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Chevrolet Cruze Hatchback: A 2017 Standout

By Frank A. Aukofer, January 7th, 2017

The hatchback was once held in contempt but now has become a badge of acceptance, as the 2017 Chevrolet Cruze hatchback can confirm.

Not long ago, "hatchback" was a dirty word -- at least as far as most U.S. consumers were concerned. They overwhelmingly preferred traditional sedans with trunks, though the practical hatchback body style was popular in Europe and other areas around the world.

Upon investigation, hatchbacks actually did fairly well on these shores in a surprising number of iterations, but manufacturers shied away from calling them hatchbacks. Somewhat the same thing happened with station wagons, which once ruled the American roads, along with big Detroit sedans.

A few manufacturers soldiered on steadfastly with their hatchbacks, notably Volkswagen's Golf. Others, like the Mazda3, Toyota Yaris, Nissan Versa, and Ford Focus, came in both hatchback and traditional notchback sedans.

Luxury Europeans BMW and Mercedes-Benz tried hatchbacks like the 318i and C-Class, and then dropped them. In recent years, though, more hatchbacks have been sneaking through. Among them: Fiat 500, Ford Fiesta, Chevrolet Sonic and Spark, Hyundai Accent and Elantra, Kia Rio and Forte, Subaru Impreza, and the former Scion xA and xD.

Now there's a new atmosphere, aided immensely by the runaway popularity of small crossover sport utility vehicles, most of which are tall hatchbacks with a choice of front- or all-wheel drive.

It's gotten to the point where manufacturers are no longer ashamed to embrace the once-dreaded hatchback designation. The two most notable contenders for 2017 are the Honda Civic and the subject here, the 2017 Chevrolet Cruze Hatchback LT.

The new hatchback is poised to give the Cruze some newfound popularity as buyers appreciate their design advantages. Two Cruze versions are available, both with options packages that further distinguish them: the tested Hatchback LT with the RS appearance package, which starts at $22,115, and the top-line Hatchback Premier with a starting price of $24,820.

The Premier comes with a standard six-speed automatic transmission; with a full set of option packages, it tops out at $29,465. So equipped, it resembles a near-luxury car with a high-quality interior slathered in leather and state-of-the art safety, connectivity, and convenience features.

You can get the same fundamental good stuff in the tested Hatchback LT with the RS appearance package, which is distinguished by a different grille, rear spoiler and other body treatments. You'll have to forego some of the luxury, infotainment, and entertainment items, but you'll sit in comfortable and supportive seats upholstered in quality cloth for a way lower tested price of $22,965. The base price is $22,115.

The basics, which are the same in all Cruze models, include a 153-horsepower, 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine that delivers 177 lb.-ft. of torque and city/highway/combined fuel economy of 28/37/32 mpg with either the six-speed manual gearbox or the optional six-speed automatic transmission.

Interestingly, the Cruze Hatchback LT is priced almost the same as the 2017 Honda Civic Sport Hatchback. The two cars have nearly the same passenger and cargo space, but the Civic is more powerful with a 180 horsepower, 1.5-liter turbocharged engine, 177 lb.-ft. of torque, and 30/39/33 fuel economy.

Both cars come with comfortable cloth seats. However, the Cruze LT has a more extensive level of equipment, including SXM satellite radio, a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot, and Chevrolet's OnStar connectivity with automatic crash notification and turn-by-turn navigation.

The main thing distinguishing the two is that the Civic is sportier and more driver oriented, while the Cruze is softer and better appointed. Its manual shift linkage and clutch are not quite as slick as the Honda's but they work well and you won't notice much difference unless you compare the cars together.

Chevrolet's culture no longer tolerates ordinary cars destined for rental fleets. Two examples are the new Malibu, a midsize standout, and the Impala, selected by Consumer Reports as its Top Pick among large cars. The new Cruze Hatchback rolls easily into that parade as marching apart from the ordinary.

Specifications

Base price $22,115 (as tested: $22,965)
Curb weight 2,910 lbs.
Displacement 1.4-liter
Engine type 16-valve turbocharged 4-cyl. w/DI
Epa mileage rating 28 mpg city, 37 mpg highway
Fuel capacity 13.7 gal.
Horsepower (net) 153 at 5600 rpm
Overall length 175.3 in.
Torque (lb.-ft.) 177 at 2000 rpm
Transmission 6-speed manual
Vehicle type 5-passenger FWD compact hatchback
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