As popular and practical as they are, the thought of owning a crossover will never appeal to certain people. Be it qualms with ownership costs, performance, or fuel efficiency, America’s hot seller isn’t for everyone. Enter: the hatchback. Even the new Toyota Camry can’t compete with a well-organized hatchback on certain levels.
Part of a hatchback’s appeal is its price. Top-end crossovers easily crest $30,000, and a loaded midsize pickup will rocket you into the $40,000 range. A hatchback might not have the clearance or locking differentials, but not everyone needs all that.
Most commuters generally require a minimum of front-wheel drive, good tires, stability assist, power steering, and a splash of traction control in order to conquer winter. The appeal of something that has ample cargo room in a tightly-bound package makes cars, such as the Chevy Cruze hatchback, an attractive option.
After driving its feisty younger nephew, the Sonic RS Turbo, it was time to climb inside the longer Cruze hatchback. Controlling the finely tuned manual version of the Sonic had left us impressed with Chevy’s perky 1.4-liter turbo motor. And because the Cruze comes standard with the same powertrain, but features even more power, things looked promising.
Unfortunately, we discovered upon delivery that a misread product description (on our end) had left us with a Premier 1SF version, not an RS. It still came complete with some nice package options and the same $395 Cajun red paint scheme, but RS handling upgrades and the short-shifting manual gearbox were nowhere to be seen.
No bother. The Cruze still packs some seriously sharp looks, an engine we adore, and plenty of practicality. How bad could it be?
Structurally, this car punches well above its weight for aesthetics and practical purpose. Unlike the sedate Ford Focus or the polarizing Honda Civic hatch, the Cruze oozes with allure at almost every angle. It has lines in all the right places. Tasteful black and chrome accents reside where they should. And the way it sits on its 17-inch alloys is faultless. Although not as aggressive as the front, its rear hatch isn’t unattractive. From an angle or in profile, it appears proportional to the rest of the car.
Exterior pros and cons
+ Nicely drawn and rocking a helpful rear hatch, Chevy’s swing at this segment is well-proportioned and sharp.
+ The ride height helps the sporty front and rear lips clear obstacles easily, but it isn’t so high that the Cruze loses its well-postured stance.
+ Body color turn-signal indicators in the heated side mirrors are a nice touch, and the 17-inch alloy wheels offer a sporty look, making you think it’s an RS model even though it isn’t.
– It’s not the most memorable vehicle in the segment, and its narrow, high-mounted rear door is bested by the practicality the Impreza hatch offers.
Although not having the crisp six-speed manual transmission surely affected the fun side of the Cruze, it was the 200-pound difference between it and the Sonic RS that made the mildly massaged 1.4-liter Ecotec feel overworked. The power is there, but you have to force the car to work hard at times if hilly interstate driving is in the cards. On the bright side, it does offer some silky-smooth “cruzing,” terrific fuel-economy ratings, and plenty of power for most people shopping the segment.
Powertrain pros and cons
+ Efficient and smooth, the more powerful 1.4-liter Ecotec engine gets an average 28 miles per gallon in the city and 37 on the highway in the heavier Premier model.
+ The six-speed automatic Hydra-Matic transmission shifts seamlessly, and traction control is quick to engage if it detects an issue.
+ Boost comes on strong between 2,000 and 4,000 RPM, giving drivers 177 pound-feet of torque and 153 horsepower toward the top end, with zero to 60 times of 7.6 seconds.
– The Cruze’s powertrain doesn’t feel as impassioned as it is in the Sonic RS. This is surely because of the Premier’s 200 pounds of additional weight and the absence of a short-shifting manual gearbox.
GM sinks a lot of money into making its black interior packages look top-notch, something Premier Cruze buyers will appreciate. Placing just the right amount of attention to a trim bezel, shroud, or shifter console can make a major difference in how a car looks. And in the Cruze’s case, it looks great. But where the Cruze appears to be larger than the Sonic in the flesh, with the seats folded, the smaller vehicle bests the more expensive model with 6 cubic inches more of storage space.
