2013 Chevy Cruze Eco vs. 2013 Nissan Sentra FE

By Emme Hall.

American cars have come a long way the past few years. Gone are the slightly too big, slightly undependable, slightly meh vehicles from Detroit, and they’ve been replaced by stylish and dependable cars with excellent gas mileage. But do they beat the imports? Today we’ll take a look at the 2013 Chevy Cruze Eco and the 2013 Nissan Sentra FE+ SV, two cars from two top manufacturers and lauded for high MPG’s…but only one can win.

The Chevy Cruze Eco comes with a 1.4L inline 4 cylinder turbo charged ECOTECH engine, good for 148 horsepower and 138 lb/ft of torque. The 6 speed manual transmission will return a fantastic EPA fuel rating of 28 mpg in the city, 42 mpg on the highway, 33 mpg combined. The 6 speed automatic transmission comes back at a slightly less 26/39/31. The automatic will get you from 0-60 mph in 9.2 seconds, which is a bit slow for this class.

2013 Chevrolet Cruze ECO

The Nissan Sentra FE+ SV features a 1.8L 4-cylinder engine knocking out 130 horsepower and 128 lb/ft or torque. A continuously variable transmission (CVT) is the only option, but it returns a stellar 30-mpg in the city, 40 mpg highway, and 34 mpg combined. 0-60 mph comes in a relatively slow 9.7 seconds.

2013 Nissan Sentra

The Chevy Cruze has got all the features you would expect in a new car, but not much more. Cruise control, Bluetooth, iPod integration, and a 7-inch touchscreen with the Chevy MyLink system are all standard. There is an available Driver Convenience package with a 6 way adjustable driver’s seat, rearview camera, heated mirrors, and an auto-dimming rear view mirror. The Eco squeaks additional mpg out with better aerodynamics, including lightweight wheels, a spoiler, mid-body aero panels and a few other tweaks.

2013 Chevrolet Cruze ECO

Like the Cruze, the Nissan Sentra has expected features standard, but anything extra you’ll have to pay for. 16” wheels, cruise control, power accessories, and a CD player with audio jack and a 6 speaker stereo system are all standard. You’ll have to purchase the optional Driver’s Package to get a 4.3” display, Bluetooth, iPod connectivity, satellite radio, and keyless ignition and entry. Again like the Chevrolet Cruze, the FE+ has a few aerodynamic tweaks for better mpg, including a rear spoiler, and low-rolling resistance tires.

The turbocharged Cruze Eco has some fun pep around town, due to the increased torque. Handling is pretty responsive, and the Cruze’s suspension hits that sweet spot between not too soft and not too stiff, resulting in a comfortable and compliant ride. Most will probably find the automatic transmission too sluggish, however. Geared for maximum fuel economy, it likes to sit at low RPM’s unless you really punch it.

The Sentra’s handling is respectably average. The ride is fairly quiet and smooth, although the steering does not offer a ton of feedback. The CVT does whine under heavy acceleration, but that is to be expected. Nissan does a good job with their CVTs, and this one is no different. It responds smoothly to throttle inputs and while not as crisp as other cars in this segment, everyday drivers will be satisfied.

2013 Nissan Sentra

The 2013 Chevy Cruze Eco starts at $19,835 for the manual and $21,030 for the automatic. The 2013 Sentra FE+ SV starts at a little less: $17,790. Still, I would drive off in the Cruze. While the CVT in the Sentra isn’t bad, it’s still a CVT. The manual in the Chevrolet Cruze offers you more MPG’s and the turbocharged engine makes it more fun to drive.

(Note: All vehicles provided by manufacturers for comparison test purposes. Photos provided by Chevrolet and Nissan.)