The hatchback has long been a staple abroad, which us Americans have observed with envy. But slowly, surely, automakers have brought hatch models here to the States, and the Cruze Hatchback, which you may have seen in Chevy's "real people" commercials, is the latest to make it to American shores. Which is funny, considering Chevy is an American brand.
I've always seen the Cruze as a forgettable mid-range driver I once saw on the road. Oh, yeah, I remember that car, maybe. It's like a foggy memory. In actuality, it's Chevy's best-selling car around the world; 3.5 million units have been sold since it went on sale in 2008. Here in the U.S., it's particularly popular among drivers under the age of 25.
Now that the hatchback model is here, Chevy is giving the Cruze a little bit more affection, and it shows in the final product, which offers a stylish, affordable, and wonderfully smooth ride.
It's a beautiful car
No doubt, the Chevy Cruze hatchback is a beautiful car. Doubly-so in the Kinetic Blue paint job we checked out. Compared to the regular Cruze, which was just so general and boring, the car looks so much nicer in hatch form. There are some similarities in style to Ford's famous Focus hatchback, but there's enough personality here to give the Cruze hatch its own distinguished look.
The Cruze hatch sticks with the same front end featured in the sedan, but introduces a roof that sweeps down to meet its raked rear window. Chevy says the Cruze has a unique roof and rear-end structure, including wraparound tail lamps and an integrated spoiler at the top of the lift gate.
It has a real squat look while offering the same 106.3-inch wheelbase as the sedan model. There's nothing too notable about the front grille, but it's very clean and sporty. The headlights feature a sleek swooped look that give the car a sense of speed. Around back, the hatch is smartly configured with the license plate set gently into the bumper. It does have a bit of a squashed look—kind of Nissan Leaf-ish—but it looks solid overall.
The rear hatch opens to 22.7 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seat which, when folded, cargo space expands to 47.2 cubic feet. That's plenty of room for groceries and a few duffle bags, but if you're packing baggage for three or four people, that 22.7 fills up quickly. Luckily, the lack of rear cargo space makes way for plenty of cabin room.
I took the car on a day trip to Joshua Tree, and it offered a comfortable, smooth ride, fitting four people comfortably. Headspace offered a lot of clearance—even for a 6'2" passenger—and there was more than enough legroom. The car can seat five but it would be a tight fit, especially on a longer drive. For four people, it was perfect.
Chevy says the interior offers mid-size-level roominess, including two inches greater rear legroom than Ford Focus and Hyundai Elantra. I haven't sat in either so I can't attest to those claims. All I can say is that you'll never feel cramped by the amount of interior space.
An easy rider
One thing drivers praised about the Cruze sedan was how incredibly quiet it was. The hatch model is just as quiet, surprisingly so. I have a janky 2003 Mazda that sounds like a creaking spaceship; the Cruze hatchback's noise-cancelling is impressive, even when you're flying down the highway at speed.
Of course, the hatch we got on loan also came with the best amenities, which may have contributed to the hushed ride. In addition to an 18-inch wheel upgrade, the hatch featured an upgraded 9-speaker Bose audio system, enough to distract me from the 405 freeway's cacophony of car horns and screeching tires.
Some of the other internal upgrades include front and rear heated seats, a heated steering wheel, power sunroof, following distance indicator, forward collision alert, rear cross traffic alert, and lane keep assist. Many of the upgrade packages are reasonably priced though the entertainment additions, such as the 8-inch touch screen and Bose speaker system, is pricey at almost $2,000.
The rest of the interior is a mishmash of rubber, leather, chrome, and soft plastics. It's not exactly luxury but it's very clean and aesthetically pleasing. Meanwhile, all the right things are comfortably in reach, including a USB port and auxiliary jack. The seating, too, is very precise and easy to adjust.
There's CarPlay and Android Auto, keyless start, and a Teen Driver feature, which Chevy says encourages safer driving habits. I mostly relied on CarPlay during my drives but the onboard infotainment system was a breeze to use.
Aside from its sheer volume of features, the interior looks great, if a little too glossy. Even still, the layout is impressive and easy to grasp. All of the amenities contribute to a ride that's not only quiet, but enjoyable to drive.
Similar to the sedan model, the Cruze offers a ride that's low on fuss and high on smoothness. It's not the quickest off the line but the turbo 1.4L variable engine provided enough zip to get around town. And when myself and three others went out to Joshua Tree, it never felt underpowered, ably taking hills and passing other sight-seers.
"It offers more than enough power for cruising around the city"
The six-speed transmission provides an easy ride that's fun to cruise around in. Over bumpy road conditions—Joshua Tree is in the desert—the chassis handles road imperfections well. You don't feel like you're on a bumpy rollercoaster, nor do you feel like you're floating either.
Compared to something like the Mazda 3, the Cruze isn't quite as robust or aggressive but it's good enough to buzz around without feeling like the world is passing you by. The Cruze seems more concerned with comfortability than raw performance. In that respect, it does an admirable job.
The everyday hatch
Are you an urbanite who likes to explore? Do you find yourself shuttling art supplies to studios around the city? Do you need a place to store your sports gear and yoga mats? Or perhaps you have a dog you want to take to the beach. Boy, does chevy have the car for you.
For the few days I had the Cruze hatch, it proved fantastic for getting around Southern California, whether I was sprinting along the coast or shuffling along the 405 freeway. It's not particularly sporty nor can it jump off the starting line very quick. But it got around with zero fuss and made my rush hour commute less grueling.
That said, it doesn't come with adaptive cruise control despite having lane keep assist and collision detection. And, like I said, the Cruze hatch is more focused on comfortability than it is raw power. For most people scooting around town, that's fine. (Me, I tend to prefer cruising over bobbing between lanes, so I enjoyed driving the Cruze more than the average enthusiast might.)
Chevy rates the combined city (28) and highway (37) at 31 miles per gallon, or about 3.2 gallons per 100 miles. For a standard hatch, that's not bad. But you have to remember that we got to check out the Premier model, which goes for just under $30,000 with all the trimmings. The standard vehicle price starts at $23,945. There's also a cheaper LT manual option if that's your cup of tea.
The Cruze hatchback has a lot of competition in this segment, including the Golf, Mazda 3, and Ford Focus, to name a few, many of which have a lower starting price. But Chevy's hatch features one of the best designs, something accentuated beautifully in brighter colors (like the Kinetic Blue we tested).
Picking the Cruze hatch over its sedan brother is a no-brainer, especially since they're virtually identical when it comes to mechanics. In the grand scheme, it may not be the sportiest hatch or even the cheapest. But it shows a lot of promise and fits well the "urban cool" crowd Chevy is aiming for.
Disclosure: We got to drive the 2017 Chevy Cruze for an entire week. The model we received on loaner included all the bells and whistles, such as an 8-inch diagonal touchscreen, Bose premium sound system, and a sport body kit complete with RS lettering. Just so everyone knows you paid for the RS upgrade.
Photography by Brandon Russell and Ralph Llerenas