The argument for the hatchback is best illustrated by the amount of stuff hauled in a given weekend. A portable hockey locker, basketball bag, small cooler, and a backpack can’t fit in a compact sedan as easily as a hatch. Neither can a bike or two.
What is the argument then for the hatchback over the taller, bigger crossover? There are so many crossovers that they are distinguishable as black socks. The hatch is smaller, sportier, just as versatile, and appealing more to customers (according to Chevy).
Citing a 9 percent growth in the segment last year, Chevy introduced the 2017 Cruze Hatch. As Chevy’s best-selling car around the world, the Cruze has been Chevy’s experimental car in America, determining if what sells in Europe and other places can sell here. The Cruze was Chevy’s only mainstream American car to get a 2-liter turbo diesel entry in 2014, and a new diesel will return paired to either a new nine-speed automatic transmission or six-speed manual in both the sedan and hatch.
For now the Cruze Hatch comes with one engine, a pokey turbo four. It’s not as sporty as the Mazda3, Volkswagen Golf, or the rival Ford Focus, but it pushes at the edge of the premium segment with a host of technologically advanced standard equipment and a refined-but-versatile cabin.
It comes in just two trim levels, LT and Premier, which is fortunate since keeping track of Chevy’s half-dozen L-1-something trim levels is like understanding a teen’s ever-evolving textcronyms.
With teens in mind, the Cruze Hatch Premier comes with Teen Driver, enabling parents to set limits on distractions such as radio volume, and provides a report card of sorts to a smartphone on hard stops, speeding instances and more. There are multiple USB ports, including one in the rear, and the car is a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot that comes with a three-month data plan supporting up to seven devices.
Most importantly, as far as technology goes, the suite of safety features including alerts for inadvertent lane change, blind spot, rear cross traffic, forward collision, and rear park assist is only $790 extra (the Driver Confidence II Package). If all those alerts sound like a potential amusement park, it’s not; the warnings are noticeable but not obnoxious.
The turbocharger in the four-cylinder is more for economy than performance, eking out nearly 35 mpg in combined commutes. EPA estimates a conservative 31 mpg combined. There is nothing fast about it; mash the pedal, crack the whip, chant “go car go” and the 153 horsepower engine will get you to 60 mph at some point in the near future (Chevy cites 7.7 seconds but we’re skeptical). The shifting from the six-speed automatic is quick and smooth, and turning can be fun, which is the sportiest advantage over a crossover.
What it lacks under the hood it makes up for inside the well-appointed cabin.
The Cruze hatch has an excellent dash design with a Spartan center stack that reminds us of how simple cars once were, yet doesn’t compromise any of the modern conveniences. There is a volume dial under the touch screen, knobs and familiar buttons for climate control, and below that a storage area with USB charge ports and a 12V jack. In the center console between the elbow rest and cup holders is a phone holder that can only fit smartphones vertically. The rubber holder grabs the phone and won’t let go at hard stops or over rumble strips.
It’s far better than the Golf and less cluttered than the Focus, more intuitive than the Mazda3.
Rear legroom is above average, but the Golf feels much roomier. Total cargo space with the rear seats down is 47.2 cubic feet, about 5 feet smaller than the Golf but roomier than the Focus and Honda Civic. Some hatches can lead to more road noise, but the Cruze Hatch is a quiet and smooth ride.
The only knock on the interior was the weak phone speaker. We could only hear our caller talking when we were stopped. We tried changing the settings, jacking volume on the display and our Bluetooth, to no avail. Hopefully it was just a glitch on our tester.
On the outside the Cruze Hatch has a subtle European style that is distinct from the cookie-cutter crossover. It has the longer nose of the Mazda3, but is distinguished with a split-front grille that is both wide and tall.
The rear wheels are tucked close to the tail, and the integrated spoiler at the top of the hatch gives it an edge. The Premier trim level comes upgraded with unremarkable 18-inch wheels.
There are sportier hatchbacks, but the advanced technology and stylish cabin give the Cruze Hatch a competitive edge at this price point.
2017 Chevrolet Cruze Hatchback Premier at a glance
Vehicle type: Compact hatch
Base price: $23,945
As tested: $25,600 (excluding $875 delivery)
Mpg: 28 city, 37 highway
Engine: 1.4-liter turbo four-cylinder
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Parting shot: An appealing alternative to the bland compact crossover