The Chevrolet Cruze saloon has already made something of a name for itself in the C-segment, offering a well equipped and aesthetically engaging alternative to the raft of econo-boxes that grace our roads. Now that it’s been given the five-door hatch treatment, will it have its work cut out for it in a fiercely contested segment?
The Cruze hatch cuts a distinctive figure, with its clamshell bonnet, upswept headlamps and dual-port grille – the latter two having been revised as part of a mild facelift that also applies to the saloon. While the front is largely shared with the saloon, the rear is a mixed bag, looking neat with its revised taillamps from some angles and lumpen from others.
While it’s styling may divide opinion, there’s no doubting that the hatch treatment has freed up a good deal of space. The boot is capacious with 413 dm3 of loadspace on offer (expanding to 883 dm3 with the 60:40 split-folding rear seat stowed) and the rear accommodation is more generous than that of the saloon with 11 mm more headroom at 974 mm. This feeling of spaciousness and comfort is further enforced when stepping in to the car. The driving position is spot-on and the soft-touch materials and perceived quality all round is good.
The hatch can be had with a choice of 1,6- or 1,8-litre petrol engines, both of which are mated with a five-speed manual transmission, but only the one LS spec level. Standard features include tilt and reach-adjustable steering column, air conditioning, electric windows, heated electric mirrors, radio/CD/MP3 player with auxiliary input, trip computer, electric mirrors, cup holders front and rear, remote central locking with speed-sensitive locking front foglamps, cruise control, a headlamp levelling system and a multi-function steering wheel. The hatch rolls on a set of 16-inch alloys.
The 1,6-litre unit develops 91 kW, up from 80 kW in the engine in the pre-facelift 1,6 saloon, with 155 N.m of torque – an increase of 5 N.m. Even with the added power the 1,6 hatch felt lethargic off the mark and a good deal of stirring the gearbox was required when traversing Kloof Nek in Cape Town as I hummed, “I think I can, I think I can…” all the way to the top. Once on the winding roads of the Cape coast, power was sufficient and the ride pliant and smooth. As an every day drive you wouldn’t be unhappy, but it has to be said that the steering isn’t immediately town-friendly-light and is not that responsive to driver input.
The 1,8-litre unit, however, had more punch with 104 kW and 176 N.m of torque on tap. This unit’s additional torque makes the car feel quicker out of the blocks and overtaking requires less planning ahead than it does in the 1,6. You have to bear in mind that this model demands an R13000 premium over the 1,6 with identical specification, so you’d have to decide whether the additional power is worth the extra outlay.
One gripe with both car’s powertrains, and the 1,6 in particular, is that they are coupled with a five-speed gearbox. While this unit has a positive shift action and the clutch is hassle-free in its operation, you can’t help but feel that an additional gear would have held the revs in check at highway speeds, helping to lessen the amount of engine noise reaching the cabin, which is otherwise well insulated from wind and tyre noise.
Does the Cruze hatch have what it takes to go head-to-head with such segment stalwarts as the VW Golf, Ford Focus and Hyundai i30? It’s substantial feeling, comfortable and, with the 1,6-litre costing R212 400 and the 1,8 R224 800, quite fairly priced. Heavy steering and lethargic 1,6 powerplant aside, it acquits itself well as a practical and distinctive town cruiser. The fact that it doesn’t feel that far-removed from the saloon in terms of overall packaging and driving feel is also a plus. It is, however, wading into tough competitors with strong track records and brand appeal, so it wont be in for an easy ride.
Chevrolet Cruze hatch 1,6 LS: R212 400
Chevrolet Cruze hatch 1,8 LS: R224 800
All Cruze models come with a five-year/120 000 km warranty and a three-year/60 000 km service plan as standard.