2013 Chevrolet Cruze Eco Woos Drivers With Brains And Brawn

2013 Chevrolet Cruze EcoI’m going to come right out and say it: the 2013 Chevrolet Cruze Eco was the most fun car I’ve driven in a very long time.

That may cause some of you to question whether I get out enough. (I don’t.) It may cause some of you to question whether I’m feeling all right. (I’m just getting over some sinus issues, thanks for asking.) But trust me when I say that the Cruze Eco is like Bob from Accounts Payable: a little conservative, a little on the quiet side, but get him home, and you discover that there’s a tiger in that tank. Let the romance begin.

For starters, the 2013 Cruze Eco is powerful. I reviewed the 2012 Cruze last spring, and while I didn’t particularly care for the turbo on the LT model I was driving, I found the car to be a comfy, solid ride at a very reasonable price. I was expecting more of the same from the 2013 Eco — great little car with a moderate powertrain — but after one caress of the accelerator, and I realized that I was in for some very wild nights.

The Cruze Eco comes with a whopping nine trim packages, from the LS manual (starting at $17,130) all the way up to the LTZ automatic (starting not much higher, at $23,550). My Eco automatic sat right in the middle, with a starting price of $20,875 and a 1.4-liter turbocharged engine that cranked out a modest-sounding 138 hp and 148 ft-lbs of torque.

2013 Chevrolet Cruze EcoBut unlike my 2012 model, I experienced no turbo-lag at all this go-round: it was pure power, right out of the gate. And the Cruze Eco offers vroom-vroom without scrimping on fuel economy. My six-speed automatic was rated at 26/39 mpg, while the Eco manual earns a jaw-dropping 28/42 mpg. That’s on par with some hybrids we could mention.

Like many Chevrolet models, the Cruze Eco offers a dual clutch transmission (or in Chevy parlance “Driver Shift Control”), which allows you to do some of the shifting yourself while leaving your left foot flat on the floor. Of course, if you really like the stick, the Cruze comes with four manual transmissions to suit every taste and budget. But if your partner doesn’t know how to drive one (mine doesn’t), Driver Shift Control is a nice middle ground, offering all the fun of shifting without the pain and sorrow of teaching someone you love how to work a clutch.

The other thing I noticed was that the Cruze Eco felt roomy and — dare I say it? — even airy. The windows were large enough to offer a good view of my surroundings, and the cockpit was sexy-cozy without being cramped. For entertainment, the Eco comes standard with a color-touch radio, featuring a seven-inch screen and Chevrolet MyLink, which syncs with smartphones using Bluetooth. Pandora and Stitcher are built in, so endless streams of music, news, and Ira Glass are just a click away. The optional Rear Vision Camera (part of the $770 Driver Convenience Package) helped more with parallel parking than I might’ve thought.

2013 Chevrolet Cruze EcoThat said, as with most romances, there was some room for improvement. For example, on the ergonomic front, I found it a little difficult to climb out of the Cruze. I know, I know: I’m not as young and spry as I used to be, but I’ve kept up with my yoga (Jivamukti all the way, baby), and I still had to do some stretching to get in and out of the driver’s seat.

Speaking of seats, I wasn’t a fan of the Cruze Eco’s upholstery, which spread all the way to the dashboard. The webbed texture was interesting to look at, but I think I’d grow tired of it pretty quickly. Also, it tended to get dirty fast — and that was with just me and my husband in the car. I can only imagine what it would look like after a road trip with my three hounds. (If you’ve ever left a fleece hoodie unattended around a dog or cat, you know what I’m talking about.)

But those are minor flaws. Over time, I’m sure I could’ve found a seating position that would’ve allowed me to exit the vehicle as gracefully as Anne Hathaway, rather than Britney Spears. I don’t know how I’d overcome the upholstery issue, since the 2013 Eco doesn’t seem to offer anything other than the cloth seats I encountered, but keeping a couple of lint brushes handy would be a small price to pay for such a fine romance.

2013 Chevrolet Cruze Eco
Powertrain: Ecotec 1.4-liter turbo-four with 138 hp and 148 ft-lbs of torque
Transmission: Six-speed manual or automatic 

Fuel economy: 26/39 mpg (automatic) or 28/42 mpg (manual) 
Assembly: Lordstown, Ohio
Base price range: $17,130 – $23,550
As-tested price: $24,470