There is life amongst the ruins. Hope in the debris. Rolling through downtown Detroit behind the wheel of the all-new 2017 Chevy Cruze Hatchback shows that while the Motor City might not yet have achieved the comeback status it touts as its new tagline, it is far from the ghost town it was made out to be by a succession of media portraits intent on focusing exclusively on what hasn't been working for Michigan's economic hub.
Look past the housing index and job creation stats and you'll find Detroit's true lifeblood: the people who choose to call it home. While they might be powerless to stop the infrastructure from crumbling, they haven't simply sat around to watch their city fall into decay. Instead, a day spent exploring its wide boulevards and dense urban core of warehouses, shops, and empty factories reveals a vibrant, creative scene that's dedicated to broadcasting the passion of the community that has grown up around it.
Symbol of the modern GM
It wasn't that long ago that General Motors looked like it would join Detroit on the dust heap of history, as well, but emerging from the ashes of bankruptcy was a very different car company. This time, instead of hewing to the status quo, GM redirected its efforts―and its brands―towards building vehicles people actually wanted to buy, and a big part of that effort was the Chevy Cruze sedan. At last, here was a small and affordable automobile capable of competing head-to-head with the Japanese giants that had dominated that space for so many decades.
The 4-door Cruze was completely redesigned for the 2016 model year, and hot on its heels comes the 2017 Chevy Cruze Hatchback, the first legitimate 5-door contender in the compact segment that the General has fielded in what feels like forever. Yes, the more modest Chevrolet Sonic is good, but with its stronger focus on value it hasn't been able to target the same comfort-seeking buyers that have gradually infiltrated the small car set.
Same good attributes
Perhaps the best news about the Cruze Hatchback is that, for all intents and purposes, it's a dead ringer for the sedan. The oily bits, the features list, the quiet and composed on-road demeanour; all of these attributes are shared with a car that is already one of the leaders when it comes to choosing an inexpensive automobile. Chevy's versatile 1.4L turbocharged 4-cylinder mill continues to pull duty in the Cruze Hatchback's engine bay, where it produces 153 horsepower and 177 lb-ft of torque and returns up to 6.2L/100km on the highway. A 6-speed manual is available alongside a 6-speed automatic transmission, both of which direct power to the front wheels.
The addition of the hatchback body style to the Cruze's smart platform simply makes an already good car even better for those seeking to maximize practicality. The curved roofline of the 2017 Chevy Cruze Hatchback corrals significant amounts of cargo space while adding a distinctly European touch to the car's styling. With the back seats in place, you're looking at 651 litres of storage, which is more than what a Mazda3 Sport offers (572 litres), for instance. Fold them down, and the amount of available space nearly doubles, leaving you with 1,336 litres to fill using the hatchback's wide and low rear opening.
How loaded do you want it?
There is one caveat to Cruze Hatchback ownership, and that's the requirement that you choose either the LT or Premier trim level when ordering the car. That's right: There's no base model on offer―a deliberate decision made by Chevy's product planners in a bid to tap into what they perceive as a “premium” market for compact haulers.
It's worth pointing out that you might have wanted to upgrade to LT status at the very least anyway, given that it opens up a more appealing range of features and options (including extra safety gear). The Premier is a similar story, because it's the only way to get luxuries such as heated leather seats, a heated steering wheel, and a forward collision warning system with automatic braking.
A golden opportunity to shine
The success of the new 2017 Chevy Cruze Hatchback seems predestined as Canadians remain bullish on small 5-doors despite the continued encroachment of also-useful compact SUVs and crossovers. Definitely worth a look as it stands now, if you're patient enough to wait until the middle of next year, you'll have an even more frugal version to choose from when the brand debuts a new turbodiesel model.
Could this Chevy Cruze Hatchback be poised to step into the void left behind by the prolonged absence of the Volkswagen Golf TDI following Dieselgate? As Detroit so eloquently illustrates, the failures of the past often provide fertile soil for tomorrow's successes.