The current clamor for SUV crossovers may be a rising tide for five-door hatchbacks. Many makers offer a compact hatchback for their sedan models, including the Ford Focus, Mazda3, Kia Forte, Hyundai Accent, Nissan Versa, Subaru Impreza and Volkswagen Golf. But more consumers have been taking home the sedan body style.
The trend might be changing for the liftback. Subaru expects sales of its new 2017 Impreza hatch to outsell the sedan. The Mazda3 is definitely more cool-looking than the four-door. And Chevrolet has just added a Cruze five-door hatchback for the sedan.
The five-door body gives some flexibility for business in the back and fun up front. There is a cool factor in the styling, and most are designed to be young and lively.
The Cruze hatch is a sweet package for a grocery-getter or a first car. It is simple and eager to please. There are limits to the features that can be optioned, but Chevy can expect good numbers because it offers the hatchback in just two trim levels, LT and Premier, while the Cruze sedan has four trim choices and a lower starting price of $17,850. Both body styles have a choice of transmission between six-speed manual and six-speed automatic.
The LT hatchback automatic, today’s tester, starts at $22,795, including the $875 freight charge from Ramos Arizpe, Mexico. With two option packages, the sticker was a good value at $24,440.
Standard LT equipment is socially accommodating, including a 7-inch color touch screen and Chevrolet MyLink infotainment that features Apple CarPlay with a six-speaker audio system and 4G Wi-Fi. Conveniences include a six-way driver seat, rearview camera, power (heated) side mirrors, air conditioning, cruise control, redundant steering wheel controls for audio-cruise, 16-inch alloy wheels, 60/40 folding back seat and a rear USB charging port. Safety features include 10 air bags.
The tester’s two option groups made a cheap car seem rich. The Convenience package, which costs $1,150, has an eight-way power driver seat, heated front seats and smartkey entry with push-button ignition. The Driver Confidence package, which goes for $495, adds safety technologies including rear park assist tones, rear cross-traffic alert and lane-change alert with side blind-zone alert.
The Premier hatch with automatic starts at $24,820 and includes the option packages on my LT tester, as well as leather-trimmed upholstery, a heated steering wheel and 17-inch alloy wheels.
If I were ordering a car, I’d go for the RS package, which costs $695 and adds sportier-looking front and rear fascias, rocker panels, a rear spoiler, fog lights and — on the Premier model — 18-inch wheels.
There is plenty of kick from the 153-horsepower, 1.4-liter turbocharged direct-injection four-cylinder engine. It is not pretending to be a sport sedan (there is no Sport mode), and the engine has automatic stop-start at idle, which cannot be switched off (as many of these systems can be). No matter, though, because the system does not insist on the shut-off when creeping along in commuter traffic. But when power is needed, there is a quick response from the six-speed automatic and the engine’s 177 foot-pounds of torque from 2,000 to 4,000 rpm. Fuel economy estimates are 29 mpg city, 38 highway and 32 mpg combined on 87 octane. I was averaging 35.3 mpg without trying. The 13.7-gallon tank is a little larger than some of the cars in this group.
The ride quality is tight; the cabin is well-soundproofed; and the suspension is up for enthusiastic driving without harshness and beating up passengers. Four-wheel disc brakes are effective with 10.8-inch vented discs front and 10.4-inch solid rear.
Chevy got the interior layout right and established good sightlines, as there are corner windows at the windshield pillars, and there is an easy over-the-shoulder glance. The large rearview camera is good backup, but the turning circle is rather wide at 38.7 feet.
Driver controls and driver storage are neatly organized with a good charging bin and cup holders. A Teen Driver feature is intended to reinforce safe driving habits while providing driving statistics for parents.
The back doors open wide and have wide footroom for entry and exit. The firm bench seat is surprisingly comfortable, even for three-across seating. Legroom is generous at 36.1 inches, and a low hump to the exhaust tunnel really helps footroom. Amenities include a pull-down padded armrest with cup holders, seatback pockets and coat hooks, though there are no above-door grab handles.
At 24.7 feet, the cargo space is broad. The seats fold easily for about 5 feet of length and a total of 47.2 cubic feet. The roof is low enough for easy use of a bike rack.
The Cruze, whether hatchback or sedan, has a demeanor that is tough and ready, yet it has enough sophistication to entertain and empower. It is a simple vehicle that is eager to help in the daily grind. And sometimes, living simply is the best revenge in a world of complications.
Mark Maynard is online at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find photo galleries and more news at Facebook.com/MaynardsGarage