2017 Chevrolet Cruze Hatch

PALM BEACH, Fla. — All new for 2017, the Chevrolet Cruze Hatchback joins its sedan sibling in delivering a world-class cabin, tons of technical doodads and solid fuel economy for a competitive price. It may not send droves of owners scampering to trade in their Civics, but it can certainly go toe to toe with the Honda, or any of the other Asian compacts for that matter.

Chevy dropped a Cruze Hatchback at the Palm Beach Intl. Airport for my most recent South Florida boondoggle. After spending nearly a week with it in early January, I was impressed. Comfortable, quiet and easy on fuel, it served me well whether zipping up and down A-1-A along the beach or hauling friends to dinner.

Although Chevy offers the sedan in four grades (L, LS, LT and Premier), the Hatchback comes in only the upper LT and Premier trims. Obviously with a couple of trim levels with less content, the sedan's entry-level price for the L is about $4,300 less than the opening bid for the Hatchback LT. Even when comparing apples to apples, the Cruze Sedan LT comes in $1,090 less than the $22,115 Hatchback LT. My test Cruze was the $23,945 Hatchback Premier.

Not as quick in the run up to 60 miles per hour from a standstill as the Civic hatch and a few other competitors, the Cruze does deliver acceptable acceleration for a family hauler. For those wanting a bit more performance in their hatchback, there are more appropriate choices, such as the Ford Focus ST and Volkswagen Golf GTI.

Thrust comes from a 153-horsepower 1.4-liter turbocharged engine, delivering 177 lb-ft of peak torque. Changing the cogs falls to a 6-speed manual transmission in the LT. Opting for the 6-speed automatic tacks $680 to the bottom line. The Premier, like my test Cruze, comes standard with the 6-speed automatic tranny. Unless you are attempting to push the Cruze hard, racing from stop light to stop light, for instance, you'll find it to be consistent and pleasant to drive. To help fuel economy, it does have an engine stop-start feature.

Fuel efficiency gets a slight bump up with the automatic. The manual in the LT gets a government-estimated 28 miles per gallon city and 37 mpg highway; while the LT automatic delivers 29 mpg city and 38 mpg highway. For whatever reason, in the Premier the automatic is government rated at 28 mpg city and 37 mpg highway. The Cruze sedan delivers a couple of mpg more in each measure.

Driving the streets and highways of South Florida isn't much different than driving on an airport runway: straight and flat. Other than expressway entrance/exit ramps, there's not much opportunity to appreciate a vehicle's cornering acumen. But, what I can tell you is, the steering is responsive and the ride solid. Absorbing most bumps, such as railroad crossings, the suspension provides a pleasing passenger experience.

If style is important to you, the Cruze delivers. Its highly sculpted sheetmetal is an eye catcher. Inside, the furnishings are remarkably upscale. I especially like the two-tone color combination for the interior available as a no-charge option for the Premier grade. All the bits and pieces fit together nicely in my test Cruze. A thing of beauty, the dashboard flows from door to door. Anchored in the center by an easy-to-see 7-inch touchscreen, the instrument panel isn't overburdened with buttons and switches.

Seating five, the passenger space is roomy and inviting. The front bucket seats provide decent support. There's plenty of rear-seat legroom, as well as cargo space.

Making the decision that Cruze would be technologically literate, Chevy loaded up the hatchback with all sorts of goodies like the already mentioned touchscreen, rearview camera, OnStar with 4G LTE connectivity and Wi-Fi hot spot, Bluetooth connectivity, 6-speaker audio system with Chevrolet MyLink interface, featuring Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, and USB port.

Other standard gear in the LT includes 10 airbags, full power accessories, remote keyless entry, cruise control, heated outboard mirrors and rear spoiler. Stepping up to the Premier adds leather seating, an upgraded rear suspension and heated steering wheel.

My test Cruze had $5,040 in options, including navigation system with 8-in touchscreen upgrade, power sunroof, Bose audio upgrade, RS Package with 18-in aluminum wheels and body kit, automatic air conditioning, wireless device charging, and a ton of other stuff. Among the other options were a few driver-assist technologies like rear-park assist, auto high beam, forward-collision alert, rear cross-traffic alert, blind-spot alert, lane-departure warning and lane-keep assist. All of this worked out to $29,860, including the delivery charge.

In years past, Chevrolet has struggled in the compact and subcompact arenas, but that appears to have come to an end. Cruze and its smaller Sonic stablemate have made a small-car believer out of me. Both are well-equipped quality products that are also fun to drive.

—  Russ Heaps  (MyCarData)