Interior pros and cons
+ Premier models come layered in leather, plastic trim accents are subtle and tasteful, and materials throughout look and feel nicer than what the Sonic RS had to offer.
+ Cabin space is adequate for adults, and the backseat is positioned at a more comfortable angle than the Sonic. Cargo volume bests the hatch versions of the Mazda3 and Ford Focus.
+ Favorite value-adding touches include heated outboard seats in front and back, a heated leather steering wheel, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, express roll-down windows, and rear seat charging options.
– Cargo volume isn’t as good as the 2017 Impreza (which more than a handful of buyers will likely be cross-shopping), and the center console storage space isn’t as large or protean as the Honda Civic’s setup. There’s also no double glove box like in the Sonic.
– There isn’t a 40/20/40 split in the rear bench. Because the 60/40 split is reversed, buyers would have to clip child seats in behind the driver in order to fit longer objects in the car.
Tech and safety
Drop an Enhanced Convenience Package and the recommended Driver Confidence II Package in a Cruze, and you get smart, safe tech upgrades. A few of the features that make both packages and their $1,655 combined price tag worthwhile are the wireless charging area, the aforementioned heated outboard rear seats, rear park assist, and the full sweep of collision alerts.
Tech and safety pros and cons
+ Keyless entry on all four doors, remote vehicle start, wireless device charging, 4G LTE WiFi, and five years of complimentary OnStar service make a strong statement in the Cruze’s segment.
+ The 7-inch touchscreen supports Bluetooth controls, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, as well as both projection and gallery imaging when a compatible device is connected.
+ Safety selling points are the rear parking assist, auto high-beams, vehicle distance monitor, collision alerts, rear cross traffic warnings, lane keep assistance, and blind spot monitoring.
– You’d think at $27,000, the Premier-trimmed Cruze would come with loads of infotainment, navi maps, and a color driver monitoring display to help it compete with top-tier Civic, Mazda 3, Golf, and Impreza models. But it doesn’t.
– Following distance indicator warns if you are getting too close to the car in front of you, but it does nothing to adjust cruise control.
Despite not being an RS, the Cruze still delivered a driving experience that was plenty direct, while indulging passengers with a smooth, quiet ride. The engine might be a little noisy at times. But the rest of the cabin is not as loud as one might expect from an economy-minded hatchback, thanks to Chevy’s invested interest in ideal sound deadening. It also has great visibility and pairs well with larger humans, thanks to its nicely sized seating layouts.
Where the Cruze’s cabin doesn’t trump the Sonic, it makes up for it in wheelbase positioning and supportive steering, which gives the longer, wider hatchback a planted feel. Gone is the roller skate-like stance and wheel spin in the corners. Instead you get a much more grown-up ride.
There also were a few annoying touches, such as the door locks retracting so low into the door panel that manually pulling them up was impossible. The cabin air switch seemed to have a mind of its own, too, working sometimes and then filling the hatch with truck fumes when least expected, prompting everyone in the car to immediately crack a window.
The issue with buying a loaded Cruze hatch in Premier trim is for $27,000, a 2017 Impreza Sport hatch easily out-performs it. The Impreza also surpasses the Cruze with better tech, more cargo space, and a wider rear gate opening for easier access. Although the GM offering does beat both the Focus and the Mazda 3 in cargo volume, it’s not setting any benchmarks in the segment.
The Cruze also isn’t nearly as fun to drive as the similarly priced Honda Civic Sport, which bests the GM offering with a sharper turbo powertrain while retaining similar efficiency ratings. This means the Cruze isn’t landing the hits it needs to win its first round in the ring. But the international fighter shouldn’t stop swinging. It’s a very promising platform. And with improvements in the right places, it could make for an extremely formidable hot hatch contender.