Redesigned in 2016, the compact Cruze lineup expands for 2017 with the addition of a hatchback model, giving Chevrolet an answer to competitors such as the Ford Focus, Hyundai Elantra, Mazda 3, VW Golf, and the soon to be released Honda Civic.

American buyers have long preferred traditional sedans to liftbacks. But even though small 5-door hatches are taking a back seat to sub-compact crossover sport-utilities, the marketing gurus at Chevrolet decided that a segment of about 350,000 cars per year was too big to cede to its competitors.

The arguments for Cruze hatchback versus Cruze sedan rely on versatility and cargo capacity. At 14 cubic feet, the trunk of the Cruze sedan is one of the more spacious vaults in its class, and flipping the rear seatbacks forward expands the car’s appetite for cargo. But there’s almost 23 cubic feet of space behind the hatchback’s rear seats, much easier to employ than the extra space created by folding the sedan’s rear seatbacks. Moreover, with its rear seatbacks folded forward, the hatchback’s cargo hold expands to over 47 cubic feet, and the Cruze becomes a small scale moving van. These virtues are true of any hatchback, in varying degrees, a degree of versatility that conventional sedans lack.

Eye Candy

There’s an additional hatchback plus that’s intangible, since it’s in the eye of the beholder: styling. To some, hatchbacks are more attractive than sedans. This certainly seems to be the case with small crossover SUV, and it’s an element in compact hatches as well, although not quite to the same degree. Be that as it may, the Chevy designers did an outstanding job with the hatchback Cruze, arguably the best looking entry in its class.

Performance: Chevy’s Cruze hatchback is propelled by the same powertrain as the sedan—a turbocharged 1.4-liter 4-cylinder (153 horsepower at 5600 rpm, 177 pound-feet of torque from 2000 to 4000 rpm), and a choice of two 6-speed transmissions, manual (standard) or automatic.

Also: Class of 2017 - New Cars Ready to Roll

What this yields is acceptable acceleration. There are much hotter engine offerings elsewhere in this class—Fiesta ST, Focus ST and RS, Golf GTI and R—but the Chevy’s broad torque band make it a decent performer in urban traffic, and its EPA fuel economy ratings (28 or 29 mpg city, 37 or 38 highway, depending on trim and transmission) are respectable if not compelling. And Chevy has also done a good job with its stop-start technology, which is less intrusive than most.

Low Noise

Our first hands-on with the new hatchback took place in urban and suburban Detroit, driving routes that didn’t offer much handling variety, but did provide a sense of how well the engineering team handled the transition from sedan to hatchback body work.

The challenge with a hatchback is ambient noise—that big cargo area resonates more than a conventional trunk—but Chevrolet has been thorough with its development. Structural reinforcements and sound-deadening measures keep the hatchback just as quiet as the sedan, which, by compact standards, is very quiet indeed.

Also: Kelley Blue Book Best Buy Awards of 2016

On sale now, the Cruze hatchback will command a premium in terms of price. Sedan pricing starts at just under $20,000, but the hatchback will be offered only in the top trims, LT and Premier, with prices starting at $23,065.


 

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