Sipping gas with Chevy's Cruze Eco
Did you hear about the blood-sucking California Chevy dealers charging $20-grand over list for a Chevy Volt hybrid-electric? Shocking, don't you think? That's because with the constant fear that a gallon of gas might soon cost the same as gold bullion, we all need cars that sip gas as slowly as magazine perusers at Barnes & Noble sip their coffee. That, and the fact that the Volt right now is a bigger must-have style accessory than a 64 GB Apple iPad. But you don't need a Volt, or a Prius or a hybrid-this or hybrid-that to get outstanding gas mileage.Take the 2011 Chevy Cruze Eco I've been driving. Four doors, four seats, no funky electric motors or heavy batteries. Base price: $18,175. And an amazing 42 mph. The stylish Cruze Eco doesn't use any Harry Potter-style wizardry to achieve its hybrid-like economy – just good ol' boy race-car techniques, like shaving weight, improving aerodynamics and reducing rolling resistance. And when it comes to shedding weight, every little bit counts. So they jettisoned the rear center armrest, fitted a small fuel tank, lighter wheels and used thinner sheetmetal in non-stress areas. In total, more than 200 pounds were lost – enough to make Jenny Craig break into applause. The result is 28 mpg around town and that terrific 42 mpg on the highway. That's what you get with the standard 138 horsepower 1.4-liter turbocharged four-banger coupled to a six-speed manual transmission. Opt for the six-speed auto ($925) and you still average an excellent 26 mpg city/37 highway. Yet the beauty of all this weight saving is that the Cruze Eco feels even more fun to drive than a regular Cruze. Less bulk means more agility. Just ask Al Roker. So think twice before you spend big bucks on a hybrid. This versatile Chevy will have you cruzin' right past the gas station. Tampa-based auto writer Howard Walker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.