Why the Chevy Cruze Eco is the Greatest Car You Can Buy for Under $10k

By God, just look at it, in all its $199/mo with $0 down glory.
Photo: Josh Miller (CNET)

You know, I used to despise the 1st. Generation Chevrolet Cruze. I always deemed it the car someone would buy without doing any prior research. I knew there were much better options out there, with the Civic and Corolla being far more reliable. But then, in a Joe Rogan-like turn of events, a buddy of mine showed me his example. It was a silver Eco model with a 6-speed manual transmission and a rear fascia riddled with stickers about biking. As it turned out, my preconceptions about the successor to the cursed Cobalt didn’t do the car justice. Sure, it won’t survive a nuclear apocalypse, but there are so many advantages that outweigh its numbered lifespan.

To be clear, this is specifically about the Cruze Eco, not the LT with an RS Package that your friend probably drives. Those are just ok. 

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Fuel Economy

Given its namesake, you would expect the core of the Cruze Eco to be centered around fuel efficiency, and you’d be right. My friend tells me he only has to fill his Cruze up once a month. To put it in numbers, the thing gets 28 miles per gallon... in the city. I almost had you there. Expect a whopping 42 miles per gallon on the highway with a combined measurement of about 33. My similarly sized Volvo S60 averages just 21 mpg for comparison. Given that comparison, it’s easy to assume that my hunk of Swedish Metal is also leaps and bounds quicker than the Eco. Well...

Performance

The Chevy Cruze Eco is no slouch. My Volvo scoots to 60 in 7.2 seconds. With a manual transmission (more on that later), the Cruze Eco can make it up there in 7.9. The difference is less than a second, and yet you gain over 10 miles per gallon for such an unsubstantial sacrifice. Power comes from a teeny-weeny 1.4 liter turbocharged 4-pot. Yes, rub your eyes until they turn red, but you’ll still read the same thing. Such speed comes from that small of an engine. Similarly to diesel engines, all that might comes from low-end torque. If it were up to me, this car’s powertrain would be the automotive equivalent to David from David and Goliath. Such performance is surprising, but always welcomed in my book.

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Handling

One of the complaints you hear from auto reviewers is how uninspiring economical cars are to drive. People often refer to the Prius as the antithesis of driving pleasure. On the contrary, not only is the Cruze Eco peppy at the throttle, but it also feels tight around the corners. The power steering is “light and precise,” says U.S. News and World Report, making the Cruze Eco “one of the more enjoyable cars to drive” in the compact sedan class.

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It comes in a damn manual

Need I say more? The ability to bang your own gears is the cherry on top of the sundae that is driving pleasure. Plus, with the manual transmission, the Cruze you will find will most likely be cheaper, given how low demand is for manuals these days. Reviewers in 2011 recommended the manual over the automatic due to its effortless shifting, and on top of that, acceleration is quicker with three pedals than with two.

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What about its close rivals?

A three-pedaled Ford Focus SFE (the one with the funky dinner plate hubcaps) is the closest you can get to being a direct competitor to the Cruze Eco. But not only is the Cruze better looking than the Focus, with its clean lines, sharp angles, and polished wheels, but also manual SFE Focuses are extremely rare, let alone SFE Focuses in general. Most likely, you will have to settle with the dreaded Power Shift DCT which will go out every 70k miles. So there’s that. What about the VW Jetta TDI? 2016's news headlines should be able to answer that question. How about the Hyundai Elantra Eco? It’s a close one, but its numb steering and lack of a manual offering cause the Cruze to best it. Well, then surely nothing can beat the Mazda3, right? Except earlier, more affordable examples drink gas like cartoon sitcom dads drink their respective show’s fictional beer. Even newer examples, while better on gas, are still no match for the Cruze’s stinginess.

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Any flaws? + Conclusion

Reliability has never been GM’s strongsuit. The only reliable GM car I could think of off the top of my head is the Buick Century with the 3100 V6. You can find a bunch of these on Craigslist for less than $3k, but they’ll all be buckets of rust, given they were made during the turn of the millennium by, well, GM. But I digress. Sure, the Chevy Cruze Eco may not be a 1994 Toyota Celica, but Scotty Kilmer doesn’t need to love a car in order for it to be perfect. No cars are, really. But the Chevy Cruze Eco, combining fuel efficiency, driving fun, and affordability, sure comes close.

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