested retail price of $18,895, the Cruze Eco model has a class-leading highway rating of 42 mpg (28 mpg in the city) if equipped with a manual transmission.
The improved mpg in the Eco comes from reduced weight, improved aerodynamics and, most importantly, reduced engine size. The Eco is an example of coaxing maximum fuel efficiency from an already thrifty car. (An automatic transmission is available on the Eco for an extra $925, but delivers only 37 mpg on the highway.)
If the Eco’s smaller engine feels like a deal breaker to you, consider this: The 1.4-liter, four-cylinder engine is turbocharged to deliver 138 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque. Its six-speed manual transmission allows the driver to rev the engine for best power or shift early for optimal fuel economy.
At highway speeds, a car’s gas mileage is most affected by how well it slips through the air. Chevy treated the Cruze Eco with the latest aerodynamic tricks, including grille shutters that close off the front radiator at lower speeds (when it’s not needed to cool the engine). The vehicle also rides a little closer to the ground and has tires with low resistance to rolling.
With the development of the Chevy Cruze, we see further evidence that car companies are finally realizing that mpg is an important consideration for buyers interested in a new car.