• Model: 2012 Chevrolet Cruze ECO
• Exterior color: Crystal Red Metallic
• Engine: 1.4 liter, four-cylinder, turbo
• Horsepower: 138
• Transmission: Six-speed automatic
• Fuel economy: 39 highway, 26 city
• Dealer: Walter Jackson Chevrolet, Ringgold, Ga.
• Price (as tested): $22,225
Give me a car that zips while it sips.
Finding the perfect balance of spirited performance and great fuel economy is the Holy Grail of modern car-making.
The hot-selling Chevrolet Cruze compact sedan hits both marks, and as a result U.S. sales topped 230,000 units last year, according to General Motors.
We put a Crystal Red Metallic Cruze ECO from Walter Jackson Chevrolet in Ringgold, Ga., through the paces this week.
The ECO is the most fuel-efficient model in the Cruze line and features a 1.4-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder engine with automatic transmission that returns 39 miles per gallon (highway) on regular fuel.
Sales consultant Richard Doyle said his Cruze customers are reporting real-life fuel use consistent with that 39 mpg number.
Meanwhile, a manual-transmission version of the Cruze ECO makes 42 mpg highway, which puts it firmly in hybrid territory without the expensive (and weighty) battery packs associated with gas-electric vehicles.
The Cruze shares modern (if somewhat generic) styling cues with its Chevy stable-mate, the midsize Malibu. Its nicely contoured roofline is framed by a symmetrical arc that forms the A and C pillars. The tiered hood adds mass to the design, and the honeycomb grille with integrated headlamps gives the car a pretty face.
Our tester included polished alloy wheels, a 15-spoke design that really pops. Short front and rear overhangs and large taillight treatments add to the clean, well-proportioned design. In short: This car should age well.
Inside, the Cruze is spacious and comfortable. Our tester came with durable fabric seat surfaces (leather is available in the top-of-the-line LTZ trim).
The Cruze ECO also comes with such nice touches as GM's Onstar driving-direction and rescue-help functions, power driver's seat, remote start and rear parking assist.
Rear seat headroom is ample, but knee room in the back might be a little tight for taller adults.
For a compact, the Cruze ECO is quiet and refined, except for a somewhat boisterous air conditioning fan motor. The little four-cylinder engine makes 138 horsepower, and the turbocharger spools up quickly, making the car exceptionally nimble in traffic.
The leather-wrapped steering wheel has an upscale feel, and the driving dynamics are tight, almost playful. On a twisty side road off Alabama Highway in Ringgold, the Cruze ECO sprinted up and over hills like an eager puppy. Goodyear Assurance tires offer sure grip. The Cruze is an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety top pick, making it a prudent choice for small families with precious cargo.
Our nicely equipped test car stickered for $22,225, including $995 for the automatic transmission. At that price, this is a high-content machine for customers on a budget who want a bit of refinement.
In many ways, the Cruze drives and looks like a bigger, midsized car.
Ample savings at the gas pump will certainly help you make that monthly car payment.