So whadahyawannaknow? 2011 Chevrolet Cruze Eco

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I recently drove the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze Eco model with the 6-speed manual transmission. Overall, it was a great test week, and I thoroughly enjoyed the 1.4-liter turbocharged engine as well as the MT.

Cruze, the Eco model specifically, is quickly becoming Chevrolet's shining star with an estimated 42 mpg on the highway and attractive styling -- inside and out. I averaged 34.4 mpg in combined driving during my test week (driving like a normal person) and made good use of OnStar. Combine that with the as-tested price of $19,745, and you have a car I could actually own.

When I asked the Twitterati what they wanted to know about the car, I got a couple questions I'd like to give longer answers to.

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I have to admit I was kind of surprised by both the clutch and the transmission in the Cruze Eco. Unless you're looking at a Corvette or Camaro, the MT and clutch in American cars tend to be, in a word, awful. And I mean that in the nicest possible way. They're notchy and inexact and the clutch is mushy.

But in the Cruze Eco, I found the the transmission to be smooth, flowing easily and nicely through the gears. The clutch was solid without being too stiff. Together they created a driving experience that was fun, sporty and fuel efficient.

I should also point out that I liked the manual transmission much better than the automatic in the Cruze. The AT is still a bit glitchy and seems to waste time searching for the right gear. In my two tests with the non-Eco and an AT, I averaged 23.5 and 26.6 mpg respectively in combined driving. Not great.

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That's a tough one. I really liked pretty much everything about the Cruze Eco. Except the headrests. But that's a question you didn't ask. ... Since I've already expressed my love of the manual transmission and did a blog post devoted to OnStar, I'd have to say my third favorite thing would have to be the sheer quietness of the vehicle.

For a car that bases well under $20K, this was utterly impressive. No tire noise. And very little, if any, exterior clatter crept into the cabin. That leaves you enjoying the loud music just as much as the quiet conversation. Phenomenally well done, Chevrolet!

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