CARS.COM — Chevrolet would like to interest you young, socially connected millennials in a new mullet. You may not be familiar with that style of haircut, outside of the People of Walmart website, but it's the one where you've got the short, respectable hair up front and the long, flowing mane out back. Business up front, party in back, as the saying goes.
That's also the idea behind the new 2017 Chevrolet Cruze Hatchback, according to Steve Majoros, Chevrolet marketing director for cars and crossovers. Up front, you've got the attractive, respectable, businesslike Cruze compact styling in regular or spicier RS flavor, but out back you've now got a useful hatchback instead of a trunk, suitable for weekend warriors to load up and hit the road for various adventures.
While it's been available for years now in European and other foreign markets, the versatile hatchback model makes its way stateside for the first time as a 2017. It's built on the newly updated Chevy Cruze compact sedan that was fully redesigned last year and has been on sale for some months now. It shares all of the sedan's updates and changes and doesn't really bring any new content to the party — it rides on the same suspension, uses the same powertrain and has the same interior. The biggest difference is the uptick in usable maximum cargo capacity when the rear seats are folded.
From the outside, the new five-door style of the Cruze Hatchback looks for all the world like a Hyundai Elantra GT. In fact, when I saw a press vehicle on the road not long ago in a molten orange, I wondered when Hyundai had started making cars in that color — and was a little shocked when it pulled away and I saw the Chevy bow tie on the hatch. The look is attractive, with the low, sleek front end combining with the sculpted fenders of the body side and the high spoiler above the rear glass giving it a wide, muscular look. All of the vehicles I've seen have been the RS package, which includes a rear spoiler, 18-inch wheels, front foglights and a sport body kit.
Fire up the turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine, and you're given 153 horsepower and 177 pounds-feet of torque to play with. That isn't much, but the turbocharged nature of the engine makes the most of it — off-the-line acceleration is punchy, even with two heavy Americans inside, good for a zero-to-60-mph time of 7.7 seconds, according to Chevrolet. That's not exactly weapons-grade acceleration, but it's no slowpoke. Highway passing power is equally acceptable. It's not going to win any stoplight races, but it won't leave you wondering who let all the horses out of the barn.
Ride quality and interior quiet are both outstanding. Some road noise gets through, especially on rougher pavement, but never to a degree that hinders conversation. Steering feel is good, with feedback that actually lets you know what the wheels are doing, but there is a high degree of body roll in more aggressive cornering. This feels like a chassis that's begging for a more aggressive suspension tune to really go Volkswagen Golf hunting. Chevy has crafted an impressive little compact car, one that feels solid, well crafted, nicely screwed together and substantial in a way that previous GM compact cars have never been.
The interior materials aren't bad, either. The design is clean and appealing; despite some hard plastic on the upper dash and door surfaces, it's thick, solid plastic that doesn't feel cheap or like the unfortunate result of cost cutting. Headroom is a little scant, however, with a steeply raked windshield and small side windows that give the car a racier cockpit feel — the aforementioned Golf feels more spacious and airy. Despite the hatchback, there is no benefit to rear headroom over the Cruze sedan — both measure 37.3 inches. The hatchback is simply shorter from bumper to bumper than the sedan and makes better use of the backseat as an expansion on the cargo area.
Drop the rear seats and you've got 47.2 cubic feet of cargo room, more than what's featured behind the backseat of some larger mid-size SUVs, such as the latest GMC Acadia. That room and versatility is a big reason why people buy hatchbacks, and it should further the Cruze's appeal to a wider audience.
Starting price for the Cruze Hatchback is $23,065 (including destination) for a base model LT, which is the lowest-spec trim that Chevy plans to offer for the Cruze. It's the mid-level trim on the sedan, but Chevrolet is confident that a cheaper model isn't necessary for the hatchback. "Thirty percent of the 350,000 hatchbacks sold every year transact above $25,000," said Chevrolet's Majoros, allowing the brand to keep the hatchback as a more premium model. The loaded Kinetic Blue Metallic Premier trim I drove included an automatic transmission, keyless start, leather seats and a host of electronic safety features for a grand total of $26,870. That's on the high end for compact cars that aren't performance models like the Ford Focus ST or VW Golf GTI, but the Cruze Hatchback justifies it with premium materials, an excellent driving experience and versatility that many should find useful.