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Chevy Cruze Eco Review – From a Chevy Volt Owner

img_2109 Chevy Cruze Eco Front Quarter Hood Shot

The Chevy Cruze has been likened, tied, compared, and downright matched up head to head with the Chevrolet Volt since the Volt and Cruze were released to the U.S. market in late 2010.  No surprise here really, some relatively common comparative questions and comparisons are listed below.

1.)    Why buy a Chevy Volt when you can buy a Cruze for half the price?

2.)    Is the Chevy Volt a Halo car?  Used to draw attention to the dealership so as to sell the Cruze?

So after spending a weekend and about 1,000 miles with the Cruze on a classic California roadtrip down the scenic coastal highway 1 – here are the answers to the above questions.  The real way to look at the Cruze and the Volt is that they are like two siblings (brothers or sisters if you will), each born of similar steel – but yet different in their personalities.  I like this analogy because the similarity starts right away in the parts that they share.

The Chevy Volt and Chevy Cruze are both built on GM’s Delta Compact Platform.  The similarities start right with the heart of the car with the 1.4 liter 4-cylinder family zero engine.  While the Volt uses this 1.4 liter engine normally aspirated mated with the Voltec system (described in great detail here) – the Chevy Cruze Eco uses a turbocharged version of the same engine.  It’s worth noting that the Chevy Cruze base model comes with a regular 1.8 liter engine (which I have driven) but in terms of refinement, power and efficiency it really doesn’t even come close to the 1.4 liter turbo.  We’ll see what this means later when I describe the driving the car down windy and hilly highway 1.

Chevy Cruze Eco under the Hood Chevy Volt under the Hood

Additionally, the two cars share the 17 in low rolling resistance Goodyear Assurance FuelMax tires.  It’s worth noting that the 17 in variant of the FuelMax Tires are still not widely available, previously only being offered for 14-16 in rims, so having them as standard on both the Volt and the Cruze Eco will certainly help the case for increased production quantity and availability of these tires.

Chevy Cruze Eco Rear Wheel Chevy Volt Rear Wheel

One nice thing that you get with the Cruze Eco though is a small spare tire (since there isn’t a 12 volt battery occupying that same space as with the Chevy Volt.

Chevy Cruze Eco Spare Tire

While I am sure there is a whitepaper out there about how many parts the Cruze and the Volt shares, from bushings to fasteners – really what people are care about is what happens when you get behind the wheel and take the car for a spin so let’s start the Chevy Cruze Road Trip.

I started from Berkeley California and headed for the California Coast.  My first benchmark was to compare the highway fuel economy of the Cruze vs the Volt in one of my standard weekend trips, a 54.5 mile drive to Cupertino, CA about 54 miles away.  For that drive on mostly traffic free –freeways I averaged 44.1 MPG at an Avg speed of 56.2 Mph.  The Cruze Eco I was driving had an automatic transmission and was rated at 39 MPG highway by the EPA – so this was a good start!  I made the trip in the same time and speed as I would with the Volt, driving an even paced 65 mph when I could on the freeway.  For comparison, the Volt in pure extended range mode I would average about 38 MPG for that same run.  In theory this all makes sense.  When the Volt’s battery is depleted, you are basically drawing net energy from the gas engine, which is the same 1.4 liter engine in both cars, but the Cruze has a turbo.  Additionally, you will get some driveline losses with the Volt since some of that kinetic energy is being turned into electricity and back into kinetic energy through its electronic CVT.

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So in ideal conditions a freeway jaunt at 44.1 MPG isn’t at all shabby, especially for a car that as configured MSRP’s for just under $22,000 (with the optional navigation and stereo packages).

The freeway ride itself was remarkably similar to driving a Volt at freeway speeds.  The 1.4 L Turbo engine is well muted and runs at just over 2,000 rpm at 65 mph with its 6 speed transmission, so the predominant noise you hear is road rumble and the occasional wind buffet, which is much louder than the engine most of the time.

As for ride quality, the Cruze, weighing 3,200 lbs is a full 600 lbs lighter than the Volt, which means that it doesn’t quite plow through the bumps on the freeway like the heavier Volt does, but it still handle most of potholed highway 880 in Oakland without much fuss.

