Ford vs. Chevrolet has long been an epic American battle, with one automaker matching the other model for model. So why is it that even though Ford has offered its economy cars as hatchbacks, Chevrolet has long demurred?
Alan Batey, president of General Motors North America and Global Chevrolet must have asked himself that question, especially after noticing demand for hatchbacks grow 9 percent last year, a result of Americans becoming accustomed to the crossovers and SUVs that now dominate our highways. And with hatchbacks more popular, sedans suddenly seem so odd-looking and impractical.
Enter the 2017 Chevrolet Cruze Hatchback, a model that has long been offered in Europe and is now on sale in the States.
Despite being 8.4 inches shorter than its sedan sibling, it has nearly a half-inch more rear-seat headroom and an additional 9.9 cubic feet of cargo space — and that’s before you fold the rear seats. Otherwise, passenger space is identical.
But practicality has its price. The Hatchback, depending on model, weighs between 47-95 pounds more than the sedan. And unlike the four-door, which can be fitted with a diesel engine that returns as much as 52 mpg in highway driving, the five-door comes exclusively with a turbocharged double overhead-cam 1.4-liter gas engine mated to a six-speed manual or automatic transmission. And while the sedan can be fitted in four trim levels, the Hatchback comes in just two: the mid-level LT for $22,115, and the top-of-the-heap Premier for $24,820.
As with the sedan, you’ll find the Hatchback has good power after an initial dash of turbo lag; the automatic transmission favors fuel economy over driving fun. That’s no criticism; merely a statement of personality. For this car is a cultured cruiser, not a brawling bruiser.
Behind the wheel, you’ll find it’s fairly agile but not sporty. The suspension ably blends riding comfort while controlling ride motions, particularly on Premier models, which have a more sophisticated Watts link rear suspension. The steering is nicely weighted with good on-center feel and a turning radius that’s surprisingly compact for a front-drive car. The cabin remains quiet, although tire noise is present.
Much appreciated were the safety features included in the optional Driver Confidence II Package: automatic headlights, rear park assist, following distance indicator, forward collision alert, rear cross-traffic alert, lane keep assist, land departure warning and blind zone alert. Standard safety features include 10 air bags, four-wheel disc brakes, rearview camera, stability control and a tire pressure monitor.
Cabin ambiance is sophisticated and proves striking in certain color combinations.
The seats are comfortable during long stretches in the saddle, made all the better by the car’s little luxuries, touches that make cruising in the Cruze a pleasure. There’s a heated steering wheel, front and rear heated seats and a sweet-sounding Bose nine-speaker audio system with Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. A 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot is optional. And kudos for the shortcut buttons beneath the infotainment screen. Finally, there are many convenient places to stash things, including a phone cradle and a wireless charging pad for smartphones.
Best of all, this car looks purposeful, thanks to its aggressive, forward-leaning profile, one enhanced by the optional RS Package, which adds a body kit, 18-inch aluminum wheels, a rear spoiler and front fog lights.
In the end, you’ll find that the 2017 Chevrolet Cruze Hatchback is a sophisticated cruiser, one that’s as American as apple pie but with the heart of a European.
Base prices: $22,115-$24,820
Engine: Turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder
Torque: 177 pound-feet
EPA fuel economy (city/highway): 28-29/37-38
Wheelbase: 106.3 inches
Length: 175.3 inches
Curb weight: 2,892-2,978 pounds
Cargo capacity: 24.7-47.2 cubic feet
NHTSA safety rating: 4 stars