U.S. finally gets a Cruze hatchback amid growing popularity for the versatile body style
Appreciation is growing for the hot hatches that have long been popular in Europe but have failed to find a footing in the U.S.
But that failure is changing as automakers such as VW, Ford, Mazda, Honda, and Subaru have enjoyed success with mainstream hatchbacks in this country and are upping the ante with some of the hottest hatches to grace our shores, including the Focus RS and Honda Civic Type R. Hatchbacks account for 15 percent of the compact car market here, a percentage likely to keep increasing.
Chevrolet is now in the game with the first Cruze hatchback for the U.S., starting at $23,065 USD for the LT. There is no L or LS offered, which means it has no plans to take on $21,000 USD base models from the competition, based on research showing a third of hatchbacks are sold for $25,000 USD. We tested a Premier with an automatic transmission, leather seats, and other goodies that brought the price to $26,870 USD.
And although the Cruze may not be the fastest or sportiest hatch on the market, Chevy will raise the bar for the 2018 model by adding a 1.6-liter turbodiesel engine and choice of a six-speed manual transmission or the new nine-speed automatic.
For now, the 2017 Cruze hatch has a 1.4-liter turbocharged I-4 gas engine and choice of a six-speed manual or automatic transmission. It’s good for 153 horsepower at 5,600 rpm and 177 lb-ft of torque at 2,000–4,000 rpm. We expect performance to mirror that of the Cruze Premier sedan we recently tested: 0–60 in 8.2 seconds, the quarter mile in 16.3 seconds, and requiring 113 feet to brake in the 60–0 test. Our real mpg results were 28/38.3/31.9 mpg city/highway/combined, which is almost spot-on with the EPA ratings for the hatch of 29/38 mpg in city/highway driving with the automatic transmission and 28/37 mpg with the manual. The Cruze comes with start/stop technology standard.
Design-wise, the hatchback and sedan are the same from the A-pillar forward and share the same powertrain. But lopping 7.4 inches off the back makes the hatch appear wider, more planted, and more capable. You can make it look a bit meaner with the RS package, which includes a sport body kit, 18-inch wheels, a bigger rear spoiler, and front foglamps.
The fact that GM has invested in a mainstream compact hatchback at all speaks volumes about its commitment to the small-car segment, which used to be a money-losing chore before the advent of the Cruze in 2008 showed small cars could be fun, attractive, and profitable.
A hatchback provides more flexibility and utility that a sedan without going to a crossover or SUV. To underscore the point, GM had us load giant teddy bears into our press fleet cars and drop them off at area hospitals. The Cruze hatch has 22.7 cubic feet of space behind the rear seats—more than 7.0 more than the sedan’s trunk—and a CUV-sized 47.2-cubic-foot cargo area if you fold the seats down.
Not surprisingly, the hatchback drives much like the sedan. That is a good thing because replacing a trunk with a glass window runs the risk of more noise encroaching into the cabin from the wheelwells and behind the rear fascia.
Program engineering manager Seth Valentine said they added baffles, panels, and insulation to keep the noise/vibration/harshness levels to the same standards as the sedan. Padding was added in places not normally insulated, and there were a lot of hits and misses with assorted parts in various combinations tested at the Milford Proving Ground.
“We were in uncharted waters,” Valentine said. “There were not a lot of hatches to draw from. We tried nine different packages until we got what we wanted.” In the end, the team felt they exceeded their goals.
On a drive around Ann Arbor, Michigan, and then into the heart of Detroit and on some unsavory roads, our Kinetic Blue Metallic Premier did indeed keep the noise levels to an acceptable level.
Steering, acceleration, and handling mimicked our sedan experience, making this a solid contender in the compact car field.
Like the second-generation sedan, the hatch has an easy-to-use infotainment system with a large, modern-looking screen, and it taps into Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and pairs easily with a smartphone. There is also a clever phone holder and wireless charging, and the car can transform into a Wi-Fi hot spot.
Steve Majoros, director of Chevrolet marketing, thinks hatchbacks are appealing to those who switched from cars to SUVs and crossovers and are now seeking a sporty compromise that offers fuel economy and versatility. The Cruze hatch is a chance to yet again try something different and appeal to outdoor-oriented male buyers who are a bit older and more affluent.
The hatchback segment accounts for about 350,000 sales a year in the U.S., of which about 50,000 are electric vehicles. “If there is a 300,000 market and our number is zero, there is opportunity out there,” Majoros said. “The cult of hatch is catching on.”