The most popular Chevrolet pleasure car on the planet is a rather unpretentious compact sedan and hatchback called the Cruze. Since its introduction in 2008, it has sold more than four million copies worldwide.
Meanwhile, back in the States, Cruze sales aren't too shabby, either. Despite the crossover craze, which has been beating sedan sales to a bloody pulp, Cruze sales rose 1.8 percent in 2017, with 53 percent of those buyers being new to Chevrolet.
There are reasons for that. For one thing, it is an attractive, well-engineered car that handles adeptly and proves quiet, comfortable, and roomy.
There's also reason to believe it can take a shot and stay on its feet. Consumer Reports put the current model on its "10 Most Reliable Cars" list for 2016, a list that did not include competitors like the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla.
Sales were also boosted by the addition of the hatchback model and the new 1.6-liter diesel. In 2017, its first full year of production, the hatch accounted for 20 percent of Cruze sales. The diesel makes itself attractive with an EPA highway mileage rating of 52 mpg, the best non-hybrid highway number out there.
I've already tested the current Cruze in both its sedan and hatchback attire and in two of its four trim levels. These included an LS sedan with the six-speed manual (one cut above the base L model) and the top-of-the-line Premier model. For my third look, I thought I'd eschew the manufacturer's low-mileage, coddled cuties and see how a Cruze fared after a year of frontline duty in the daily rental wars. So, I went out to Philadelphia International and rented a Premier hatch with nearly 10,000 miles on it.
The tester, it turned out, had emerged from a year of combat virtually unscathed. The body was unmarked and the smart black leatherette interior was fine. The car also drove and rode well and hadn't acquired any squeaky, creaky intrusions on its quiet ride.
An interesting note about the Cruze hatchback: It is available (for an additional $500) in only the two top models, the LT and Premier. The manual LT hatch starts at $21,820, which is a distant cry from the $16,975 MSRP for the base L sedan. The posh Premier, which has a six-automatic transmission as standard fare, opens at $24,020. Making you buy the more upmarket models to get the hatch makes sense in the counting house, of course, but it doesn't seem terribly democratic. (Since they're restyling the car for 2019, maybe they'll restyle that sales approach, too.)
Still, the Premier represents good value. This is a very well-equipped car with a standard equipment litany that ranges from heated front seats, steering wheel, and mirrors to stop/start technology, alloy wheels, and 10 standard air bags, including driver and front passenger knee protection.
The standard engine in the Premier tester, like the rest of the model line, is a willing, 1.4-liter, direct-injected turbo four that coaxes 153 horsepower and a hefty 177 pounds/feet of torque from regular petrol. That's enough to get this guy from 0 to 60 in under eight seconds, which is quite presentable. It also delivered presentable EPAs of 28 city and 37 highway. This engine also takes to the crack of your whip without the annoying buzz that afflicts most small fours when flogged.
While crisp and competent, the Cruze's handling isn't quite as sporty as, say, the Mazda 3. Where it shines is in the way it balances good handling and a supple ride.