By Lesley Wimbush, Driving.ca - Chevy's targeting a younger, more ethnically diverse and predominantly male buyer with the new hatchback version of its best-selling compact Cruze - one who's relatively affluent, active and presumably hip, given the carefully crafted image of our surroundings.
A repurposed industrial building in the heart of Detroit is the new home of Third Man Records, the latest project of punked-out blues artist Jack White, an Edward Scissorhands look-alike who got his start here in the Motor City. Against an Art Deco backdrop of exposed brick and primary colours is an eclectic collection of obscure music paraphernalia, from vintage turntables to Tardis-like wooden recording booths, circa 1960. Behind the shop is a warehouse-like event space that also houses White's latest foray into musical preservation: a vinyl record pressing plant that will cater to smaller-output indie productions. Here we're introduced to North America's first hatchback variant of the Cruze (Europe has had one since 2011), surrounded by robotic record presses, steam pipes and a blues-playing acoustic guitar picker, dressed in all black.
"The Cruze has been our best-selling vehicle globally," said Alan Batey, president of GM North America. "And now, extending the range, here in the U.S. (and Canada), the new hatchback is a really big step."
Interior cabin space is exactly the same as the sedan, with no reduction in head, leg or shoulder room. The interior is essentially the same as the sedan's, except for the all-important rear cargo space. Aside from its sportier image, space and versatility are the hatchback's raison d'être.
In comparison to the sedan, which has a trunk space of 419 litres, and rear seats that produce an awkward hump when folded, the hatch offers 523L of cargo room, with a total of 1,189L of flat space with the rear seats down.
As with the sedan, the Cruze hatch offers a torsion-beam axle on the base LT trims, and a Z-link rear setup on Premier models. Front suspension across the lineup consists of MacPherson struts, coil springs and stabilizer bar.
While the sedan offers three trims - LT, LS and Premier - the hatch is available in only the LT and Premier and is priced at $750 over the sedan. The base Cruze hatch LT manual starts at $20,595, or $22,045 with automatic. The Premier is $24,645.
As with the sedan, there are Convenience and Technology packages that build on the standard features, and a True North Edition that also adds the safety technology suite and the eight-inch MyLink touch screen with Apple CarPlay. There's also an RS appearance package with sport body mouldings, rear spoiler, fog lamps and RS badging.
Safety tech includes lane-keep assist, IntelliBeam, forward-collision alert with following-distance indicator, lane-change alert, rear park assist and rear cross-traffic alert, but there's no adaptive cruise control. This is available on mid-range Honda Civics and will be offered as standard on all upcoming Corollas, including the sub-$17,000 base models.
Our day was spent in the top-spec Premier True North; features include heated leather seats and steering wheel, and remote push-button start. Chevy boasts that the Cruze is the "most connected car in its segment," and on top of Apple CarPlay, it also features standard 4G LTE Wi-Fi across the lineup.
There's really no marked difference in handling between the Cruze hatch and its four-door sibling. The single engine choice is a turbocharged 1.4-L four-cylinder producing 153 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque, mated to a six-speed automatic in upper trim levels. Performance is adequate, if not invigorating; the transmission is smooth but a set of paddle shifters would add some sparkle.
The Cruze rides smoothly with plenty of composure, and there's very little noise. But even with the available spring and exhaust performance modes, this isn't a hatch for the boy-racer wannabes. The steering, a rack-mounted electric setup that reduces parasitic draw from the engine, is nicely weighted but not as communicative as the Golf's.
Those of a more enthusiast bent may want to wait for the diesel variant, which is set to arrive in Canada next spring. The diesel engine will likely be the 1.6-L CDTI four-cylinder found in the Opel, which produces only 136 hp, but has 236 lb-ft of torque.
"The torque that you get out of this type of diesel, in this type of vehicle - particularly being a Brit - with a manual transmission, that's what I call fun," said Batey.
In addition to the six-speed manual, the diesel Cruze will be available with a new nine-speed automatic. In this configuration, the Cruze hatch could boast fuel consumption ratings as high as 50 mpg (5.6L/100 km). The official fuel consumption numbers for the gasoline-powered Cruze hatchback are slightly higher than the four-door, at 8.3/6.4/7.4 (city/highway/combined) for the LT manual, 8.1/6.2/7.3 for the LT automatic, and 8.4/6.4/7.5 for the Premier automatic.
The Chevrolet Cruze hatchback is available in the showroom now.