Eco Car Talk

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A couple of months ago, my husband, James, and I decided the time had come to get a new vehicle. In the interest of the environment and our pocketbooks, James and I share a vehicle. That works well as we both work at the same company and share a short work commute. We really loved our car–a 2003 Volkswagen Passat–but it surpassed the 100,000-mile mark quite a while back, and our mechanic was telling us some big fixes were on the horizon. Though our commute doesn’t take too much time (about 25 minutes each way), it helps rack the miles up on the car, and we didn’t want to be stranded with a broken-down car in the coming months. Plus, although our car did well on gas mileage at about 30 miles to the gallon, we wanted something with even better MPGs.

As luck would have it, a representative from Chevy’s PR company called and offered me a week (yes, a whole week!) with the Chevy Cruze to check it out. Of course I said yes. I really liked the Cruze. I took it on a trip to my parents’ house in Nebraska. It was fun to drive. It’s cute. But more important, it gets great gas mileage. The automatic Eco Cruze is rated at 36 miles to the gallon. The Eco version is also available as a more-efficient manual transmission, which is rated to get 42 miles to the gallon on the highway. That makes Cruze more efficient than most sedans on the market. And its main selling point is its high efficiency in a car that’s not big, but doesn’t feel as compact as the Prius. The car feels inside and out like a sedan, but gets better gas mileage than most midsize cars. I really liked the look and feel of the interior. The Cruze’s temperature controls were also a highlight–they allowed precise adjustments to the temperature and it was really cozy inside. My only criticism of the car is minor: The radio controls are a little counterintuitive (at least for me), and it took me a while to figure out how to navigate the iPod controls, etc. But if you’re looking for a fun-to-drive, fuel-efficient sedan, I would recommend trying out the Cruze. If you want a non-hybrid manual transmission, the Cruze is going to be hard to beat. The manual Cruze Eco starts at $19,175. The automatic Cruze starts at $20,625. 

Although we liked the Cruze, we wanted to look around for other cars, too. We test drove a Prius. We liked it a lot…I don’t think the Prius is the best-looking car out there (I wish it were available in a different body style), but it’s certainly the most efficient. Once I started comparing other cars to its 51 MPG highway rating, it was hard to look back. Even though the Cruze and other efficient cars on the market cost less than a Prius, we spend so much on gas, we would still make up quite a bit of the difference in gas savings in a 50-something-MPG compared with a 30-something-MPG (we didn’t want a manual). But the Prius had drawbacks: Mainly, the small car, though perfectly roomy for passengers, isn’t equipped to haul anything very big, and it didn’t seem it would be ideal in snowy or icy weather. It would have been perfect if we had a second car, but we weren’t convinced it was perfect to be our only vehicle.

We weren’t sure what to look at next. I wanted the fuel efficiency of the Prius, but I wanted it in a bigger car with more versatility. We decided to go look at the Volkswagen dealer, although I knew the regular Jetta didn’t get the gas mileage we were after with the Prius. But fortunately, when we got there, the dealer showed us a diesel Jetta TDi. It was roomy. With the back seats down, it could handle most of our hauling needs. It had everything we loved about our other Volkswagen. And it’s rated to get 42 MPG on the highway, but all the consumer reports we looked at said it could do even better. Popular Mechanics did a marathon test in 2009 and found the Jetta TDi bested the Prius on gas mileage traveling 500 miles in the city and on the highway. And, we could get the car for about $10,000 less than it was going to cost us to get into a comparably equipped Prius. We were sold. We had gone out on a whim, on a rainy, chilly Saturday, expecting just to cruise the lot. We ended up leaving our trade at the lot and driving home in the new car. So far, in our first two weeks with it, we’ve been thrilled with the Jetta. It gets amazing gas mileage. Our first 15-gallon tank did more than 600 miles. And it’s so fun to drive. I’m normally not a gearhead by any means, and I rarely care about a car’s power or anything like that, but this car is smooth and powerful. I highly recommend checking out this vehicle!

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