A Chevy Cruze Eco arrived at the office last week for a 1-week loan, which got me thinking about the sedan’s EPA rating of 42 mpg (5.6 L/100 km) on the highway.
Is it smoke and mirrors, or can GM’s all-new small car really rack up that kind of fuel economy?
One way to find out. When my sister and brother-in-law asked if I could help tile the kitchen of their cottage in northern Michigan, I knew this would be an ideal opportunity to put the Cruze Eco to the test.
I’d leave on Sunday morning on a meandering route that would include four brief stops along the way. Other than that, it was smooth sailing north on I-75.
My preliminary calculations suggest 42 mpg is a considerable stretch. I’ll explain later.
First off, the Cruze is a remarkable car, handsome inside and out and quite spacious for me, two teen-agers (each over 6-ft. [183-cm] tall but very comfortable in the back seat) and a trunk full of tools, fishing gear and guitars.
Load a car with that much stuff and mileage is bound to suffer. The Cruze Eco’s turbocharged 138-hp 1.4L 4-cyl. performed quite well on flat terrain.
But north of West Branch, where Michigan becomes much more hilly, this pint-sized powerplant was taxed to the point that downshifting a gear or three with the 6-speed manual transmission was required.
I hope the optional automatic is better, although the EPA highway rating for the automatic Cruze Eco is a significantly lower 37 mpg (6.3 L/100 km).
[caption id="attachment_156" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Parked outside northern Michigan's popular Frederic Inn. "][/caption]
Low-end torque is not this engine’s strong suit, although on paper it’s a respectable 148 lb.-ft. (200 Nm). But the torque peak arrives earlier for the automatic than the manual (1,850 rpm vs. 2,500 rpm).
The turbocharger, cleverly packaged within the exhaust manifold, clearly is tuned for fuel efficiency rather than high output.
A turbocharger generally makes a distinctive sound as it spools up thrust, but it was a sound I never heard while driving conservatively for more than 500 miles (805 km), keeping highway speeds around 72 mph (116 km/h). A co-worker says he definitely noticed additional boost at higher rpm when driving the car.
I doubt the 42-mpg claim for several reasons.
When I got the car, the trip computer read 33 mpg (7.1 L/100 km). The more time I spent on the highway, the higher the average climbed. But it never reached 39 mpg (6 L/100 km).
Trip computers are not the most reliable calculators for fuel economy because the average often is compiled over hundreds of miles until the driver resets it to zero.
The farther you drive without resetting, the harder it is to affect the overall average with, say, a long road trip.
Since I never reached 42 mpg on the way there, I decided to reset to zero when I left to come home. Predictably, the tabulated fuel economy shot up, and I arrived in metro Detroit with an average fuel economy of 44.6 mpg (5.3 L/100 km), according to the trip computer.
If my driving style aligned with the EPA’s highway test cycle, then, yes, the Cruze Eco’s rating is legit.
But I have my doubts after calculating our fuel economy the old-fashioned way. From the time we got the car with a full tank of gas to the point that I fueled up near empty, other Ward’s editors and I logged 360 miles (579 km).
Divide that by a tank with a capacity of 12.6 gallons (47.7 L), and the average fuel efficiency is an unremarkable 28.6 mpg (8.2 L/100 km).
If we want to be generous and say the vehicle started with only 10 gallons (37.8 L) of fuel, then the average still only comes to 36 mpg (6.5 L/100 km).
[caption id="attachment_157" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Cruze Eco's 1.4L turbocharged 4-cyl."][/caption]
After fueling up, making a day trip to Traverse City and driving home, we logged 458 miles (737 km) – virtually all of it on the highway – before the tank returned to empty.
Divide that by a tank that holds 12.6 gallons, and the fuel-economy rating is only 36 mpg (6.5 L/100 km).
Would that deter me from buying a Cruze Eco? With a sticker price of $19,615, it’s hard to quibble about the car’s value, with its 17-in. alloy wheels, USB MP3 jack and aero performance package.
But if 42 mpg were a top priority, it could be a deal-breaker.