Fuel Economy – Are We Wasting Time on Electric Cars & Hybrids?

The Chevrolet Cruze is the best-selling car in the USA. It’s been that way for the last four months. Chevy has delivered nearly 170,000 of these small, fuel-efficient, gasoline-powered automobiles in 2011.

The Cruze Eco (pictured above) with manual transmission delivers 42MPG. It’s the most fuel-efficient, gasoline-powered car in the USA – excluding hybrids and diesels.

The car’s MSRP starts at $18,425 and you can buy it nicely equipped with an MSRP of around $20,000.

Now let’s compare the Cruze to two popular hybrids. The Toyota Prius and the Honda Civic. Similarly equipped to the Cruze, they each cost about $7000 more. The Civic pulls two MPG better on the highway and the Prius pulls six better MPG on the highway. For the extra $7000, you could buy a whole lot of gasoline. You don’t really save any money unless you keep the hybrids a very long time.

Now let’s look at an electric car like the Nissan Leaf. It costs about $35,000 nicely equipped. You don’t buy gasoline when you drive a Leaf. You can go about 35 miles on a $1.50 electric charge. At $15,000 more than a similarly-equipped Cruze, you’d also have to keep this car a long time to make the money difference pencil out. You would also need to understand and be able to live with the limitations of a car that can only drive 35 miles without a charge.

There is a strong argument to be made for disregarding the financial aspects of purchasing these cars and just looking at the ecological benefits of the slightly better fuel-efficiency in the case of the hybrids or the minimal cost of the electricity in the case of the Leaf or similar cars. I understand that argument and consider it to be reasonable. But it’s clear that so far, the American public prefers standard gasoline engines that deliver great fuel economy. The Cruze sales numbers are proof of that.

I have no answers here. I think the Leaf is an exciting car. I have driven it and I like it. I have not driven the Cruze, but based on the sales figures, it’s very popular. I think the car manufacturers should take a long look at both technologies. It’s much easier to find a gas station than it is to plug in your car. It’s not practical to take a cross-country trip in an electric car right now. And even electricity has a carbon footprint. There are no easy answers but if you have an opinion, please feel free to share it in the comments below.

One thing is for sure. Chevy has a hit in the Cruze. Anytime there is a car that is this successful, there are bound to be lots of imitators. Maybe soon we’ll see a 60MPG Cruze or even a 60 MPG Camaro! Now that would be exciting. We’ll have to wait to see how it all turns out.

2011 Corvette Grand Sport Mini Review

All Photos Copyright Scott Bourne 2011 – All Rights Reserved

I’ll make this simple. There’s nothing like a Corvette. Yep the car snobs (especially those from Europe) will attack this car for various reasons. It’s not new – it’s not liked by Clarkson and therefore it is not cool. But I thought long and hard before adding one to my stable, and I can tell you – while there are lots of great sports cars, there’s nothing like the Vette. Nothing.

When I was in high school, the Corvette was the car every guy wanted. From it’s appearances on the iconic “Route 66” television show to books and movies and pretty much anywhere else you looked, the Vette was always the “IT” car.

Having driven everything from Porsches, Audis, Maseratis, Lambos to Ferraris I have high expectations from sports cars. The Vette hasn’t disappointed – even though I admit it wasn’t always the first car that came to mind when I thought “performance.”

When researching the Corvette, I kept hearing people say things like “bang for the buck” and “wicked fast.” So I investigated further and was surprised to learn that the 2011 Corvette may be the finest sports car available today, at least on a dollar-for-dollar basis. Not only did I open my mind, I opened my wallet. Something happened to me while doing all that research. I realized I wanted a Vette. So I grabbed a Blade Silver 2011 Grand Sport Coupe.

There are four Corvette models – the standard, basic Coupe; the Grand Sport, The Z06 and the ZR-1.

The basic Coupe is extremely affordable. It can be had for well under $50k. You can spend as much on any number of inferior cars. If you really want a good deal get the Grand Sport. It is the real bargain of the bunch. It costs $6000 more than the basic Coupe, but it gives you a hand-built car that offers most of the driving experience of the Z06 minus the extra $20,000 price. The Z06 starts at just under $75k and the pure Corvette ZR-1 race car starts at $110,300.

My car had an MSRP of about $65k but was sold for around $8000 less than that, including $3000 dealer cash available when I took delivery. $58,000 and change for a car of this caliber is without a doubt one of the best deals out there today.

I picked the Grand Sport for several reasons. First, I wanted to be able to take the top off. I’ve always preferred Targa-style roofs to full-on convertibles because they offer more security and protection, but still give you an experience nearly identical to that of a convertible. They are also less expensive than a convertible and far less prone to maintenance issues down the road. Unfortunately, the Targa roof is NOT available on either the Z06 or the ZR-1. That was a deal breaker for me and the primary reason (along with value) for the selection of the Grand Sport.

My next reason for selecting the Grand Sport was it’s build quality. Looking at reported problems for the standard Coupe v. the Grand Sport, the latter records fewer problems. It’s a hand-built car whereas the Coupe is more of a production-line car. It’s not a big deal, but it’s worth noting.

