The Cruze saloon was the best-selling Chevrolet in the world last year, but the company’s ambitions for its family model don’t end there. An all-new hatchback version aims to broaden the car’s appeal further, and add a welcome dose of versatility.
What’s instantly clear is that the newcomer is better looking than the four-door version. A shorter rear overhang and neatly integrated tailgate result in a much more balanced profile. From the windscreen forward, the new Cruze is identical to its booted stablemate, with the same gaping grille and familiar bow-tie Chevrolet logo. Only some uneven panel gaps around the grille hamper the visual appeal.
For most family buyers, practicality is more important than design, with a spacious cabin and boot topping their motoring wish list. And the Cruze hatchback delivers 11mm more headroom than the four-door, while the 413-litre load bay is 69 litres larger than the Lancer’s. Sadly, it doesn’t have the Japanese car’s useful false floor, while a high load lip makes lifting heavy items into the Chevy awkward.
Still, the luggage compartment is the widest on test, and a 60:40-split rear bench is standard-fit – although it doesn’t fold fully flat. Rear seat passengers don’t fare quite as well, as legroom is in shorter supply than in either rival, while occupants will find their heads close to the ceiling, despite the increased roof height.
Getting comfortable up front isn’t a problem, as there’s a wide range of seat and steering wheel adjustment. The generous use of piano black panels and silver inlays on the dash adds class, while our testers liked the fabric trim running from the doors into the dashboard.
Leather covers the steering wheel and gearlever, although rough stitching can make the latter uncomfortable to hold. Designers took inspiration from the firm’s racy Corvette and Camaro for the prominent centre console and deeply cowled instruments, and as a result, the Cruze’s cabin is the most distinctive here.
It’s also crammed with kit as standard – even though the car carries the lowest price tag. Our LT came with all the gizmos and gadgets you’re ever likely to need, including air-con, cruise control and rear parking sensors.
Better still, most of the switchgear feels solid and is logically laid out, plus the firm seats offer plenty of support. This is something you’ll appreciate the moment you turn into a corner. There’s plenty of grip and the car feels surprisingly poised, but body movement isn’t as well controlled as in the Skoda.
The trade-off for the relatively soft suspension is a supple and comfortable ride, which is helped by the small-diameter 16-inch alloy wheels. The light steering is short on feel, and the six-speed manual transmission is disappointingly notchy and vague – although a tall top gear helps promote relaxed motorway cruising.
There are no such complaints about the 161bhp 2.0-litre diesel, which feels refined and punchy. It took the Chevy from 0-60mph two tenths faster than the Skoda, in a time of 8.8 seconds. This advantage could have been bigger had our car covered more than a handful of miles.
The fact that the engine had yet to loosen up also impacted on the Cruze’s fuel economy. During the course of our test, we returned a disappointing 29.5mpg. This is certain to improve as the car gets more miles under its belt; you only have to look at the CO2 output. Even though the Chevy does without eco-friendly additions such as stop-start, it emits a reasonably low 147g/km – undercutting the less powerful Mitsubishi by a healthy 16g/km.
But the Chevy really scores with its excellent aftersales care package. All versions benefit from a comprehensive five-year warranty and 12 months’ roadside assistance, plus a pre-paid servicing deal gives three years’ worth of mechanical maintenance for only £299.
As a practical addition to the Cruze line-up, the newcomer impresses. On top of that, our 2.0 VCDi LT version features a powerful diesel and a long list of standard equipment. Question is, will this be enough to see off its talented rivals? Or will the Chevrolet end up second best?
Chart position: 2WHY: New hatchback introduces a healthy dose of practicality to the Cruze line-up. As with the four-door version, you also get value pricing, lots of kit and a strong warranty.