Keep Your Hybrids, I'll Save Gas This Way

CruzeSome 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.



If that's "driving" then I'll gladly ride a bike.

William: I'm with you on this one. We always get the manual transmission option, when available. Even if the vehicle is an underpowered dog (like my 93 Escort Wagon was), the manual trans makes it more fun to drive. Around town you can short shift it and get great fuel economy. No chatting on the cell phone when you've gotta shift gears - and that's just fine with me!


Puh-leese. Just how many people do you expect to want to deal with driving a stick an dealing with the clutch, in stop-and-go city traffic? There is a reason why 90% of all cars sold in the U.S. uses automatic transmissions.

Just because the few of you who like driving stick think it's "fun" doesn't mean it's true for everyone else.

Like 90% of all American drivers, I'll keep my automatic-transmission car, thank you very much.

Amuro Ray

There's a 1st for anything - the 1st time Kickingtire has posted an utterly un-scientific / under-researched posting that concludes with (in a way)"my own gut feeling" and "maybe" instead of "we've tested XXX & YYY many times and my findings are..."

Journalism @ its best ;)

This belongs to a personal car blog, not for a commercial evaluation site that has many editors that influence consumers' decisions.



i don't see a problem with this road test. he listed the mileage he drove, when he left and returned, and the fuel economy he achieved.


He wants to test a Cruze eco against a hybrid in the city. Bad idea. The cruze isn't going to look so stellar in the urban environment. Barron's is predicting$150 per barrel oil next spring and gasoline prices of $4.50 and up. The smart money will be on hybrids.

Amuro Ray

@ Cody,

Yes, he did list those info, but the problem - well, 1 of them - is that it's only "1" test, and the condition for the test is not "set."

The conclusion here (imply) is that based on this 1 random test, a high fwy mpg pure ICE vehicle is a good alternative to hybrids in terms of saving gas! That's without the "city" mileage testing as the poster has mentioned. That's without (or should I say, the poster actually go against) emission. Huge battery in the trunk? I saw both Insight and Prius and neither has any cargo space problem! How about passing power? As far as I know, most hybrid do have the OD (or equivalent) if power is needed, and a number of hybrids have close to 200 hp...

If it needs a light to tell you when to switch gear in order to get best fuel economy (due to efficiency), because I'm sure that you brain - hand - foot can TELL, that means it's reaching to the point of automatic tranny. The only thg that stops the manufacturer (any) to put an auto in is the cost (for fine tuning). Nothing shifts better than auto tranny in terms of efficiency, and that's why most vehicles - ICE, hybrids and EV - have auto tranny with better mileage. In fact, ALL F-1 cars have auto tranny, not manual, due to efficiency. Cost cutting in adjustment is the reason for having stick tranny with better mpg. Now, this is from me, who have driven a stick for MANY years, from cars with about 100 hp to over 300 hp.

The key to safe driving has nothing to do with stick, as poster has mentioned. It's about your eye, your brain, and your attention on the road. PERIOD.

The poster needs to grow up, learn, and put aside personal feelings for his own personal blog, not for an informative one like kickingtires.


It's a valuable post to someone who is considering fuel efficient vehicle alternatives. No offense, AR, but let's be honest, you'll never be happy until everyone is driving a hybrid. I drive a stick because it's more engaging and I feel like I have more control over my achievable gas mileage.

Amuro Ray

"It's a valuable post to someone who is considering fuel efficient vehicle alternatives."

But isn't that the exact problem with this post? How is it "valuable" when the conclusion is drawn or suggested with NO FORMAL (or even close to formal) test at all?

BTW, "feel" is not measurable, or has another evolution happened which make our brain susceptible to fuel efficiency by, wait...FEELING?


Let me say this first I am an American. We Americans are lazy is why 90% of cars are Automatic, Europe and the rest of the world Manuals rule (4:1). The author is correct that a car like the cruze, elantra, and focus are better then Hybrids. They get simular Average Mileage and are thousands cheaper to start. It will take 5 years to break even with a hybrid because of the higher purchase price. Hybrids do rule city driving, there no deying that unfortunately most of us commute to the city.

Amuro Ray

The author is NOT correct, BTW. He has not shown anything to validate the point that cruze, elantra, etc. (pure ICE cars) are better than hybrids. Has the authors tested any hybrid, in similiar driving style and traffic situation, and validate that his test in a pure ICE vehicle achieves just as good, or even better mileage, than a hybrid?

All I'm seeing are:
(1) He drove a pure ICE car and achieved 46.4 mpg in a close to ideal (55 mpg) fwy mileage/speed;
(2) No test on any hybrid in ANY condition (in this posting);
(3) That his test validate his gas saving statement because of his arguments that hybrid's braking system, battery size, dash display, lack of power, etc. Now explain to me how these arguments pertain to gas savings?
(4) In a what-if situation, what if the hybrid, say, a Prius, achieves over 60 mpg OVERALL, and the test on local city drops the Cruze to high 20s/low 30's? What gas savings are we talking about here?

