2012 Chevrolet Cruze Review

2012 Chevrolet Cruze - Eco makes Cruze even more appealing.


Vehicle Tested
2012 Chevrolet Cruze Eco
Base Price: $19,245
At-Tested Price: $20,490
Built in Lordstown, Ohio.

Eco Driver Convenience Package (power seat, rear-park assist)

Engine: Turbocharged 1.4-Liter I4
Six-Speed Manual

Drive Wheels: Front-Wheel Drive

As the economy continues to struggle toward recovery, buyers are looking for new ways to get more for their money. Buying a compact car is almost always a wise decision. Compacts are among the least expensive cars on the market and blend that great dollar value with comfortable room for four adults, decent trunk space and good fuel economy.

For some buyers that's more than enough to convince them to trade into a new compact. But Chevrolet hopes that by offering even more, buyers can have their cake and eat it too. For 2012 the bow-tie brand adds an Eco model its strong-selling Cruze lineup. As you might imagine Eco stands for economy as in fuel economy.

While the standard Cruze is EPA rated at 28 mpg city and 36 mpg highway the Eco ups those numbers to 28/42 mpg when equipped with the manual transmission. Chevy engineers accomplished this feat by offering an active air shutter that closes at higher speeds to reduce aerodynamic drag and opens at lower speeds to optimize engine-cooling airflow. Engineers also made more than 42 changes to reduce weight on the Cruze Eco, such as light-weight 17-inch wheels and tires save that 21.2 pounds per vehicle.

To be fair, Cruze isn't the only 40 mpg compact on the market. Competitors include Ford Focus, Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra, Mazda 3 and Volkswagen Jetta diesel.

Like all Cruze models, the Eco is a front-drive, four-door sedan that seats five on front buckets and a three-place rear bench seat. Cruze replaced the Cobalt as Chevrolet's compact in 2011.

Surprisingly, Cruze Eco uses the more-powerful and optional 1.4-liter turbocharged engine as opposed the standard 1.8-liter. Though both are four-cylinder mills, the 1.4 gets better overall fuel economy. In the Cruze Eco it's rated at 138 horsepower and 148 pounds-feet of torque. Available transmissions include a either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic.

Cruze Eco lists for $19,245. Standard safety features include Dual front airbags antilock brakes, stability control, tire-pressure monitor, emergency inside trunk release, daytime running lights and front, front and rear side, curtain side and front-knee airbags. A rear-obstacle-detection system is optional.

Standard features on Eco include air conditioning, interior air filter, tilt-telescope steering wheel, OnStar assistance system, leather-wrapped steering wheel with radio controls, cruise control, USB port, Bluetooth cell-phone link, height-adjustable front bucket seats, center console, split-folding rear seat, power mirrors, power windows, power door locks, remote entry, AM/FM/CD/MP3 player with digital-media player connection, satellite radio, trip computer, variable-intermittent wipers, rear defogger, automatic headlights, floormats, theft-deterrent system, body cladding, rear spoiler, 215/55R17 tires and alloy wheels.

Options include remote engine start, automatic transmission, Navigation system, Pioneer sound system, fog lights and illuminated chrome door sills. Not available on the Eco is a sunroof. The Cruze has a destination charge of $750 and is assembled in Lordstown, Ohio.

Get Up and Go  The turbocharged 1.4-liter four, which Chevy quotes at 9.1 seconds from 0 to 60 mph, feels quite lively and easily keeps up in cut-and-thrust driving. Once up to speed the Cruze doesn't have much passing oomph, though. This is especially evident above 60 mph, where there's more noise than acceleration.

Where the Cruze Eco does excel is in powertrain smoothness. The engine doesn't buzz or bog and cruises quite serenely. Also, the manual transmission is a joy to shift and has well-spaced ratios that allow for relaxed cruising.

Official EPA numbers peg the Cruze Eco at 28 mpg city and 42 mpg highway. Those numbers top all but diesel and hybrid cars in the compact class. Also, according to Chevrolet, the engine runs fine on regular-grade gasoline.

Based on the trip computer results, Cruze Eco is likely to average about 38 mpg in an equal mix of city and highway driving. If your commute includes lots of highway driving, you could average as high as 43 mpg overall. In a stint of relaxed highway cruising, I was able to average better than 45 mpg over 100 miles.

