By Bill Jackson on July 7, 2011
Some favor hybrids to save gas, but I prefer an alternative: a higher-fuel-economy trim of a standard gas-powered car and a manual transmission. In my case, I was testing the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze Eco, but other carmakers make similar models.
I took the Cruze Eco on a 199.7-mile road trip up to Wisconsin from Chicago, leaving around 6 a.m. and returning around 1:30 p.m. The early leg was almost traffic-free, while the return trip was more stop-and-go. In the end, I got 46.4 mpg with an average speed of 46.3 mph. That’s well over 40 mpg in not-so-conservative highway driving. And I didn’t drive as economically as I could have. The Cruze Eco with a manual transmission gets an EPA-estimated 28/42 mpg city/highway.
Why do I like this type of vehicle more than a hybrid like a Hyundai Sonata Hybrid or Toyota Prius?
The driving experience is better. There are no grabby brakes, huge batteries in the trunk, lag in power to pass or weird trees growing on the dashboard readout. It’s just a car. That you drive.The big negative I noticed was something you’d expect: The gear ratios were tall, meaning they didn’t give you a quick launch like a sports car would, and when I wanted to pass on the highway, I had to downshift to at least 4th gear. Again: That’s what you’d expect for such a car: Those tall gear ratios are part of the reason it gets the mileage it does. (If you want more in-depth details about the Cruze, check out our Expert Review.)
Also, I’d want to test the Cruze Eco against a hybrid in the city (most of my driving was on the highway) for a more thorough mileage evaluation, but I still think anybody who wants to conserve gas should have to put some time in this kind of car.
You become a part of what the car is doing; you have to pay attention to when you shift so you get the best fuel economy (there’s a light to help you). You’re not watching a dashboard display or seeing a number flash on the dashboard with “instant mpg.” You’re physically engaged in saving fuel and you’re also engaged in driving.
Maybe that type of engagement would make for safer roads, too.
Assistant Managing Editor Bill Jackson manages the Research section, and he enjoys triathlons and cross-country skiing. Email William