Next I turned west to Santa Cruz and turned south down to Highway 1 proceeding down the winding hilly road to see the sights at Big Sur.  Here is what I found out the thing that surprised me most about the Cruze.  On the narrow winding hilly lanes of highway 1 bounded only by a sheer cliff down to the ocean and a cliff on the other side, the Cruze gripped the road and cornered like a champ.  I’ve taken my Volt for a similar hilly adventure and though the Volt was surefooted, its extra 600 pounds did not help while it was flinging around the corners.  The Cruze on the other hand, though not a racecar by any means was nimble and quick to respond around the corners and I frequently found myself closely tailgating another car navigating highway 1 at much slower speeds.

This was something pleasantly unexpected for an entry level compact car as most basic compacts are not really known for their sharp handling.

Chevy Cruze Eco at Big Sur

About 158 Miles into the trip I pulled over to take in the sights and found that my hilly cornering driving adventure cost me in fuel efficiency.  I was unfortunately down from 44.5 MPG to a more Mundane 40.6 MPG.  Even though the Cruze had to climb hills and take corners at slower speeds, the tight handling of the Cruze meant that I could take the corners of highway 1 without stomping on the brakes each time, carrying the Cruze’s momentum through the turns and ultimately conserving fuel.  This was in comparison to the other folks on the freeway who were braking pretty much into every corner.

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I eventually found myself in a passing situation at 60 MPH getting ready to overtake a late model van on the 1 lane roads and I punched the accelerator to the floor.  As the engine revved to 4000, then 5000 rpm the speedometer crept up and I was able to get to 80 mph and pass the van safely.  Oddly enough it didn’t really sound like the Cruze was struggling to pass rather the engine note and the acceleration was more akin to something that knew its limits and decided to accelerate in a dignified and paced fashion.

Ok, so the Cruze isn’t exactly a drag strip monster, but as the miles rolled by pleasantly and I couldn’t help but think to myself how aptly named the Cruze was.  It really is a car built for cruising.  While its 1.4 liter engine won’t burn rubber, if you keep it cruising at highway speeds, it’s very happy to do so, comfortably, quietly and fuel efficiently.

The Volt doesn’t really do too much better on this front as it suffers from a similar issue as the power and torque start to fade as the speeds rise.  So to me it’s really a wash comparatively.

At 213 Miles, we stopped along a beach where hundred of tired Seals are resting to stretch our legs a little, still getting 40.1 MPG Overall at an average Speed of 47.5 Mph.

Chevy Cruze Eco at the Beach

We hit Morro Bay at 248 Miles and still hovering just above 40 MPG.  We stopped for the night here and continued our journey onwards.

Chevy Cruze Eco at Morro Bay

The next morning, we backtracked a bit back up to Hearst Castle and I low and behold I found out just how good the brakes were on the Cruze when a deer ran out on the highway a few hundred feet ahead.  Alas I have no photo of said deer as I was preoccupied slamming on the brake pedals at the time, but without much drama the Cruze slowed to a quick stop,  and the deer having hesitated in the middle of the road finally decided to cross, braking ability – check.  (I’ve done a couple emergency stops in the Volt and found that they performed quite similarly)

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Turning south again, the temperate began to rise as the midday sun baked down upon the silver car (fortunately a nice reflective color), we cranked up the AC and saw its impact of gas mileage.  As we hit the tidepools near Los Osos we stood at 281.6 Miles travelled at 39.8 MPG.  Darn, there goes my nice even 40.  I wasn’t willing to give up the air conditioning though to get it back up.  We still had half a tank of gas and after enjoying the view we pressed on to Santa Barbara.

Chevy Cruze Eco at the Tidepools

Climbing the San Marcos pass, (a 2000 ft climb before Santa Barbara, I noticed two things).  First that the Cruze had more than adequate power to maintain highway speeds climbing the grade will A/C still on. Second, I found out that the Cruze was much more aerodynamic and efficient than the cars around it.  I was constantly having to downshift or ride the brakes on the way down the hill as other cars simply slowed down more on the way down (they didn’t appear to be riding the brakes or downshifting either, they just seemed to lose a lot more energy to drag).  I felt so wasteful having to discard all that energy to the brakes or the compressed air, and here’s one place where I was pining for the regenerative braking of the Volt to recapture all that wasted energy.  To note the future 2013 Malibu Eco will have e-Assist which will accomplish close to much of the same thing.

