Cruze, Now Avail­able in Hatch­back, Shows GM Can Build Com­pacts Right

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NATIONAL - By Derek Price cargaz­

There are plenty of rea­sons why Gen­eral Mo­tors found it­self star­ing down the bar­rel of bank­ruptcy a decade ago, but one of the big­gest is sim­ple.

Ten years ago, they didn’t make cars like the Cruze.

I just spent a week driv­ing Chevro­let’s lat­est com­pact car, and it’s such an im­pres­sive ma­chine that I’m con­vinced it could have saved GM’s ba­con if they’d just built it ear­lier. For its price class, it’s as quiet, smooth rid­ing and well con­structed as any Honda, Toy­ota or Nis­san, some­thing you couldn’t say about small Chevys back in those dark days.

To­day, with low gas prices and a rel­a­tively sta­ble econ­omy, large trucks, crossovers and SUVs are the ma­jor profi t driv­ers for Amer­i­can car com­pa­nies. Still, I could eas­ily see a dra­matic spike in gas prices or a desta­bi­lized econ­omy mak­ing small cars like the Cruze be­come the bread- and-but­ter money­mak­ers for Detroit down the road.

For now, the Cruze is a great car for any­one liv­ing on a bud­get, and a hatch­back ver­sion makes it all the more at­trac­tive.

The first thing I no­ticed about my Cruze tester — a 2017 hatch­back loaded up with all the op­tions for around $27,000 — was just how quiet and smooth the driv­ing feel is, par­tic­u­larly on the high­way.

Granted, part of that smooth­ness comes from the Z-link rear sus­pen­sion that’s only avail­able on the top-line Pre­miere trim level. Low­er­priced ver­sions don’t feel quite as sup­ple, but the Z-link seems to work some magic with this chas­sis. It achieves a soft-but-con­trolled feel over pave­ment that’s rare in a small car, with the ex­cep­tion of a few pricey com­pacts from Mercedes or Audi.

New for 2017, the hatch­back ver­sion makes the Cruze more prac­ti­cal and sporty look­ing. It of­fers 47.2 cu­bic feet of cargo space in back, which is more than you get in some of the puny crossovers that are gain­ing in pop­u­lar­ity these days, all while re­tain­ing the low cen­ter of grav­ity that makes small cars fun to toss in cor­ners.

Teen Driver, an­other new fea­ture on the Cruze this year, is meant for moms and dads who don’t want to give their kids too much slack in their leash. It lets par­ents re­view their teens’ driv­ing habits, set con­trols and re­mind them to drive safely even if they’re not rid­ing along in the pas­sen­ger seat.

Fi­nally, a USB port was added to the back seat on the LT and some Premier trims to let pas­sen­gers charge their mo­bile de­vices this year. I hope ev­ery car­maker will fol­low suit.

The Cruze comes with a 1.4-liter tur­bocharged en­gine that can scoot it from 0-60 mph in a re­spectable 7.7 sec­onds. Un­for­tu­nately, that’s the only en­gine avail­able. I’d be hap­pier if they of­fered a less pow­er­ful ver­sion for fuel mi­sers and a more pow­er­ful, souped-up, tire-squeal­ing ver­sion for the small num­ber of crazy peo­ple who want that sort of thing — peo­ple like me.

I’d love to see Chevy join in the game with the Ford Fo­cus ST and Honda Civic Si. For now, the 1.4-liter is a great choice for the sane masses.

One strong sell­ing point of the Cruze is its back seat, which feels roomier than most com­pacts. I had to dou­ble-check that this isn’t tech­ni­cally a mid-size car, but no, the EPA in­deed la­bels it as a com­pact.

Fuel econ­omy is good con­sid­er­ing its size and power, rated at 28 mpg in the city and 37 on the high­way. Some com­peti­tors hit over 40 on their high­way num­bers, but they typ­i­cally sac­ri­fice some per­for­mance or roomi­ness to get there.

Fi­nally, there’s the fea­ture set that I think ought to come stan­dard on ev­ery car made to­day: Ap­ple CarPlay and An­droid Auto. While those bril­liant phone con­nec­tion sys­tems weren’t avail­able on the al­most-$50,000 Lexus I wrote about last week, they’re avail­able on this Chevro­let.

Pric­ing starts at $16,975 for the Cruze sedan and $21,615 for the hatch­back, which comes with more stan­dard equip­ment than the base sedan.

The Chevro­let Cruze is now avail­able as a hatch­back model that of­fers 47.2 cu­bic feet of cargo space.

The Cruze has an at­trac­tive, solid feel­ing cabin with gen­er­ous space for its class, par­tic­u­larly the leg and knee room in the back seat.

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