2012 Chevrolet Cruze Eco
Base price: $19,245
As tested: $20,505
MPG: 28 city/42 highway
- Best small Chevy ever
- Exceptionally fuel-efficient
- Comfortable and fun to drive
- Tight back seat, needs more interior storage
- Good but not a standout in the compact segment
- Can get expensive
By Jim Prueter
We first drove the Chevrolet Cruze last spring, when it was a brand-new model. In its second year, the 2012 Cruze remains relatively unchanged except for higher fuel economy ratings and the addition of more standard features. Cruze models with the 1.4-liter turbo engine get better mileage on the highway, now 42 mpg instead of 40. Lower trim levels get Bluetooth, steering wheel-mounted audio controls, and a USB port.
Cruze is still available in LS, 1LT, 2LT, LTZ, and Eco. Navigation is now available on the Eco Trim. The 1LT and Eco trims add the Bluetooth, audio controls, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob. These were optional on the 2011 Cruze.
In an earlier review, we declared that the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze was the best small car Chevy ever built, but asked whether that would be enough. Since that time, the Cruze has become a huge sales success. Cruze, as the replacement for the Chevrolet Cobalt, couldn’t be more different, and is a vast improvement in every sense.
First launched two years ago in Europe, Cruze is now sold in 60 countries, including India, Mexico, China, and across Europe. The Cruze that goes to those countries is built in Korea to European specifications. Domestic Cruzes are built at Chevrolet’s Lordstown, Ohio assembly plant.
Chevrolet provided us with a six-speed manual transmission 2012 Cruze Eco model for testing. While I was tempted to forego jackrabbit starts and keep the “Eco” mode dash light lit as much as possible to completely maximize the fuel economy, I decided to drive it as I would any other vehicle and not “baby” it for mileage.
After racking up more than 250 miles for the week, our digital display in the Cruze’s gauge cluster indicated we averaged 41.6 mpg, which was surprising, to say the least. We expect this kind of mileage from hybrids or a diesel-powered compact cars, but it was a pleasant surprise from this turbocharged 4-cylinder. Congratulations to the folks at Chevrolet.
How did Chevy do it? A silky smooth six-speed manual transmission with a very tall sixth gear, low-rolling-resistant tires, time in the wind tunnel, a curb weight of just over 3,100 pounds, a small fuel tank, lightweight alloy wheels, a lower front grille air shutter, and body aero panels, all played a part.
Our 2012 Cruze Eco tester was exceptionally comfortable, handled very well, and felt secure and competent. The standard suspension delivers a smooth ride. Engine noise was minimal and the cabin was as quiet as any compact car we’ve driven.
A few things we didn’t care for were the tight back seat, brakes with a mushy feel, and too few places to store small gear. More storage bins, cubbies, and a larger center console would be welcomed additions.
Standard safety features include 10 airbags, including two frontal and two knee airbags for front occupants, front and rear side-impact airbags, and curtains that cover front and rear side windows. Antilock brakes and electronic stability system with traction control also are standard. Front disc and rear drum brakes are standard, and rear discs can be found on the LTZ or as an option on the LT.
Combine the stubborn economy with gas prices around $3.50 per gallon, compact cars have become extremely popular. Terrific options include the Hyundai Elantra, Volkswagen Jetta, Honda, Civic, Toyota Corolla, Mazda3, Ford Focus, Nissan Sentra, Scion xB, and others. But Cruze is easily the best compact car overall. It could still use some refinement to outpace a segment that’s saturated with excellent compact cars. Cruze doesn’t come cheap. And with larger, well-equipped cars like the Hyundai Sonata, starting at just $19,395, it might be a better buy than the pretty darn good Cruze unless you’re obsessed with gas mileage. If you want great fuel economy under $20,000, though, the Cruze is a winner.