We pulled into Santa Barbara, 436 Miles Later, at an Average Fuel Economy of 39.4 MPG.  As Advertised by the EPA.  As I watched the beautiful California sunset the Cruze had started to grow on me.  I was pleasantly surprised in ways I did not think I would be.  What’s interesting is that you wouldn’t really see everything there is about a Cruze Eco in a short test drive.  I’m happy that I found out there’s more to this Cruze than I expected.

So to answer the questions posed above having driven both cars, I would still buy a Volt over a Cruze, but that’s just me, someone who’s willing to pay the $20,000 premium to drive latest vehicle technology.  Is the Volt a halo car?  Yes it is.  But honestly, the Cruze can stand on its own merits.

12 Responses to “Chevy Cruze Eco Review – From a Chevy Volt Owner”

  1. Chris C. says:

    Please tell us more about the LOW SPEED performance of the Cruze! I’m a Volt owner, but rather than being that interested in MPGs, I come to EVs from the angle of loving the jackrabbit performance, e.g. easily beating other cars out of stop lights, etc.

    So I was shocked when a recent Car and Driver comparison of the Volt and the Cruze published numbers that showed the Volt was significantly SLOWER than the Cruze, even at the 0-30 MPH times at which I thought the Volt reigned supreme with its instant torque.

    Since you’re used to the Volt’s performance, how did the Cruze feel in comparson?

    And for reference purposes, do you typically drive your Volt in Sport mode, or leave it in Normal mode?

    • PatrickZWang says:

      Hey Chris,

      I predominantly drive in sport mode, and the Volt’s Instant Torque is a unique feeling. Because its so continous and linear you get the sensation of instant pickup which is exactly what is happening) With the cruze, 0-10 mph is pretty pedestrian but the turbo starts to kick in pretty quickly around 15-20 mph so you get a boost there. The 0-60 mph times of both cars are very similiar (8.7 on the Volt vs 9.0 on the Cruze).

      Low end, hands down the Volt wins it (I don’t know the exact times to speeds, but both the subjective sensation and the practical “off the line performance in traffic” goes to the Volt).

      The Cruze makes up most of the acceleration ground between 25-55 mph where the turbo has a chance to kick in at higher rpms, whereas the Volt is losing torque after about 40-45 mph.

      • Chris C. says:

        OK, thanks Patrick! That’s more confirmation that the C+D comparo must simply be flat wrong about the low speed performance. It just makes no sense to me.

  2. Thanks for this article, Patrick.

    But is the Volt really $20,000 more than the Cruze? With the federal $7,500 rebate and the state’s new $5,000 rebate, the difference is only $7,500 if I’m not mistaken.

    If you average 100mpg with the Volt over 10,000 miles, you save 150 gallons of gas compared to 40 mpg. That’s over $500 per year, which is just about enough to break even on your $7500 investment.

    What do you think?

  3. PatrickZWang says:

    Hey Jack,

    I believe for California, the Volt will ultimately only be eligible for $1500 in rebates. (The $5000 was for the leaf only and it has phased out to $2500)

    For me, the fuel cost argument is still not the overriding value proposition, even best case scenarios you are looking at a 10-12 year BREAK Even period (remember you still aren’t ahead by then!) This isn’t even factoring any additional financing / opportunity costs. 10-12 years is a long time to own a vehicle (I know some folks have 16 year old vehicles, but really – 10 years is a long time), and for most folks even harder to finance to try and realize the savings over a longer period of time.

    There are obviously a lot of other outside factors affecting this, be it future gasoline prices, unexpected EV repair costs etc. But the bottom line is if you are looking purely from a driving performance / economy standpoint (As mentioned above) – the Cruze is cheaper today.

    On the other hand- if you appreciate and are willing to pay for the technology, you have the Volt as well.

  4. bill ziff says:

    Jack:
    I am faced with a around trip commute of 120-140 miles a day; mostly highway. I don’t see how I can avoid the limited range of say 335 miles, requiring frequent pit stops. Am I wrong?

