DETROIT, Michigan—If you’ve turned on the television in the last month, there’s a good chance you’ve been bombarded by hatchback commercials. It’s a tad unusual, given the historical failure of hatchbacks in the United States, but companies like Chevrolet and Honda are pushing forward for another go for their Cruze and Civic cars.
And they’re not the only ones in the hatch market; competition is prevalent, with rival cars coming from Volkswagen, Ford, Kia, Mazda, Hyundai, Subaru, and Toyota.
We’re getting those ads, too, in Canada, where hatchbacks haven’t been met with as much hostility. Canadians, like Europeans, seem to love cars with odd-number doors. The best example comes, not surprisingly, from our most Europe-like province, Quebec, where 40 percent of hatchbacks sold in Canada live, out of our total 60,000 sold new nationwide per year.
If you couple the success of the Chevrolet Cruze in North America and throughout the world (it’s Chevrolet’s top-selling global nameplate) with the plethora of hatch choices within the compact car segment, it only makes sense for Chevrolet to add the hatch variant to its Cruze nameplate.
If you look at the 2017 Cruze hatch from any view other than the rear, it looks identical to its sedan version. It shares the sedan’s global platform, and that’s a good thing. The Cruze hatch keeps the lowered front fascia and sleek grille that stretches into the headlamps to help give it a dynamic, proportional stance.
Overall, the hatch drops eight inches in overall length, but you wouldn’t even notice it. Typically, the rear doors of a hatch vary from a sedan to accommodate a more sloping shape, but the Cruze hatch’s stay the same. And according to Stuart Cooper, design strategy manager at Global Chevrolet, “that’s not going to change any time soon.”
The changes from sedan to hatch start to appear near the C-pillar, as the roofline takes a nose dive to create that edgy and angular fifth door that adds 280 litres (699 litres total) of trunk cargo room to the sedan version.
The curvaceous rear adds a lot of more sportiness to its makeup, but if you still need more styling excitement, there’s the RS package. For just under $1,000, you can spruce up its appearance with a sharp blacked-out front grille with RS badging, sport body mouldings, fog lamps, 18-inch aluminum-alloy wheels, and a rear spoiler.
Outside of the aforementioned rear cargo space, there’s nothing different on the inside between the hatch and sedan. The bucket seats provide a comfortable setting that come in cloth or leather materials, depending on whether you choose the LT trim or Premier, the only two trims on offer for the hatch version.
The comfort level continues in the rear with ample headroom and legroom for two adults, which is a plus given its sloping roofline. If you need additional space for cargo, the rear seats can be folded flat to create a total of 1,336 litres (47.2 cubic feet) of cargo space that bests most of its hatch competitors, and is close to 1,000 litres more than the sedan.
Chevrolet has been big on technology for all of its latest products, and that continues in the Cruze hatch. On top of the trim you choose, Chevrolet offers plenty of convenience and technology packages to go along with a few standard items that include Android Auto and Apple Car Play, satellite radio, built-in WiFi, OnStar, the teen driver technology, and a rearview camera.
These packages do add up in price, so make sure you really think over whether the suite of safety technology in the True North Edition (Rear Cross-Traffic Alert, Rear Park Assist, Lane Change Alert with a Side Blind Zone Alert, Forward Collision Warning with Following Distance Indicator, Lane Keep Assist with Lane Departure Warning, and Intellibeam) or the Technology and Convenience package (sunroof, heated rear seats, eight-inch touchscreen with navigation, and premium Bose audio system) are worth it. The packages range from $995 to $3,495.
After experiencing both the base Premier and then the Premier RS with the other convenience packages, I have to point out that getting the eight-inch touchscreen and accompanying modernized instrument cluster makes a big difference in looks and ease of use. The standard touchscreen appears outdated with miniature fonts that only take up a quarter of the screen, a styling that’s out of touch with the connectivity that Chevrolet is boasting about.
If technology perks are what you’re into, my advice would be to add on the Technology and Convenience Package; it will make you enjoy the commute that much more.
For now, there’s only one option under the hood, and that’s a turbocharged 1.4-litre four-cylinder engine that utilizes direct-injection. It delivers 153 hp and 177 lb-ft of torque and is matched to a six-speed manual or automatic transmission.
Just like the car’s external design, the engine is borrowed from the sedan. If you haven’t been in the latest version of the Cruze, you’ll be satisfied with its smooth takeoff and quiet, yet steady, driving prowess. Chevrolet boasts about its ability to accelerate from zero to 96 km/h in 7.7 seconds.
The majority of sales will be automatics, so I went with that transmission to cruise through the streets of Detroit. A healthy amount of torque assists the Cruze in rapidly picking up speed and staying with traffic. I particularly enjoyed the seamless shifting when either pressing the throttle or coasting to a stop. And when you get to that stop, the Cruze uses start/stop technology to lessen the car’s idling, saving your fuel economy along the way.
The RS package may make the Cruze hatch look like a hot hatch that’s ready for the track, but the package only enhances its looks without any changes to the engine or much to its suspension. It’s not a vehicle you want to push to the limits, but, like its name suggests, it’s a compact cruiser that can manoeuvre itself around a city, allow you to park in smaller parking spaces, or simply let you have fun while you drive.
On my short drive, I was able to achieve a frugal 6.8 L/100 km combined. It didn’t start out that way in the city as I was getting in the high single digits, but with some long coasting city stretches and a highway stint, the Cruze achieved a decent score that I believe could have been lowered. The official fuel economy numbers for the Premier trim are 8.4 L/100 km in the city and 6.4 L/100 km on the highway for a combined 7.5.
I may have alluded to another engine coming down the pipeline for the Cruze, and that’s a 1.6-litre turbodiesel, the same one being placed in the 2018 Chevrolet Equinox. It won’t be arriving until next year, so all we can report now is that it will be offered in both the sedan and hatch and will come with your choice of a six-speed manual transmission or nine-speed automatic offering.
Even though it may seem that most automakers are shying away from diesels, Chevrolet appears to be hoping to get itself a piece of the currently non-competitive diesel market. Without a full Volkswagen TDI fix in place, Chevrolet may be looking at loyal Golf customers to hitch themselves to their wagons, or hatches in this instance.
As previously mentioned, the Cruze hatch will only come in LT and Premier trims, with the LT manual starting at $20,595. The Premier trim that I drove starts at $24,645, but that’s without the bells-and-whistles options that enhance the vehicle quite dramatically.
If you’re just looking for a basic compact car that looks fresh and cool from the outside, the Cruze hatch is a good buy at just over $20K. But if you’re used to the low prices of a Cruze sedan at the L and LS trim level, the ones that start at $15,995, the hatch version may seem a bit expensive. However, if you were going to buy one of the top-trims anyways, the hatch only rings in at $750 more than the four-door version.
The Premier RS package looks the best and if it comes fully loaded with the Technology and Convenience package, you’ll get everything you really need in a vehicle, plus that additional cargo space found in the hatch. This will also get your price above the $30K mark, so beware what other larger car options start coming into play at that price point.
The 2017 Cruze hatchback will be a nice addition to the Chevrolet family of compacts. With the Honda Civic hatch on its way, it only makes sense for the Cruze to get in on a piece of this hatch craze.
Personally, I believe the hatch variant will resonate with younger professionals, presenting another choice that possesses more versatility and sportiness to its ride. If you enjoy the comfortable and quiet ride of the Cruze sedan and want a little extra flair in your ride, the hatch has exactly what you need.
The 2017 Cruze hatch is currently available at Chevrolet dealerships.
Disclosure—This writer’s travel and accommodations were provided by the automaker for the purposes of this first-drive review.