Reversing years of resistance, Americans are finally buying into hatchbacks.
They have good reason. Hatchbacks offer more utility than the sedans they’re based on, and they’re more economical to own and operate than crossovers.
Hatchbacks account for a small fraction of US sales, but their numbers have nearly doubled in the past decade and experts expect the trend to continue.
Duly noted, says Chevrolet, which this year debuts a five-door hatch based on the Cruze compact four-door.
Most hatches tend to emphasize price or performance, but the 2017 Cruz hatch ($22,115, including destination) has a different aim. It targets a largely male, 30-something buyer who seeks comfort and tech to go along with the utility.
The five-door Cruze offers capacious cargo capacity — and room for four 6-footers — while retaining the sedan’s compelling interior design and robust standard-features list. And, though Chevy doesn’t explain how, it has subdued the road noise to which hatchbacks, with their resonating cargo areas, are prone.
The Cruz’s sculpted-and-scalloped dash corrals the primary front-of-cabin elements — gauge panel, instrument control panel, glovebox — into discrete sections.
Every Cruze gets a 7-inch MyLink Radio touchscreen, with Bluetooth connectivity and smartphone integration (Apple CarPlay/Adroid Auto). The standard OnStar communications system can be optioned with subscription-based 4G LTE connectivity and WiFi hotspot.
Standard equipment includes automatic headlights, remote locking and unlocking, A/C, a height-adjustable driver seat, tilt-and-telescoping steering, a four-speaker audio system with USB port and a rearview camera.
Available features include a heated steering wheel, heated front and rear seats, leather seats, French stitching and halogen projector-beam headlamps with LED signature lighting.
A pair of Driver Confidence packages add rear parking sensors; blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert; automatic high-beam headlights; forward-collision warning, and lane-departure warning and intervention.
A new Teen Driver mode allows parents to limit certain vehicle features and prevent specific safety systems from being switched off.
To these eyes, the hatch is a better-looking car than the sedan, with an extended roofline and beefy rear quarter panels that give it a hunkered-down solidity. It rides on the same 106-inch wheelbase as the sedan but is a few inches shorter in overall length, so it’s easier to park and more maneuverable in crowded parking lots.
A turbocharged, 153-horsepower four-cylinder engine powers the front-wheel-drive hatch. A six-speed manual transmission is standard, a six-speed automatic is available.
Our well-equipped tester, with automatic, accelerated smoothly but at a leisurely pace — 0-60 comes up in the mid-9 second range — and EPA-estimated efficiency is excellent, though in real-world conditions Cruze struggles to match the expected 31 mpg combined/28 city/37 highway results.
Ride quality was quite good, despite our tester’s 18-inch rims. Road conditions mandated cautious driving, but in quick corners our tester tracked well, and with minimal body lean. Steering is nicely weighted and has good on-center feel, but little communication makes its way from the road surface to the driver’s hands.
The hatchback movement is not exactly a bandwagon, but it has momentum and Chevy’s newest deserves a look.
2017 Chevrolet Cruze Hatchback Premier
Vehicle base price: $21,240
Trim level base price: $23,945
As tested: $29,860
Options included sunroof; navigation; Bose premium audio; RS body kit, 18-inch wheels, fog lamps, rear spoiler; power windows with one-touch driver’s window; automatic A/C; Qi wireless charging; heated outboard rear seats; automatic high-beam headlights; rear park-assist; forward-collision alert; rear cross-traffic alert; lane-keep assist; blind-spot alert; tint-coat paint.
EPA rating: 31 mpg combined; 28 city/37 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified