First drive: 2017 Chevrolet Cruze Hatch

We drive Chevy\'s new five-door compact.

It seems like just yesterday that we drove the 2016 Chevrolet Cruze sedan, but indeed that was close to six months ago. Now, Chevy has introduced a five-door variant (we're sure you've seen "The Wall" on TV now that the ad blitz has started) so it was time yet again to hit the road in the compact to see what it's all about.

This time, Chevy invited us out to the Detroit suburbs to get some time behind the wheel in the early days of Michigan fall. Are we as fond of the five-door as we were of the sedan? Read on to find out.

Five-door firstThe 2017 Cruze Hatch (that's the official name, mind you) is a first for Chevrolet under this nameplate. Sure, Chevy has sold hatchbacks before, and previous incarnations of the Cruze platform have appeared in that guise overseas, but here in the States, a five-door Cruze is a new concept.

The good news is that the transformation from sedan to hatchback hasn't had much impact on the things we liked about it the first time. The styling is still sleek and attractive--to the point where we'd almost say the hatch is the more natural execution of the two; we're certain that's no mistake.

So slick is the rear-end look that we were initially concerned that the Cruze's hatch would suffer in practicality, but as it turns out, it's actually one of the roomier cargo areas in the segment. With the rear seats up, it boasts 22.7 cubic feet of cargo volume. Drop the rear seat backs and that expands to 47.2 cubes.

For comparison, the equally stylish Mazda3 5-Door offers 20.7 cubes with the seats up and 47.1 with them down; the more practically sculpted Volkswagen Golf offers 22.8 and 52.7, respectively; the Ford Focus, despite its trick fold-flat rear seats, splits the difference at 23.3 and 43.9.

The rest of the storyWhile the cargo area may be the Cruze Hatch's party piece, there's more to a car than what it can carry. If that weren't true, we'd all drive pickups, right?

It should come as no surprise that the Cruze Hatch's interior is otherwise essentially identical to the sedan's. For the most part, the cars presented to us were up-trim Premier models with all the bells and whistles. Our testers were loaded up with leather seating, the larger MyLink infotainment systems (complete with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto straight out of the box) and all the other niceties you come to expect from a modern car.

Safety wise, the Cruze Hatch is available with lane keep assist, rear cross traffic alert, side blind zone alert, rear park assist and adaptive cruise control. We found the safety and autonomy features to be suitably accessible and non-intrusive.

The "go" bitsLike the sedan, the Cruze Hatch comes standard with GM's 1.4L turbocharged four-cylinder. It's good for 153 horsepower and 177lb-ft of torque, which is more than enough to scoot the small hatchback around. You have your choice of a six-speed manual (on lower trims) or a six-speed automatic that becomes standard as you move up the lineup.

With the manual, the Cruze is capable of 28 mpg in the city and 37 on the highway. Going up to the automatic improves that to 29/38. It's not quite as efficient as the sedan, but it's close enough that the added practicality could easily justify the dip.

The sedan's Mac-Strut front suspension setup and rear twist beam configuration carry over as well.

Looking forwardSoon, however, you'll have another set of powertrain offerings if you're shopping for a Cruze. Chevrolet recently announced that the Cruze Hatch will be available with a turbodiesel engine with both a manual and an automatic transmission option. Make no mistake, GM is going after Volkswagen's previous Golf buyers aggressively with this combination.

The big pictureSo it's feature-rich and the powertrain looks good on paper. But how does it behave in the real world? Quite well, as it turns out.

Our drive routes took us from the University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor to downtown Detroit and many points in between. We found the Cruze's suspension to be supple enough to handle the rougher roads of suburban and urban Michigan while also serving up enough confidence to encourage us to push the car a bit when the rural byways turned narrow and twisty.

Our complaints were few. While the Cruze is competent enough, it's not tuned to be quite as enthusiast-friendly as, say, a Mazda3 or a Ford Focus. Even the new Honda Civic likely has a dynamic edge here, even if we're not completely in love with its steering.

Speaking of steering, we noticed a rather distinct on-center dead area in the Cruze's response. We're confident that this is largely due to a combination of tire selection and what seems to be a relatively slow steering ratio. It's not a deal breaker by any means, but we felt it was worth pointing out.

At the end of the day, though, the Cruze hatch is exactly what the average practicality-oriented consumer is looking for. It is comfortable, quiet, quick enough to keep up in normal traffic and efficient enough (which will only improve with the forthcoming diesel) to make sense as an everyday purchase.

Leftlane's bottom lineThe 2017 Chevrolet Cruze Hatch is everything the sedan is and a little more. We love the tech, the comfort and the practicality, even if we wish it was a little more fun to drive.

2017 Chevrolet Cruze Hatch LT Premier base price, $24,820; as-tested, $26,870Kinetic Blue Metallic paint, $395; Enhanced Convenience package, $865; Driver Confidence II package, $790; Destination, $875

Exterior photos by Byron Hurd. Interior photos courtesy of Chevrolet.

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