DETROIT, Michigan – The Cruze is by far Chevrolet’s best-selling car in Canada, competing in the most popular car segment in the country. Gaining market share is tough when consumers go for the long-established nameplates, and especially when our rivals have a wider selection of body styles to fit everyone’s needs.
Well, it seems as though compact hatchbacks could become the next trend. The Honda Civic Hatchback is about to launch in five-door form, the Toyota Corolla iM is fairly new, while the Volkswagen Golf, the Subaru Impreza five-door, the Mazda3 Sport, the Ford Focus, the Kia Forte5 and the Hyundai Elantra GT have been around for a while now. General Motors is now joining the group with the 2017 Chevrolet Cruze Hatch. That’s good, because Canadians embrace hatchbacks.
This new version of the Cruze is a looker. It boasts a similar flattened shape than the Forte5 and Mazda3 Sport, but has a somewhat unique style of its own with a cheery face, bulbous front fenders, detailed taillight clusters and a large rear spoiler. The five-door Cruze is identical to the sedan from the front bumper to aft of the rear doors, while overall length is shorter by 213 mm. The sedan is built in Ohio, USA, while the Hatch will roll out of GM’s Ramos, Mexico assembly plant.
Powering the 2017 Chevrolet Cruze Hatch is a turbocharged and direct-injected, 1.4-litre four-cylinder engine. It develops 153 horsepower, an average output in the compact-car segment, but belts out 177 pound-feet of torque between 2000 and 4000 rpm. Take-offs and reacceleration are quick, and for the vast majority of consumers shopping for a small car, this engine will do the job nicely.
Chevy didn’t waste time installing a drive mode system, or paddle shifters for the six-speed automatic transmission. There is a plus/minus rocker switch on the top of the shift lever for manually rowing through gears, but we doubt people will actually use it on a regular basis. Start/stop technology is also included when the automatic transmission is chosen, and fuel consumption numbers are slightly higher than those of the Cruze sedan, with combined city/highway ratings between 7.3 and 7.5 L/100 km. Over the course of our drive around the Detroit area, the trip computer indicated an average of 8.0 L/100 km.
We also drove a Cruze equipped with the standard six-speed manual. It works pretty well, with relatively precise throws and a light clutch pedal that’s easy to modulate. On the other hand, it doesn’t necessarily make the car sportier, and the manual gearboxes in the Golf and the Mazda3 are a little more enjoyable to use. Yet the fact that a manual is even still available is a good thing.
The big news announced at the Cruze Hatch’s media drive is that a turbo-diesel engine will again be offered, matched to either a six-speed manual or a GM-designed nine-speed automatic. It’s the same 1.6-litre unit that will be available in the redesigned 2018 Chevrolet Equinox, and for now, its output is estimated at 136 hp and 236 lb.-ft. of torque.
Wait a minute. Hatchback… diesel engine… manual transmission… that does sound a lot like the description of a Golf, right? Right.
Chevrolet just plain admitted that with the 2017 Chevrolet Cruze Hatch, and with more than 50,000 five-door compacts sold in Canada every year, they’re seeking to gain a portion of that market by seducing Volkswagen Golf shoppers.
However, the fact is that although GM says their Cruze is fun to drive, we’d describe it more as very enjoyable. Neither the sedan nor the hatchback has the spunk of a Golf GTI or a Jetta GLI that are, indeed, fun to drive.
Compared to the Cruze sedan, the hatchback boasts the same interior passenger volume, with a tad more rear headroom. GM claims a cargo capacity of 699 litres with the cargo cover removed and a maximum volume of 1336 litres. The Cruze sedan’s trunk capacity is rated at up to 419 litres. With the rear seatbacks in place, there’s more cargo room in the five-door Cruze than its rivals, but among those with the least volume once the seatbacks are folded down.
Unlike the four-door Cruze that’s available in four trim levels, the hatchback is only offered in the more-expensive LT and Premier variants. Pricing starts at $20,595 before freight and delivery charges, which gives us air conditioning, keyless entry, cloth upholstery, heated front seats, cruise control, a trip computer as well as a six-speaker infotainment system with seven-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration. On-board Wi-Fi and satellite radio are also part of the package, although both require subscriptions.
The Cruze Premier adds a mandatory automatic transmission as well as chrome trim, leather seating surfaces, ambient lighting, a heated wheel, an intelligent key system and a remote engine starter. A few option packages are available on both trim levels, which can notably equip the car with advanced safety driving aids such as lane keep assist, intelligent high beams and forward collision alert.
Finally, an RS appearance package is optional on both trims for a sportier look, but besides adding 18-inch wheels on the Cruze Premier instead of 17s (the LT trim gets 16-inchers), there aren’t any performance or handling upgrades here. That’s a shame. A loaded Cruze Premier with all the bells and whistles will cost almost $31K.
The 2017 Chevrolet Cruze Hatch should get the attention of quite a few compact-car buyers in Canada, and GM will push their marketing efforts in the Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal metropolitan areas where 38% of the country’s hatchback sales are concentrated. On the other hand, diesel engine or not, luring in Subaru and Volkswagen customers—which are probably the most loyal out there—will be a challenge.
The Cruze Hatch is hitting Canadian showrooms as we speak, while the diesel powertrain will arrive next year for the 2018 edition. We’ll then see how good Chevrolet is at playing Golf.