Looks the part but does it play the part?
The popularity of hatchbacks is finally growing. Successful overseas, hatchbacks have had a hard time gaining ground in the states. Although usually cherished by car enthusiasts, most American consumers shy away from the extra cargo room a hatchback provides. However, things are changing. Chevrolet claims there was a 9 percent increase in small hatchback sales last year. Ergo, the 2017 Chevrolet Cruze hatch. The 2017 Chevrolet Cruze Premier sedan performed well in our Big Test of compact sedans by taking the silver medal behind the Honda Civic EX, out of seven compact sedan rivals. Owning many hatchbacks over the years (my favorite body style), I was excited to see what the Cruze hatch had in store, especially equipped with the standard six-speed manual transmission. The boy racer inside was grateful.
Before we delve into the hatchback, let’s clear something up first. Walking up to the RS package–equipped Red Hot Cruze, I immediately thought hot hatch, thanks to the big, shiny wing and sporty-looking body kit. Then I gazed upon the 205/55R16 all-season tires, and my excitement shuddered. Those sidewalls are way too thick for anything sporty. Pulling out of the parking lot, I rowed through the gears for the first time, took a fast turn, and then came to a hard stop. I knew exactly what I was dealing with. This is not a hot hatch. The Cruze hatch is a regular hatchback with a sporty RS appearance package. By no means is this a negative. Just don’t let the RS packaging fool you into thinking that this hatchback is built to compete with the likes of the Ford Focus ST and Volkswagen Golf GTI.
The extra cargo room is usually the determining factor when consumers buy a hatchback. The Cruze hatch is no exception. The sedan model offers up to 14.8 cubic feet of cargo room to the hatch’s 24.7 cubic feet with the rear seats up and a cavernous 47.2 cubic feet with them down. What the cubic feet numbers don’t show is the ease of putting something bulky in your vehicle. Try fitting something tall and wide such as a small sofa chair in your sedan. You can’t. A hatchback will gladly comply. Surprisingly, the Cruze hatch is 8.5 inches shorter than the sedan (the wheelbase is the same), increasing maneuverability in tight spaces. The Cruze has a smaller capacity than the Volkswagen Golf hatchback’s 52.7 cubic feet (rear seats down) but a slightly larger than the Honda Civic Hatchback’s capacity of 46.2 cubic feet. The Subaru Impreza hatchback tops all with its 55.3 cubic feet of storage (the 2018 Hyundai Elantra GT comes in at 55.1 cubic feet).
Remember those tires? Well, they do help provide a comfortable ride. In slow speeds and especially during highway cruising, the Cruze hatch soaks up road imperfections as well as or better than most compacts. The trade-off is handling. The Cruze rolls and pitches like a Camry, but once the chassis sets the hatchback provides good grip but not a lot of confidence, allowing for some flogging on your favorite back road. Just don’t expect much. “Toward the later laps I was getting better at coordinating the brake release and turn-in in order to enter the corner smoothly, but without that recipe it dissolves into understeer,” testing director Kim Reynolds noted after some laps around Motor Trend’s figure-eight course.
The Cruze’s shifter was the source of many complaints and puts to rest any inclination that this is a fun car to drive. When driving normally, the shifter feels cheap with long throws and poor clutch engagement. “Awful, notchy, fragile-feeling shift linkage,” road test editor Chris Walton noted. “Vague and grabby clutch engagement.”
Drive the hatchback fast, and it only gets worse. “The biggest problem is the shift—gads it’s bad,” Reynolds noted. “Reminds of when cable shifters first appeared and barely worked. Your only recourse here is to slow the shift and be very deliberate.” Unfortunately, there is more bad news for the shifter. To engage reverse, the Cruze uses what can best be described as a trigger-looking lever located at the base of the shifter. You press it up with a finger, almost resembling a trigger found on video game controller. Depending on how you grip the shifter, the reverse lever might get in the way due to its location, and it feels cheap.
With a troublesome shifter and roly-poly suspension, how did the Chevy perform on the track? The 153-hp, 177-lb-ft of torque 1.4-liter turbocharged I-4 engine propels the Cruze hatch to 60 mph in 8.4 seconds, faster than the naturally aspirated 2017 Subaru Impreza’s (CVT) time of 9.2 seconds but slower than the turbocharged 2017 Civic Sport hatchback’s (six-speed manual) time of 7.5 seconds and the turbocharged 2015 VW Golf (six-speed automatic) time of 7.8 seconds. The Cruze might have had a faster sprint to 60 mph, but the hatchback was not easy to launch. “One of the most frustrating cars I’ve ever launched,” Walton noted. “Despite turning off stability and traction controls, it will not allow wheelspin and cuts the throttle for several seconds if I try.” Additionally, the Cruze’s very tall gearing does not help and highlights the engine’s turbo lag.
The Cruze hatch’s figure-eight time of 27.5 seconds puts it ahead of the Impreza’s time of 28.2 seconds and just slightly behind the Civic hatchback and Golf SportWagen’s times of 26.8 and 27.2 seconds, respectively. Braking is not a strong point for the Cruze. The Chevy took 123 feet to stop from 60 mph, behind the Civic’s 115 feet, the Impreza’s 118 feet, and the Golf’s 117-118 feet. Brake feel is decent for the segment, and it’s firm.
Both the all-wheel-drive Subaru Impreza and front-wheel-drive Chevy Cruze have an EPA-rating of 28/37 mpg (8.4/6.4 L/100km) city/highway, topping the Golf’s 25/35 mpg (9.4/6.7 L/100km) but below the Civic’s 30/39 mpg (7.8/6 L/100km) (both front drive). The transmission’s tall gearing helped keep this rating competitive. In National Highway Traffic Safety Administration testing, the 2017 Chevrolet Cruze hatch received four stars out of five for its overall safety rating, below the Subaru, Honda, and Volkswagen, which all received five stars. The Cruze offers a suite of driver assist safety features and technology, but they are not available with the manual transmission. The same goes for the Civic, Impreza, and Golf.
The Chevrolet Cruze hatch starts at $22,115 USD. Our tester came standard with the Chevrolet MyLink audio system that features a 7.0-inch color touchscreen with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hot spot. This was my favorite feature in the Cruze. MyLink was quick and intuitive, Apple CarPlay was easy to set up use, and the Wi-Fi hot spot was simple to connect to. However, there is only one USB port. Our Cruze hatch also came equipped with the optional Convenience package, which comes with an eight-way power adjustable driver’s seat, keyless entry, push-button ignition, and heated front seats. The previously mentioned RS package is standard on the manual Cruze hatch and includes a sporty body kit, foglights, a rear spoiler, and a red RS grille badge.
Chevrolet has done a decent job designing its new hatchback. Overlook the manual shifter (or opt for the automatic), subpar crash rating, and the nonsporty handling, and the Cruze hits the rest of the marks. The hatchback’s comfortable ride, torquey engine, spacious back seats, healthy cargo room, good outward visibility, nice interior layout, and attractive looks will make most owners happy. Just don’t let the sheep in wolf’s clothing trick you. This is a hatchback for those who want a sporty look without the usual rough ride that accompanies sharp-handling hot hatches.
|2017 Chevrolet Cruze hatchback (LT) RS|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$22,965|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, FWD, 5-pass, 4-door hatchback|
|ENGINE||1.4L/153-hp/177-lb-ft turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||2,860 lb (61/39%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||175.3 x 70.5 x 57.7 in|
|0-60 MPH||8.4 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||16.4 sec @ 86.8 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||123 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.81 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||27.5 sec @ 0.61 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||28/39/32 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||120/86 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.60 lb/mile|