2017 Chevrolet Cruze Hatchback Premier Review – Now Can We Forget About the Cavalier?

It’s not easy to live down past embarrassments.

In a junior high school basketball game, I banked in a free throw. Two decades later, do you think my older brothers have forgotten?

More than two decades ago, General Motors launched the third-generation Chevrolet Cavalier. The degree to which it was an abysmal excuse for a Honda Civic rival became increasingly clear over its decade-long run. Although its replacement, the Chevrolet Cobalt, won’t go down in history as an all-time great, it was a meaningful leap forward. The Cobalt’s replacement, Chevrolet’s first Cruze, was full of big car manners in a small car body.

Now we have the second-generation Cruze, thankfully offered in North America in a hatchback bodystyle.

The 2017 Chevrolet Cruze Hatchback is by no means perfect, but if you haven’t already re-written the line in your brain under “Chevrolet Small Car Reputation,” it’s time to do so.

Quiet, refined, well-built: the second-generation Cruze maintains much of what made its predecessor an enticing option for car buyers who wanted a big car but either couldn’t afford it, didn’t want the vast dimensions, or didn’t need the space.

EXERCISE & NUTRITION
Added to the Cruze’s mature feel is a decidedly more agile chassis in second-gen form, with more lively steering, very responsive brakes, and an ability to swiftly change directions without protest. Thank the weight loss. A 2015 Chevrolet Cruze LTZ was roughly 300 pounds heavier than this 2017 Chevrolet Cruze Hatchback Premier.

While far more engaging than the previous Cruze when driven quickly, the new Cruze does manifest an unwelcome measure of stiffness with these 18-inch wheels, part of the Premier trim’s RS package. (The Premier comes standard with 17s; the LT rides on 16s. The RS package also adds a rear spoiler, fog lights, RS badging, and a body kit that serves as a nice upgrade, particularly on our black tester.)

2017 Chevrolet Cruze Hatchback Premier black - Image: © Timothy Cain/The Truth About Cars

Meanwhile, driving the Cruze quickly will require flooring the throttle, at which point power and acceleration are largely on par with the Cruze’s competitive set. But there’s no happy medium, let alone a progressive response to progressively increased throttle pressure. It’s not that the Cruze is exhibiting egregious turbo lag; GM has simply caused the Cruze to be so bent on fuel efficiency that it always feels as though you’re pootling around in super-double-mega eco mode.

Want to squirt into that little opening in traffic with a quick punch of throttle? 177 lb-ft of torque at 2,000 rpm should make that eminently doable, but no. Floor it, or you’ll get nothing. The upshift/downshift buttons on top of the shift lever don’t care about your suggestions.

The payoff? In bitterly cold weather, wearing winter tires, in mostly urban circumstances, we averaged 31 miles per gallon over the course of a week with this GM Canada-supplied press car.

2017 Chevrolet Cruze Hatchback rear - Image: © Timothy Cain/The Truth About Cars

BRING THE DESERT INDOORS
Had the children at GCBC Towers not spent so much time vomiting during the Cruze Premier’s visit, I would have looked inside and said, “Oh, brownish orange leather,” instead of, “Ew, puke.”

Timing is everything.

Regardless of your entirely subjective verdict on the so-called Kalahari interior, at least GM offers choice. Besides the color, the interior is blissfully simple, with chunky controls for climate and audio, plus all that rubbery stuff on the steering wheel that feels out of place on more expensive machinery but more aptly suits the Cruze’s price point.

Alas, MyLink is often slow and the voice controls are useless. Competing systems have moved the goalposts.

Visibility, aside from a rearview camera that’s directed too low, is excellent.

Other than some buzziness from the 153-horsepower 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder under heavy throttle, little wind and road noise makes its way into the cabin.

Thanks to a low center hump, the Cruze’s rear quarters are sufficiently spacious, too. Compared with the old Cruze, rear legroom is up by two inches.

2017 Chevrolet Cruze Kalahari interior - Image: © Timothy Cain/The Truth About Cars

BUT WHAT ABOUT THE HATCH?
Given the propensity for new car buyers to choose small crossovers rather than small cars, perhaps it’s silly to say that the U.S. market is in a golden age for compact hatchbacks. But the Cruze Hatchback is just one of a large number of five-door models now available in America: Corolla iM, Civic, Elantra GT, Focus, Forte5, Mazda 3, Impreza, and Golf. Among top sellers, only the Nissan Sentra and Volkswagen Jetta — and Volkswagen has the aforementioned Golf — stand out as exceptions.

In the Cruze’s case, there’s 4-percent less cargo volume behind the rear seats than you’ll find in the new Honda Civic Hatchback, 19-percent more than in the Toyota Corolla iM, 22-percent more than in the Mazda 3, and 4-percent more than in the Volkswagen Golf.

Compared with its Premier sedan sibling, the Cruze Hatchback’s cargo hold is officially 78-percent larger: 24.7 cubic feet compared with 13.9. The difference, of course, is not nearly so stark in real life luggage loading. But the hatchback’s flexibility — 47.2 cubic feet with the rear seats folded — is a difference maker.

You’ll pay for the privilege of a liftgate, but only modestly. The Cruze Hatchback isn’t available in base L or the LS trim levels. With a manual transmission in LT guise, the hatchback costs $1,090 more than its sedan sibling. The difference shrinks to $470 in LT automatic form and the top Premier trim.

The comparisons with other Cruzes, whether they be current Cruze sedans or departed first-gen Cruze sedans, only go so far, however.

Is it enough for the new Cruze to merely build on the first-generation Cruze’s successes?

2017 Chevrolet Cruze Premier interior detail - Image: © Timothy Cain/The Truth About Cars

That depends on whether the Cavalier still flashes into the forefront of your mind every time your ears hear the words “Chevrolet small car.”

If you could pair a superior infotainment cluster — or use Apple CarPlay/Android Auto if the corded life is satisfactory — to a properly responsive powertrain, then the Cruze’s comfortable interior, surprisingly engaging on-road behavior, and impressive fuel economy would cause numerous rivals to feel wooden and inanimate.

As for leading hatchback alternatives, the 2017 Cruze is more spacious than the fun Mazda 3, more attractive than the comprehensively capable Civic, and untouched by the high-class Volkswagen Golf’s scandals.

Lose the $995 RS Package’s 18-inch wheels, uninstall the safety gear from the $790 Driver Confidence Package, and keep the $865 Enhanced Convenience Package’s heated rear seats, auto climate control, dimming rearview mirror, and express up/down driver’s window. This 2017 Chevrolet Cruze Hatchback Premier’s $27,470 MSRP then falls to $25,185 with GM’s current $500 discount.

Adjusted for inflation, that’s only $3,400 more than a 2005 Chevrolet Cavalier LS Sport.

The increase seems more than fair.

An acknowledgement that my unorthodox free throw still counted would also be fair.

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