2012 Chevy Cruze Eco Review – It Doesn’t Suck!

2012 Chevrolet Cruze ECO

It wasn’t long ago that compact cars served one purpose: getting from A to B an inexpensively as possible. They were made like crap, sucked to drive, and had next to zero features. They were pre-paid cell phones of the car world.

The Chevy Cavalier is a perfect example of this; if you’ve ever had to drive one, you know what I’m talking about. The Cobalt wasn’t much better. It would be hard to find someone who bought one because they loved it (with the possible exception of the SS) – the answer is always “it was cheap and gets good fuel economy.” They were all this way, from every manufacturer – cheap little econo-boxes with nothing to them but the most basic of comforts. And they were awful.

Then something happened. People started to want small cars. They started buying them by choice, instead of being cost-forced into them. And when something sells more, things get competitive. Ford recently released the kick-ass new Focus (never thought I’d say that,) Honda is releasing the ninth generation Civic for 2012, and VW’s new Jetta is shockingly good. Historically, American brands lagged behind, but now they’re catching up.

Last year, Chevy ditched the crapbox Cobalt and released the Cruze – a compact sedan that promised to be their first good car in this segment – something that could actually compete with the Civic and Corolla. I finally got my skeptical hands on one…

2012 Chevrolet Cruze ECO rear

Chevy sent me a 2012 Cruze Eco – their attempt to deliver a fuel-sipping small sedan into the efficiency-obsessed public without resorting to gimmicks like hybrid powertrains. I drove the car for a full week, including a 7-hour trip to the beach and back. Given Chevy’s previous attempts in this segment, I fully expected to come back with my eyes rolling, but instead found myself calling my Dad (who happens to be looking for a new car,) recommending he consider the 2012 Chevy Cruze Eco.

Over those seven hours to Myrtle Beach and back, I managed to average 42.3 mpg – and that’s going 10-15 over the limit most of the way (I did get pulled over by a SC state trooper who I swear was Buford T Justice.) The fuel economy isn’t even the surprising part. What shocked me the most is that I didn’t want to crash the damn thing into a guard rail just to get some excitement. The 1.4-liter turbocharged 4-banger actually has some pick-up when you need it. 138 horsepower doesn’t sound like much, but it doesn’t disappoint. That, of course, is partially thanks to the 6-speed manual tranny, which is surprisingly good, aside from the annoying fourth-gear vibration that forced me into a 1-2-3-5-6 shift pattern. I’d still go with the manual transmission, of course, otherwise I’d be stuck with three fewer MPGs, $925 less in the bank, and a boring drive. Plus, other reviews around the web are saying the automatic tranny ruins the car.

Also surprising: the Cruze isn’t fugly. It’s no Ferrari, but at least you won’t be driving around in a car that screams “I’m a cheap-ass!” The LT and LTZ trim levels even come optional with an “RS Appearance Package” that adds a sporty body kit and doesn’t look like it’s trying too hard. My Cruze had the “Blue Topaz Metallic” finish – a deeper, darker blue than the one you see in the pictures above and below – and standard lightweight 17-inch polished alloy wheels, helping with that “not an econobox” appearance.

2012 Chevrolet Cruze ECO interior

The real winner here is inside the car. We all know Chevy has fallen far short on their interiors, but they’re turning that around in a big way. The Cruze gets the new “twin cockpit” design, coupled with a modern and sleek two-tone look, leapfrogging GM’s interior design over “acceptable” and all the way into “sexy.” Touch points get soft materials, the attractive black/aluminum center stack and instrument panel aren’t overly busy, and even the gauge cluster is pretty (especially on the RS package.) Inside the center console, you’ll find both an auxiliary jack and USB port good for hooking up different types of MP3 players. Bluetooth is standard on all but the base trim level.

Along with adequate power under the hood, steering is tight and responsive and the suspension feels like it belongs in a more expensive car. Inside, my chubby 6’4″ frame isn’t too big, and even rear seat passengers have decent room, considering the car’s size. Truck space: 15 cubes in a class that averages around 12.

The 2012 Chevy Cruze starts at $16,995 for the LS (base) trim. Skip it – step up into the 1LT ($18,895) or Eco ($19,245) and you’ll get the 1.4-liter turbo’d engine and quite a bit more equipment. Check out Chevy’s 2012 Cruze Trim Comparison page for details on trim level equipment. I really think the Eco is the way to go.

2012 Chevrolet Cruze ECO

Since Chevy released the Cruze for 2010, it’s been a home run for them, and it’s easy to see why. The fact that they’re talking about giving us a diesel-powered Cruze and a coupe version of the car tells us they’re going to be riding this one for a while. I’m glad to see Chevy making cars that truly compete.

Before You Buy

Yes, I highly recommend the Chevy Cruze if you’re shopping for a car in this segment, but you’ll still want to take a look at the new (and really good) Ford Focus, Hyundai Elantra, VW Jetta, and still-excellent Mazda3. Other cars to consider: Nissan Sentra, Honda Civic, and Toyota Corolla.

Visit TrueCar to see what others are really paying for this car!


Filed Under: Car ReviewsChevy


  • Btrig

    So a brand-new car that leaves the factory with a bad transmission (you did say 4th gear is unusable due to heavy vibration) is “competing”? Bah, sounds like another chapter in the Book of GM Failures, and you sound like just another shill.

    Plus the styling of the front end is completely hideous. A cavalier by any other name…

    • http://www.automoblog.net/ Chris Burdick

      It’s a good transmission, just has an annoying vibration in the shift knob in fourth, and I don’t know if that was isolated to my car or not. Fourth isn’t unusable, and it’s only noticeable if you keep your hand on the shift knob, which I do. Don’t be so quick to dismiss the car – it’s a huge step ahead for Chevy.

      • Coinneach

        Late to the party here, but the 4th gear vibration is a known issue with the six-speed manual. As far as skipping the LS – nah. I have a 2012 Cruze LS and I love it; with a few simple tweaks, it gets the same mpg as the Eco for $2000 less. The only thing it’s missing is cruise control and that shortcoming is being addressed Real Soon Now by Chevy.

        • http://www.automoblog.net/author/csburdick/ Chris Burdick

          Hi Coinneach, thanks for the comment. Glad to hear you like your LS – do you have the manual and notice the vibration? Let’s hope that’s fixed in the 2013 car.

  • Art

    I have a 2006 HHR LT2 and am thinking on getting a Cruze. This review really helped me in choosing my new car. And as far as Btrig goes, just another right wing hater that would rather than Obama loaning the auto industry money wanted it to go bankrupt. These people are sick, wanting all those AMERICANS go unemployed

    • Btrig

      “And as far as Btrig goes, [blah blah blah]‘

      What are you, retarded? I said nothing about politics and am certainly not a right-winger.
      Stupid troll.

  • http://www.roberts.com.ph Roberts

    The Eco model? weights 200 pounds less then the 1LT model, and i read somewhere that Chevrolet reduced its fuel tank from 15.6(regular Cruze) to 12.6 gallons but can still acheive 500+ miles on the highway.

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