More junk in the trunk

My brain and my heart remained stuck in a haze of sadness and confusion for a good hour. But thats the market today. All people seem to want are crossovers and SUVs, whether its for the cargo capacity, the illusion of capability or the complete misunderstanding of physics that leads people to believe taller vehicles are safer.

Before Chevrolet let us take its 2017 Cruze Hatchback for a spin, it had us watch a new advertisement — one of those opinions of regular folks deals. When the subjects were asked their opinion of this new model, one person opined, It looks just like a small SUV!

and wanted to slum it to see what the hoi polloi will really be buying.

What I couldnt stand, though, was the rocker button mounted atop the shifter. Thats for changing gears yourself, which I cant imagine most people will do, except by accident as their hands graze the shift lever. Just put some damn paddles on the wheel if youre really intent on giving drivers the ability to change gears at will, Chevrolet.

As I spent my time with the Cruze Hatchback LT on the not-so-sinewy back roads of Southeastern Michigan, I never once pined for the leather-bound fjords of the Premier. The cloth seats in my tester were plenty comfortable, and while the LT also removes the leatherette from the dashboard, the layered shape remains, which is my favorite part.

No matter the trim or body style, the Cruze comes with a 1.4-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder, good for 153 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque. Mated to a six-speed automatic, it feels a bit more planted on the road thanks to the hatchbacks extra weight, but it never has been, nor will it ever be quick. The transmission feels a bit ancient in this application, with slow gear changes and a desire to get going only once the pedal kisses the firewall.

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That big booty, while attractive, carries a small hit to fuel economy. The LT sedan will hit 30 mpg city and 40 mpg highway, while the hatchbacks EPA figures are pegged at 29 and 38, respectively. As with the sedan, though, I was able to meet and occasionally exceed those figures with a barely conscious effort to keep a light right foot.

It occurred to me that Chevrolet went into this knowing it would be an uphill battle. Theres ground to be won, sure — the Ford Focus and Mazda3 hatchbacks sell some 100,000 units combined each year — but Chevrolet hopes that everything good about the Cruze can be made better with a bit more junk in the trunk.

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