Ryan Bubear tests the Chevrolet Cruze Hatch 1.6 LS...
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These days, the C-segment is as fiercely competitive as a sleep-deprived John McEnroe during a game of high-stakes Tiddlywinks — just without the incessant cursing. There's a large pie, and everyone wants a piece.
The Chevrolet Cruze sedan has been hanging tough with a number of big-name rivals near the top of this segment's list for quite some time — so tough, in fact, that it has become Chevy's best-selling nameplate globally. It's a consistent player locally too. But now General Motors SA has added another string to its compact car bow: the Cruze hatch.
The hatch range is limited — one fewer variant and it wouldn't be a range at all — with just two models currently available to South Africa buyers (there are five sedans from which to choose). The two hatches are indistinguishable from each other from the outside, and they share the same interior trim level too. The first makes use of a 1.6-litre petrol engine and the second a 1.8-litre. We had the former on test.
A cruiser, not a bruiser
The revised 1598cc DOHC powerplant is credited with 91kW and 155Nm, which sees the fairly hefty five-door hatch saunter from 0 to 100km/h in a pretty leisurely 12.8 seconds (the 1.8 is 1.8 seconds quicker). While it performs adequately for everyday use, the engine has to be worked frightfully hard when rapid progress is required. Greased lightning it most certainly is not.
But that's probably why it's named "Cruze" and not "Supersonic Fire-Breathing Dragon-mobile" (a badge that probably wouldn't fit on its rear anyway). Indeed, it lives up to its moniker, gently persuading its driver to cruise along in near silence and remarkable comfort. Road- and wind-noise are kept to a minimum (thanks to things like the five-layer acoustic headliner and sound-deadening mats) and the suspension setup errs on the side of ride comfort (the Cruze really does waft along) over sporty handling.
The five-speed manual gearbox features a smooth, easy-shifting action that further emphasises the Cruze's relaxed character. However, a sixth forward cog would be a welcome addition — even more so when linked to the 1.8-litre lump, no doubt. This would improve fuel economy, which Chevrolet quotes as 6.7 litres per 100km on the combined cycle, particularly on longer trips. We could only manage a disappointing 9.1 litres per 100km during our week with the vehicle.
Space... there's plenty
Where the Cruze hatch really shines, though, is with its use of space. The cabin is roomy not just for the driver and front passenger, but for those seated in the back too. There's considerable legroom for passengers on the rear bench, which means that even lanky teenager progeny are accommodated, and headroom back there is actually more impressive than that of the sedan.
The boot, too, is spacious at 413 litres (883 with the seats folded down), and with its low loading lip and wide mouth, is capable of wolfing down bulky cargo with the zeal of an underfed hound. The tailgate itself opens almost straight up rather out and up, which is a blessing for serial reverse-parkers or those with cramped garages.
The Cruze hatch is, of course, pretty much the sedan with a new rear-end (just 89mm shorter). From the front, it's all about bold lines around that trademark "bowtie" badge, but the hatch's rear styling may divide opinion. It's not often that a saloon version of a compact car is better-looking that its hatch sibling, but we think that's the case with the Cruze. The sedan's tail may not be as elaborately styled as the hatchback's, but it's more handsome for it.
The interior features matching trim on the seats and doors, and gloss black and chrome-effect accents throughout. Nice touches include extra storage atop the dashboard and a sunglasses case where the driver's side grab-handle would normally be found.
The LS specification level means the Cruze hatch comes well-equipped, with steering column adjustment (tilt and telescopic), multifunctional leather steering wheel, power windows, power side mirrors, air-con, six-speaker audio system (radio/CD/MP3/USB/Aux), cruise control (regrettably not branded Cruze Control™), and Bluetooth audio streaming all standard. Safety features include driver, passenger, seat-side, and curtain airbags; ABS; brake assist; EBD; ESC; and traction control. A healthy five-year or 120 000km warranty and three-year or 60 000km service plan are part of the package too.
So, while the 1.6-litre Cruze hatchback will in no way satisfy the cravings of speed-freaks, its focus on comfort and space makes it a serious contender for the main spot in a small family's garage. It's up against some established players, but the addition of the hatch to the range gives the Chevrolet Cruze even more appeal.
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Click through to page 2 for specs and pricing.