  5. Lou says:

    I have also driven the Cruze but only for short distances. What struck me right away was the interior differences. I find the Volt much more comfortable with more room particularly in the front seats. The Cruze feels like a “compact car”. The Volt does not. I also found the quality of materials superior in the Volt.

    In my opinion, the Volt makes the most sense for people who will utilize the car daily for trips of 60-80 miles or less particularly if you can recharge prior to making the return trip. The overall fuel economy of these trips will far exceed that of a gasoline only vehicle as will the cost.

  6. Tom says:

    The Cruze costs more than $20,000. The top model with navigation, leather, and automatic tranny, and all other options is closer to $26,500. The Volt loaded is $43,000 minus $7,500 for the federal rebate, and $1,500 for the state rebate. That means the volt costs $34,000 after rebate, minus the Loaded Cruze cost, the price to go electric is $7,500. The better way to go is the lease route, as high technology moves fast, and Chevy is offering attractive lease rates with zero down. Shopping on sites that let you assume someone else’s lease, can produce even better savings, sometimes with as little as $40 between a Volt lease and a new Cruze lease.

  7. Michael says:

    The best scenario is if your commute allows you to stay electric most or all of the way. I drive 35 miles each way and can charge at work (for a fee). I have had my Volt for about 7 weeks and have driven 2300 miles on 3.8 gallons of gas. My electrical/charging fees at home & work total about $100 during this period. It costs me about $2.60/day at work (stupid .85 cent/hour charge) and at home it’s just under $1/day. So, my total is about $3.60 for about 70-75 miles of driving.

    The “X” factor is time. I don’t spend time at the gas station, I don’t worry about having to stop and get gas on the way to work when I’m late and I know each night that I’m “topping off” for another 40-45 miles. On the weekends, I exclusively use the Volt to run around town (in Sport Mode & “L” because it’s fun). I also just received my carpool stickers. It has only been a week, but I save about 15 mins each way on my commute. If I put a $20/hr rate on what my time is worth (I’m a cheap bastard), then that saves me the equivilent of $2,600 a year.

    My net actual fuels savings is about $220/month. But this is me and my commute. Again, if you live within 40 miles of work, it can make a lot of sense going with the Volt. I also compare the quality of the Volt to a BMW 3 series or Infinity. When you look at the cost comparisons there, the payoff come a lot quicker when saving $2640 a year in fuel. (Not to mention the maintenace cost saving with limited oil changes, etc)

    Personally, I am VERY happy with my Volt. The battery/engine mix is a great technology and I think it will be standard on a lot of cars to come. Hopefully this will help bring the costs down, allowing more people into the game.

  8. RayS says:

    I own a Volt and have driven a Cruze in Australia.
    First, I am impressed with the Cruze internal design. The dashboard and knobs and controls are well done. Almost like a German car. (Note: I also own a 5 series BMW)The seats are tight and fits me very well. Performance is good enough for what it is made of. MPG is approx. 32-35 as driven for 3 days. I like it. The Volt that I just bought 3 months ago, is great. External design is impressive low center of gravity, very attractive frontal design. Electric and gas motor are well sync. Current MPG to date is 129/gallon. We only spend $22 per month so far…GREAT!! Downside — internal design is good BUT the craftsmanship is POOR! Example, the low bar in the back window is crooked; the cheap plastic panel is horrendous; touch panel is poorly designed not even tested – touching a temperature control also turns on the radio; one body panel is not well seamed; rear view mirror base cover came out loose after just 1k. I am sure there will be more. My guessed is GM built this car to speed the market without fully testing secondary components. Craftsmanship rating – - SIGMA 2.5. GM need to improve on this soon otherwise Infinity and Ford will trounced them in the coming years. GM still have the upper hand.

  9. Patrick says:

    The fun factor of the 6 speed manual eco is untouchable by the Volt. And with mild hypermiling you can EASILY average 40-42 mpg with mixed driving–though I have seen plenty of people averaging 45+ mpg of mixed driving with the Cruze Eco. And all this can be had for $18,500 if you are willing to haggle.

  10. Patrick says:

    And no expensive batteries to replace :/

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