Test Drive: Chevrolet Cruze LT Hatchback is uninspired
Ford's stunning announcement that it will stop marketing most of its car lines — concentrating instead on sport-utility vehicles and pickup trucks in the U.S. market — may be good news for Chevrolet, which will be the last man standing among U.S. automakers in this once-prominent segment. Chevrolet now builds five sedans and hatchbacks, ranging from the diminutive Spark to the full-sized Impala. Among the brand's top sellers is the compact 2018 Cruze hatchback.
Cruze sales came close to a quarter million units sold as recently as 2013, but fell to 184,751 last year. One of its main competitors, the Ford Focus, has followed a similar trajectory. Once Ford completes its transformation, many of its passenger-car sales will flow to Chevrolet. Of course, Asian automakers Toyota, Nissan, Honda, Hyundai and Kia aren't going away. Ford, meanwhile, will continue selling a redesigned version of the Focus, though it will be a crossover rather than a compact car.
The Cruze has been something of a watershed model for Chevrolet, which struggled through the 1970s and into the 2000s with marginal performers like the Citation, Cavalier and Cobalt. The Cruze, introduced just eight years ago, has fared better among the critics. The declining sales most likely has more to do with the public's tastes than with any deficiency in the Cruze's quality.
The Cruze is not a BMW or a Lexus, and doesn't aspire to be. Some of the plastic panels feel cheap, and performance, while satisfactory, does not inspire. Still, the car handles crisply, and rides smoothly and quietly enough, for most tastes. Tall drivers also will be pleased to discover the Cruze provides plenty of legroom and headroom.
The base Cruze L has a sticker price of just $17,850, but it's truly basic. It comes with a 6-speed manual transmission, 15-inch steel wheels, air conditioning, power windows, rear-vision camera and AM-FM stereo radio with four speakers. Our well-equipped test car's list of standard and optional equipment included power driver's seat, heated front seats, sunroof, shiftable automatic transmission, satellite radio, cruise control, remote start, red stripes on 18-inch black alloy wheels, spoiler and navigation system. Its sticker price was about $10,000 more than the base model's.
While the driver and front-seat passenger enjoyed roomy accommodations, the back seat is tight for adults. With the rear seat lowered, cargo capacity is less than that of the subcompact Honda Fit, but more than the Fit's when the seat is upright.
Two engines are available in the Cruze: a 1.4-liter turbocharged 153-horsepower Four, and a 1.6-liter turbodiesel engine rated at 50 mpg. With automatic transmission, the front-wheel-drive Cruze with the gasoline engine is rated at 29 mpg city, 38 highway. In mostly highway driving, we never came close to the top mpg level, partly because our test car was still in its break-in period.
Major competitors include the Focus, the Toyota Corolla, Nissan Sentra, Hyundai Elantra, Kia Forte and the Honda Civic, arguably the best in the class.
2018 Chevrolet Cruze LT Hatchback
Price : $26,775
Engine: 1.4-liter turbocharged inline Four 153 horsepower, 177 lb.-ft torque
Transmission: 6-speed shiftable automatic
Weight: 2,842 lb.
Suspension: MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear
Wheels: 18-in. painted alloy
Tires: P225/40R18 all-season
Seating capacity: 5
Luggage capacity: 22.7 cu. ft.
Maximum cargo capacity: 47.2 cu. ft.
Fuel capacity: 14 gallons
Fuel economy: 29 mpg city, 38 mpg highway
Fuel type: regular unleaded gasoline
Steven Macoy (email@example.com) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.