First Drive: Chevrolet Cruze 5 door
The Chevrolet Cruze saloon has enjoyed far greater success on the racetrack than in the sales department, as it currently holds both the British and World Touring Car titles thanks to Jason Plato and Yvan Muller respectively.
Sadly, the smart-looking saloon is a long way short of enjoying the same success when it comes to attracting customers, and now Chevrolet hopes to change that with the introduction of the new hatchback version.
The styling at the front end of the five-door car is identical to that of the saloon, which is no bad thing in our mind, but things go a little awry at the back. The boot doesn't enjoy the same smoothness of line, with a large C pillar looking a little clumsy.
However, the boot is of a decent size – at 413 litres it is comfortably bigger than similar-sized rivals such as the Vauxhall Astra and the Hyundai i30, although the reconfiguration means it is smaller than the saloon's 450 litres. It is slightly disappointing when you drop the seats though, as it only offers 883 litres, which is a long way short of mainstream competitors. There is also a slight lack of space in the rear for passengers as well, with legroom sufficient rather than generous.
The levels of equipment are one thing that can't be accused of lacking in generosity though, as Chevrolet has tried to make the Cruze a very good value for money proposition. The mid-range LT model, which starts at £14,895, gets kit that is not normally seen on cars this cheap, such as cruise control, four electric windows, parking sensors and a stereo controls mounted on a leather steering wheel.
It will be this value for money that attracts prospective buyers rather than the quality of the interior – as you would expect, the dashboard and door linings are dominated by plastic, but it feels solid and acceptable to the touch. The options list offers some fascia cloth coverings that break the monotone up nicely to bring some texture to the cabin. The cheap but solid nature extends to the seats, which are hard rather than cosseting and comfortable.
On the road, the clear pick of the range is the 2.0-litre diesel, which has been reworked from the version available in the saloon. It pulls nicely from low speeds, and is smooth throughout the rev range, even though there is no mistaking it is a diesel from the gruff sound it produces. In comparison, the petrol engines feel laboured and are nothing more than slow. The 1.8-litre engine is the marginally quicker and more impressive of the two, but it doesn't feel as rapid as the 9.8-second 0-62mph time that is claimed – mainly as it has to be worked very hard to get there.
Sadly the biggest downfall to the Cruze is its efficiency – it is a long way short of any of its rivals with the 161bhp diesel the most frugal and claiming an average of 50.4mpg and a CO2 rating of 147g/km. The similarly powered Vauxhall Astra emits no more than 119g/km and claims around 62mpg.
This means that, while the Cruze offers a compelling package when it comes to the purchase price and its generous level of equipment, it will cost significantly more to run than its competitors so is hard to recommend as a result.