Reason number three – performance. The Grand Sport is essentially the same car as the Z06 minus the aluminum frame and the bigger motor. You get the same wheels, tires, brakes, ground effects, suspension, etc. You don’t get the aluminum frame. That costs you 100 pounds, i.e., the Grand Sport weighs about 3300 pounds and the Z06 3200 pounds. You don’t get the 7.0 liter motor. The 6.2 liter is about two seconds slower on the track at the Millford Proving Grounds.

Reason number four – $20,000!!! That’s the approximate difference (depending on trim level and options) in price between the two cars. If you add an $10,000 Hennessey* HPE600 package including a Edelbrock E-Force, and you end up with about 94 MORE horsepower than a standard Z06 for half the price difference.

All that aside, those who aspire to the Z06 or the ZR-1 simply because they are capable of more speed need to know that not only does that cost more money, it costs more comfort. The Z06 and to a larger extent, the ZR-1 are simply not as comfortable to drive or ride in as a Grand Sport in my opinion. And to me, comfort is still important. I want a car that looks and drives like a race car, but drives and rides like a comfortable sedan. The Corvette Grand Sport is such a car.

In reality, few people can drive any of these cars at close to their limit. My car came with the upgraded Chevy stock exhaust. This, coupled with the 6.2 liter engine delivers 436 horsepower off the showroom floor. To put that in perspective. . . this same combo is offered in the up-level SS Camaro which weighs approximately 1500 pounds more. So the horsepower to weight ratio is already off the hook on the Grand Sport.

The engine is smooth and powerful. In second gear it’s a fire-breathing monster, but still smooth. The torque is there when you want it but if you roll-on the throttle, you’ll get a smooth application of power that won’t leave you with a broken neck. I love it.

There’s a surprising amount of room once you get into the cockpit of the Grand Sport. It’s not the easiest car to get into and out of if you are a large person, but once inside, pretty much anyone will have enough leg and head room. Getting in and out is the only problem, and that’s a problem common to most sports cars. There’s always a trade off.

The components on the Grand Sport are first rate. Let’s talk brakes. The GS comes with four-inch front rotors with six-piston calipers and 13.4-inch rear rotors with four-piston calipers. The Grand Sport also has functional ductwork to keep this high end braking system cool. There is a race-capable suspension but it’s somewhat less firm in the GS than the up models. I have pulled 1g on the track in my stock 2011 car.

The build quality and paint are also top notch. Everything fits well together. The car is solid and I hear no rattles. There is a fair amount of road noise, in part because you are so close to the ground and the big Goodyear F1 racing tires are a tad noisy. One way to solve the road noise issue is to simply put the peddle to the metal and then you hear that lovely, throaty LS3 engine.

What will that powerful engine do for you? I’ve had my car at both a road course and a drag strip. On the challenging Spring Mountain Motorsports track near Las Vegas the Vette stuck to the road like it was flypaper. The car’s brakes never faded and the engine never tired. I didn’t know the course that well so I can tell you that the car was more capable than I was as a driver, but it never failed me. My Zero-to-60 time on the drag strip (with me driving) was 4.34 seconds. Remember this is a stock time before the addition of the supercharger.

My car is equipped with the LT3 package from Chevrolet so that means it has the nice Bose stereo and Heads Up Display (which I really enjoy.) The interior is nice but far from fancy. It’s not as nice as some of the interiors you’d find on notable super cars like the Lambo, but then again, it’s a fraction of the cost. You also hear many complaints about the Corvette seats. Frankly, I don’t get it. Unless there’s something special about the seats that came with my Heritage Package, I can’t see what all the fuss is about. I am a very big guy and I find the seats comfortable. On the race track I wish the side bolsters were a bit beefier, but I’ll drive this car more on the street than the track (as will most people who buy one) so I don’t see the big problem.

Things I don’t like? There’s not much to complain about at this price point. Visibility can be a bit tricky. I wish the car came with a back up camera. It’s hard to know where the front end is so parking requires careful patience. Other than that, for this money, I wouldn’t expect anything more.

CONCLUSION

Chevrolet has spent more than 50 years refining the Corvette. It’s at a place in automotive history where I am convinced that it will be remembered as one of the best performance cars for the money ever made. Whether you want a race car or a daily driver, the Vette can serve both purposes. It’s one of the few sports cars I’ve ever driven that I can say that about. One more thing, the Corvette is attainable. While a bunch of kids in high school can dream about this car or that, chances are they can’t afford 99% of them. But at prices starting at just under $50k street price, the Corvette is very affordable, especially given what that money delivers to you.

Highly recommended.

*I’ll review the Hennessey package separately later next month, but here is the simple run down on what your $10,000 buys you.

Power:
610 bhp @ 6,300 rpm

Performance:
# • 0-60 mph: 3.4 sec.
# • 1/4 mile: 11.4 @ 126 mph

HPE600 Supercharged Upgrade Includes:
# • TVS2300 Supercharger System
# • High Flow Air Induction System
# • Fuel Injector Upgrade
# • 160 Degree Thermostat
# • All Necessary Gaskets & Fluids
# • Professional Installation
# • HPE Engine Management Calibration
# • Dyno Tuning & Road Testing
# • Hennessey Exterior Badging
# • Serial Numbered Dash & Engine Plaques
# • Hennessey Premium Floormats