MOUNT LAGUNA, Calif. -- Rolling down a narrow black strip on the California S1 highway which threads across spines of the Vallecito Mountains, low sand desert far below to the east and fir-clad slopes on the west sliding off toward the Pacific Coast, the cool new 2017 Cruze Hatch compact-class 5-door hatchback from Chevrolet grips asphalt through knotted curves like a slot car locked in the groove of a serpentine track.
With independent front suspension using MacPherson struts and the tires tracing an aggressive line through all bends and kinks on this back road, our test vehicle expresses itself with nimble movements which mimic a mechanical athlete obviously capable of accomplishing the kind of road tricks you might expect from a sporty car.
The fact that this particular Chevy bears an extended roofline encasing the boxy back end of a long-body 5-door hatchback and its form looks more like a carpooler's sled than a racy sports machine casts an image incongruent with this lively performance attitude, yet that's the bonus point favoring the hatchback rendition of Chevrolet's best-selling Cruze Sedan.
Chevrolet recast the 2016 Cruze Sedan on a longer but lighter front-wheel-drive platform, dressed it in a slick yet sculpted shell and filled the expanded-length passenger compartment with nice materials and quality switchgear, then packed aboard a new turbo-charged yet gas-sipping engine plus more electronic safety features.
The new 5-door 2017 Cruze Hatchback employs the sedan's front-wheel-drive platform and retains the 106.3-inch wheelbase length. The expansive unibody structure forges a roomier and more comfortable passenger compartment with seats for five and more legroom for backseat riders plus 18.5 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seat, or 47.2 cubic feet of room with the rear seat folded.
Package styling for the hatch features a unique roof and the boxy rear-end structure with wraparound taillamps and an integrated spoiler atop the rear liftgate.
The hatch retains the sedan's front-end treatment featuring Chevrolet's dual-port grille and thin sweeping headlamp bezels plus LED daytime running lamps.
Vehicle handling on the 2017 Cruze Hatchback is tight and sporty due to the enhanced suspension design and a rack-mounted steering system with electric power assistance.
Brakes include a disc at every wheel with extended-life Duralife rotors plus electronic links to an anti-lock brake system and StabiliTrak electronic stability control with traction control and rollover mitigation. Optional electronic safety features include Side Blind Zone Alert, Rear Cross-Traffic Alert, Lane Keep Assist and Forward Collision Alert.
Chevrolet constructs the 2017 Cruze Hatchback in two premium grades: LT and Premier.
All versions draw from a 1.4-liter aluminum 4-cylinder engine fitted with turbo-charger (TC), electronic throttle control (ETC), gasoline direct injection (GDI) technology and continuously variable valve timing (CVVT) apparatus. The engine also employs GM's fuel-saving stop/start technology -- it shuts off/on in certain instances such as a stoplight.
The turbo 4-pack delivers 153 hp at 5600 rpm with torque of 177 lb-ft at 2000-4000 rpm.
Cruze's EPA-estimated fuel economy scores for the plant tally to 30/42 mpg city/highway with the Hydra-Matic 6T35 6-speed electronic automatic transaxle.
The dual-cockpit cabin layout for Cruze plants a pair of bucket seats in front of a bench for three with the seatback split 60/40 and folding.
Cruze LT provides 16-inch alloy wheels, LED running lights, heated mirrors, cruise control, Bluetooth connectivity, and a 6-speaker audio package, plus Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility via the MyLink radio system and available 4G LTE with Wi-Fi hotspot.
Cruze Premier with 17-inch alloy wheels also earns a keyless ignition/entry, leather upholstery, heated front seats, 8-way power driver's seat and a heated steering wheel.
The optional RS appearance package adds unique front and rear fascias, rocker panels, a rear spoiler, foglamps and (on the Premier trim) 18-inch alloy wheels.
We estimate that MSRP figures for the 2017 Cruze Hatchback rise from a base of $22,190.