Chevrolet Cruze hatchback reviewed

* New hatchback version of Cruze * Rival for Focus and Astra * On sale now, from 13,995...

Chevrolet Cruze hatchback reviewed

What is it? Chevrolets new small family hatchback. Previously, the Cruze has been available only as a saloon. The hatchback body which provides more versatility is expected to be much more popular.

Whats it like to drive? Theres not much to complain about, but not a lot to praise, either.

Around town, the Cruzes firm ride is about the only thing youll really notice. Once you get on to faster roads, things deteriorate. The handling is fine, but theres a fair amount of body lean through bends. The ride doesnt get any better, either, and the steering is light and short on feel. A Vauxhall Astra or Volkswagen Golf is more comfortable and a Ford Focus is more fun.

Theres a choice of three engines: 1.6 or 1.8-litre petrols and a 2.0-litre diesel. The diesel is by far the strongest of the three; the petrol engines are both short on oomph and take a while to get up to speed.

The diesel costs 1700 more than the equivalent 1.8 petrol, which is an issue when a large part of the Cruzes appeal is low costs. A 1.7-litre diesel engine will join the range in early 2012: it may well strike the best balance between power and price.

Refinement isnt too bad and the engines are subdued once youre up to speed. Road noise is the major annoyance.

Whats it like inside? Its not all doom-and-gloom for the Cruze the cabin has plenty of head- and legroom for four six-footers, so its a practical family car.

Its easy to get comfortable behind the wheel, too, thanks to simple adjustment for the seat and steering wheel. The only fly in the ointment are the front seats, which could do with providing more lower-back support.

The boot is impressively large, with a capacity of 413 litres. Thats more than a Focus, Astra or Golf. Folding down the rear seats leaves a step in the floor, which could be a problem when loading larger items.

At first glance, the cabins smart design looks similar to that of Vauxhalls latest models. None of the plastics are as plush as those in an Astra, though.

Should I buy one? Prices start at 13,995, which matches the entry-level Vauxhall Astra and undercuts the cheapest Ford Focus by just over 2000, so the Cruze is cheap. Entry-level Hyundai i30 and Kia Cee'd models are cheaper, though.

Entry-level LS trim is pretty basic; there are six airbags, stability control, air-con, electric front windows and electric door mirrors. You'll need to upgrade to LT to gain alloys, electric rear windows, parking sensors and steering wheel-mounted stereo controls.

Additional kit on LTZ models includes Bluetooth, a USB port, automatic headlights and wipers, and metallic interior trim. The LTZ trim is also available with an Executive Pack, which includes leather trim, heated front seats and sat-nav.

Once youve moved that far up the range the Cruze stops making sense, because there are far more desirable and talented cars for the same money. Even at the lower end of the range the Cruze has its work cut out. Its cheap and spacious, but then so are the Hyundai i30, Kia Ceed and Skoda Octavia, which cost much the same or less.

Ford Focus
Skoda Octavia
Vauxhall Astra.

What Car? says