Back in the days of the Cavalier and the Cobalt, Chevrolet was never really viewed as a serious contender in the competitive compact car market. Times are, indeed, changing. Today, the Cruze range rides taller after its remake and the addition of an attractive hatchback model.
While the new Cruze Hatchback shares the sedan’s 2,700-millimetre wheelbase, the rear-end treatment brings a ride with a lot more presence. The wraparound tail lights and integrated spoiler emphasize the added flexibility of the fifth door, and as a package it comes together very nicely. The wish is the RS package be made standard equipment; the bolder body kit, larger rear spoiler and fog lamps give it more visual authority.
The Cruze’s cabin is typical Chevrolet. While I’m not a fan of the fabric inserts on the dashboard, the rest of it comes together well. In the tester’s case, it included the equipment that comes with the True North Edition. Along with an eight-way power driver’s seat and power moonroof comes a better audio system and Chevy’s MyLink infotainment system. It arrives with a larger eight-inch touch screen that gives fast and easy access to all the functions, including phone, music and apps, and it supports both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. OnStar and a Wi-Fi hot spot are also aboard. The other half of the North package brings some desirable safety technology: blind-spot monitoring and cross-traffic alert.
Teen Driver is a very cool feature for parents. It mutes the audio until the seatbelts are buckled, it gives visual and audible warnings when the car is driven over predetermined speed limits and it prevents the key safety items from being turned off; this includes the traction control system, so no more smoky burnouts. Finally, it gives a report card on how the teen drove. It is a simple but highly effective bit of technology. I’m just glad it was not around when I borrowed my father’s car!
Move rearward and there is plenty of room for two adult riders. The legroom is good and there’s enough headroom, thanks to the sculpted headliner. The anomaly is found in the headrest count. While there are five seatbelts, there are only four headrests. As such, putting someone in the middle spot when their head and neck will sit above the top of the seatback is not a smart move.
The hatch does bring versatility and space; with the seats upright, there are 700 litres of cargo capacity and 1,336 L with the 60/40-split folding rear seat folded flat. It also arrives with the needed tie downs and a privacy cover to keep prying eyes off the stuff stored in the back.
At this point, the Cruze hatch arrives with one engine: a 1.4-L turbocharged four-cylinder. Its 153 horsepower is good for the segment, but it’s the 177 pound-feet of torque at 2,000 r.p.m. that makes the bigger difference. While there is a very minor bout of turbo lag off the line, once moving the power builds strongly and brings a rewarding turn of speed.
In the end, the hatch canters to 100 km/h in 7.8 seconds, which is up to class standards.
More intriguing is the possibility of diesel power for the Cruze, as GM has hinted at such a model with an all-new nine-speed automatic transmission or a six-speed manual. The 1.6-L turbodiesel, as used in the Opel Astra in Europe, pushes 160 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque at 1,500 rpm. Note to GM: Build it and it will sell.
The power reaches the front wheels through either a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic transmission. The temptation is to pick the manual, but in the long run it is the automatic that’s the better buy. It slips through its gears smoothly and it’s willing to drop a cog when a burst of speed is called upon. The hitch is the need to put the shifter in low (L) to take advantage of the manual toggle switch atop the shifter. The design dissuaded its use totally, and given the sportier thrust of the Cruze hatch, it is an oversight that needs addressing.
Ditto the idle/stop system. It is one of the smoother systems operationally, but there is no on/off switch. Ironically, the owner can start the engine remotely and let it pollute as it idles needlessly in the driveway, but the driver cannot defeat the idle/stop system.
The Cruze hatch proved to be light and lithe on its P205/55R16 tires. While the suspension’s design is fairly basic, it gets the job done effectively. Through a series of switchbacks, the amount of body roll was controlled and the response to steering input was both quick and predictable. On the flip side, it delivered a comfortable highway ride, soaking up the rougher tarmac. As such, the tuning serves to deliver the road manners required of a sportier ride without giving up the comfort demanded of a family car.
The Cruze hatchback is a welcome addition to the Chevrolet lineup, as it brings better versatility that its sedan sibling. Going whole hog can get fairly expensive, but the mid-range LT is right-priced and well worth a look.