A five-door layout and generous cargo space make a good compact car quite a bit better.
– Ann Arbor, Michigan
American car writers have been bitching about a lack of hatchbacks in our market for years. The shortage of small, functional, and fun-to-drive cars in the States has caused me to lust over European and Japanese metal for decades now. But the truth is that the U.S. has more hatchback options today than it has in quite some time.
And I’m not talking about small wagons or crossovers, either (though those are hardly in short supply). Fiat, Ford, Honda (soon), Hyundai, Kia, Mazda, Mini, Nissan, Smart, Toyota, and Volkswagen all rock hatchbacks in their diverse lineups. More brands get added to that list when you factor in hybrids and electric cars with accessible rear load spaces.
In all, Chevy’s director of marketing Steve Majoros tells me, hatchback volume in the U.S. is a yearly 350,000 units. And it’s a place that Chevy dearly wants to use to capture some long-term customers, via this newly hatched Cruze five-door. We had generally positive things to say about the Cruze when our Managing Editor first drove the thing, in sedan form, in Tennessee. I spent the day in Ann Arbor and Detroit, Michigan, sorting out if the added functionality ultimately produces a better overall vehicle.
- I’m a car journalist, so I’m morally obligated to tell you that the hatchback version of the Cruze looks a lot better than the sedan. Sorry, trunk lovers, I just can’t see it with different eyes. This is a handsome little transportation pod, with a nice stance, and interesting surfacing that’s reminiscent of other recent Chevy designs. It also looks passingly like the Hyundai Elantra hatchback, but that’s not a dig.
- The car you see in the photo set is a nearly base model in the LT trim (the hatchback doesn’t get the less-expensive L and LS trims of the sedan). That means, among other things, cloth seats and a manual transmission. I drove a higher-zoot Premier trim car, too, but I have to say I think the Cruze wears the basic suit well. This is a functional, easy-to-live-with space, with a decent stereo (Apple CarPlay and Android Auto help), and a nice, conservative design that shouldn’t look dated if you buy the car to own for a few years.
- The powertrain is a bit of a mixed bag, but more positive than negative. The Cruze hatch has the same 1.4-liter turbo four that you’ll find in the sedan, of course, making excellent outputs of 153 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque. That’s plenty of capacity to move the 3,000-something-pound vehicle, but not to make it move with special rapidity. The six-speed transmission is super simple to use, a little vague in terms of the gate, but better than what I remember from the Sonic, for instance. Still, the combination of torque and gear control did allow me to have a good time hunting corners on some of the better roads north of Ann Arbor.
- There’s a hatch! If you like what the Cruze sedan has to offer, this is like that but better. Some 47.2 cubic feet of space (with the rear seats folded) is more than enough room to haul anything and everything you’ll need on a regular basis. Perhaps a Cruze Hatch owner might still need to rent a truck to buy a new couch, but hey, you can fit an awful lot of throw pillows back there.
- Admittedly the Mazda3 sets a high bar for handling in the compact class. Oh, and I’d bet good money that the upcoming Civic hatch is great to drive, too, based on the grand backroad ability of the sedan. The Cruze, meanwhile, is a little mushy. There’s quite a lot of vertical movement when you’re pushing the thing, and noticeable squat/dive behavior under heavy-ish braking, too. None of this is off-putting enough to bother a normal commuter, but if you’re looking for a practical and brisk-handling car, there are better options.
- Historically, compact hatchbacks find fans (or don’t) because of their inherent value propositions. The Cruze five-door seems to come up a little short here. The most basic version – though quite good – starts at over $22,000. That’s thousands more than the base versions of Mazda, Kia, Hyundai, and VW offerings in the class, to name a few. To be fair, Chevy is aiming at the heart of the compact market, which transacts closer to the mid twenties. But don’t go looking for a stripper-car value here.
- The hatch isn’t that big! Okay, okay, I know this was a “pro” just a minute ago. And yes, I’d rather have the Cruze Hatch than the sedan. But the Golf and the Elantra GT have quite a bit more room in their back sections (nearly five extra cubic feet each). The Chevy cargo hold is closer to the Mazda3’s size.
Photos: Seyth Miersma / Motor1.com