Cruze sedan and hatchback: practical and economical

The 2017 Chevy Cruze sedan. The Cruze has had global sales of four million since 2008.

Practical and versatile, the cargo-friendly hatchback has long been popular in Europe. Not so in the United States, where its consumer appeal has been limited.

That is, until recently. The hatchback market has undergone a sea change here in the last several years, with the likes of Ford, Honda, VW, and Subaru showing there is a growing clientele and a burgeoning buck in compact hatches. The hatchback now accounts for 350,000 sales a year and about 15 percent of the compact market.

Little wonder that Chevrolet has come off the sidelines to field a hatchback version of its compact Cruze sedan for the 2017 model year. (Nothing like a little more icing on a very sweet cake: The Cruze has had global sales of four million since its introduction in 2008, making it Chevy's most popular car.)

The new five-door hatch is, of course, a wagonesque variation on the Cruze sedan, which was completely redesigned for 2016. It shares the sedan's sheet-metal from the windshield forward, as well as its engine, a 1.4-liter turbo, and its six-speed automatic gearbox. There are also some obvious differences, as I found out in the week I spent with both the sedan and the hatch.

For example, the base sedan, an L model with the six-speed manual transmission, starts at $16,975. But the hatchback isn't available as a down-market L or LS model, only in the more upscale LT and Premier offerings. The LT hatch I spent a week with started at $21,920.

The additional expense for the hatch version translates into a lot more cargo capacity, and the convenience and increased accessibility afforded by the high and wide liftgate opening. Even though it is more than seven inches shorter than the sedan, the hatch furnishes nearly 23 cubic feet of space behind the backseats (over seven feet more than the sedan's trunk) and a generous 47 cubic feet with the seats folded.

While the hatch was more useful, I found the sedan more aesthetically pleasing. The redesigned Cruze sedan is a handsome small car. The hatchback must endure the intrinsic de-styling engendered by the long flat roof and, in the case of the tester, a large, unwelcome roof spoiler provided by the sporty RS package.

I found the interiors of both models very similar and very attractive. I also found both cars to be relatively roomy - a fairly tall passenger can sit behind a fairly tall driver and have adequate leg and head room. Both cars had very accessible instruments and controls, and proved quite quiet. Indeed, the hatch was as quiet as the sedan, which is eyebrow-arching because replacing a trunk lid with a lift gate usually means more decibels. Chevy engineers diminished the noise and vibration emanating from the wheel wells with an effective serving of baffles and insulation.

Both the sedan and the hatchback proved nice drivers. They handled well and teamed the cornering competence with adequate braking and reasonable acceleration. The small but relatively torque-rich four banger develops 153 horsepower and 177 pounds of torque, enough to get this lightweight from 0 to 60 in a respectable eight seconds.

Decent performance is matched by nifty mileage. The testers, both equipped with six-speed automatics, had EPA mileage ratings of 29 city and 38 highway for the hatch and 30 and 40 for the sedan. (The manual model ratings are 1 mpg less for both city and highway.)

The Cruze uses regular gas.