On the Road  Cruise sports a sophisticated, euro-feel suspension that does a good gob of soaking up small pavement imperfections and softening large bumps. It doesn't float or bound over wavy roads and maintains its composure in quick maneuvers. The body is extremely rigid feeling and helps to impart a large-car feel when navigating bumpy roads.

Cruze feels confident when the road grows twisty. The electric steering feels quite natural and accurate and the brakes responsive and powerful. There's some body lean in quick turns, but nothing objectionable. Models with the sport suspension and 18-inch wheels are the most athletic, but even the Eco's 17-inch wheels and fuel economy-minded rubber impart confidence and composure on twisty roads.

Noise levels are exceptionally low for the class. While other compacts buzz and drone on the highway, the Cruze sails along with the quietness of a midsize or large car. Yes, the turbo motor is quite vocal in hard acceleration, but it's also very quiet when cruising.

Overall, Cruze strikes a great balance between providing a controlled and comfortable ride and allowing hot shoes to exercise their emotions.

Behind the Wheel  Inside, Chevrolet designers wanted to give Cruze a big-car feel. They mostly succeeded. Materials are a cut above the class average and the functional layout is appealing without being overly stylized.

Driver's face a deeply set instrument panel that houses a large tachometer and speedometer. Centered between the two is a useful driver information center that's uncommon in this class. Audio controls are placed high in the center of the dashboard and feature large and clearly marked buttons and knobs. Climate controls are positioned slightly lower than expected, but are simple to use and uplevel models feature an "auto" setting, again unusual for the class. Most other controls are placed within easy reach of the driver. About the only complaint is a center-mounted switch for the door locks--an obvious cost-saving move that forces driver and passenger to hunt for the switch each time.

Front-seat occupants are treated to very firm seats that are unusually wide for the class. Head and leg room are generous and the seat has a tremendous amount for fore and aft travel. The driving position is quite natural, aided by the height-adjustable driver seat and standard tilt-telescope steering wheel. The cabin has an airy feel that promotes good outward visibility.

Unfortunately, the rear-seating area isn't as commodious or upscale as the front. Materials are just class average as are leg and knee room. If you're more than six-feet tall, you'll be asking front-seat passengers to push their seats well forward. There's a small driveline hump that precludes seating three across for long trips.

At 15.0 cubic feet, Cruze has one of the largest trunks in the class. The split-folding rear seats fold flat, but there's a slight height difference between the trunk floor and the flattened seatbacks. Interior storage is class average, but the center-console cup holders are somewhat awkward to reach.

Bottom Line  There's no denying Cruze is a quality compact car--and Chevy has strong sales numbers to back that claim. The intriguing Eco injects and compelling alternative into the model mix. For not much more than a base model, you can greatly boost your fuel economy and get the more-powerful engine too boot. That's a win-win in my book.

Specifications, 2012 Chevrolet Cruze Eco
4-door sedan
Turbocharged DOHC I4
Wheelbase, in.
Size, liters/cu. in.
1.4 / 83
Length, in.
Horsepower @ rpm
138 @ 4900
Width, in.
Torque (lb.-ft.) @ rpm
148 @ 1850
Height, in.
6-Speed Manual
Weight, lbs.
EPA Estimates, mpg
28 city / 42 highway
Cargo Capacity, cu. ft.

Fuel Capacity, gals.
Manufacturer's Warranty
Seating Capacity
3 years / 36,000 miles
Front Head Room, in.
5 years / 100,000 miles
Front Leg Room, in.
6 years / 100,000 miles
Second-Row Head Room, in.
Free Roadside Assistance
5 years / 100,000 miles
Second-Row Leg Room, in.
Free Scheduled Maintenance

Mark Bilek

Mark Bilek is the Senior Director of Communications and Technology for the Chicago Auto Trade Association and the General Manager for DriveChicago.com. He is also responsible for developing and maintaining the Chicago Auto Show Web site.

Mark has been reviewing vehicles for more than two decades. Previously, he was associate publisher at Consumer Guide, where he oversaw publication of Consumer Guide Car & Truck Test, Consumer Guide's Used Car Book, and ConsumerGuide.com. He was also responsible for publication of "Collectible Automobile" and various hardcover automotive titles. In 2001 and 2002 he served as president of a Midwest Automotive Media Association. Mark has appeared on NBC TV, ABC TV, Fox News, WGN and MotorTrend TV as an automotive consultant. He hosts the Drive Chicago radio show on WLS 890 AM and was a regular guest on WGN Radio's Steve & Johnnie show. Mark lives in the northwest suburbs with his wife and three sons.