Where you are specifically wrong, BTW, is that hybrids such asInsight cost less than $19K, and a Cruze Eco cost actually more than that. Counting maintenance (very little for hybrids, esp on brakes) and gas used, buying a CE on day 1 will become a losing battle in "green" instantly.


Any small car can get good highway mileage with the right tires and geared high enough. The big difference with a hybrid is in the stop and go driving, when you are using the battery and not just gas to get the car moving again, every other minute (or second.)

Who's wasting digital ink now?


Ken L.

I used to drive a manual, and it was fun. So much fun that, I'd row through all the gears and quickly as possible just to experience the thrill before shifting to 5th gear - which also caused me to become a more aggressive driver and speed more often; thus, negating the benefits of fuel savings :( Manual trannys are best mated to sports cars. Today's high tech automatic transmissions shift quicker and in some cases, can be even more fuel efficient than the manual option.

stick driver

The point everyone seems to be missing here is the torque converter vs the clutch. The torque converter on autos has long been a power hog. The main advantage to the manual is the no-slip connection between input and output. Some of the new automatics overcome part of this using lock-up torque converters or VWs DSG dual clutch automatic that works like a manual. I drive a 2000 Accord 4 cyl manual and routinely get 32 MPG+ on mostly highway driving.


There's virtually no difference in the efficiency of an automatic versus a manual transmission in 2011. On some cars the manual gets one or two more mpgs; on other cars the automatic gets the best mileage. It's just a matter of personal preference, and the Cruze reportedly is one of the best manual shift cars because the linkage is tight and accurate. Lockup torque converters are not new - they've been used since the 1980s.


It's a good thing that William Jackson, the author, qualified his article by opening with 'Some ...'. The fact is that 'MOST' people do not care to save gas nor do they care about the price of gas, even at $5.++ a gallon. Fact is that the best selling vehicles in America are..... pickup trucks, certainly not the most fuel efficient vehicles on this planet. I am also not one who cares about the cost of gas because I prefer to drive and will pay whatever gas costs now, and in the future, even at $150 a barrel. And what do we drive? I drive a Tundra 5.7, and my wife drives a Highlander V6 AWD. And, yes, we fill up at least once a week, sometimes more often because we live in the middle of nowhere out in the desert, 20 miles from the nearest town. And, no, we don't care about gas mileage either. We both have a lead foot on the gas pedal. We will keep buying the gas until our money runs out, just like most people are doing. That is just a simple fact of daily life in America. The market for Hybrids and EVs is confined to only large metro areas, and most of America is rural, not metro. The Cruze Eco is pricey when compared to offerings from Hyundai, Kia, Toyota, Honda and Nissan, which also offer excellent mpg in that size-class. Choosing a Cruze Eco may be patriotic, but if you are really interested in saving money, the foreigners offer far greater choice at a much lower price, like sub $10K.


Jesus if I had to drive a stick shift Cruze I'd seriously think of offing myself.


In my mind the advantage of a stick is you can put in whatever year YOU want! In this day and age, the way automatics get such good mileage is they are programmed for the EPA cycle. Drive most 4 cylinder/auto combos and see how much peddle mashing is to have the thing downshift. W/a stick - quick downshift and I'm an auto..not so fast


What grade of gasoline was used? regular/mid/premium.
Did that fuel have 10% ethanol?
Was that an overall speed average, or was that a moving speed average?
What was the tire pressure? cold/hot
Air conditioning usage or windows? partly down, all the way down, front/back.
The Cruze Eco is more than just really tall gearing, look at what else GM removes.
How about the spare wheel?

This was a highly nontechnical review.


Um, folks, this is obviously an opinion piece that references some data.

I bought my first manual trans car 2 years ago and I agree with the author, I'm much more engaged in driving now, and much less likely to be distracted by eating, my cell phone, etc - these activities are discouraged by the minor detail of having to shift :)

Additionally, I'd love to see a comprehensive study on the resources and environmental impact (including manufacture and disposal) of comparible ICE standard-trans nd hybrid cars... gas milage is only a piece of the puzzle.

Amuro Ray

Opinion post is fine, but really shouldn't be on kickingtires (more appropriate for personal blogs).

Note that I'm not here to agree or disagree his opinion - it ok to say that Eco Cruze and alike are good choices for fuel savings over hybrids; I just find that the reasonings he used to support his opinion are irrelevant to his point. Like when I say, "you should eat more vegetables than meat because meat has red blood cells in it."

As a long time reader and commenter of kickingtires, I have not seen this sort of posting from DT, KM, CB, MH, JW (and the disappeared Suburban Dad) in the past 4 years or so.


Sorry that the author is getting beat up so much over this. I appreciate the article. Some people have his view, some people have the hybrid view. To each their own. Don't split hairs about windows up/down or tire pressure...

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