If you would have said 10 years ago that Chevrolet would have six hatchbacks for sale in 2018, you would have been laughed out of the room. But here we are, a year away from the 10-year anniversary of GM’s 2009 bankruptcy, and Chevrolet is the unsung hero of hatchback offerings. Let’s count them:
- Chevrolet Spark
- Chevrolet Spark Activ
- Chevrolet Sonic
- Chevrolet Cruze Hatchback
- Chevrolet Volt
- Chevrolet Bolt EV
Sure, make the argument that the Spark Activ’s plastic cladding and slight lift is barely enough to constitute as a separate vehicle from the base model. Regardless, what other brand even offers five hatchbacks in the US market, let alone six? Somehow not one of them offers a true performance variant (maybe people would get the people noticing), but that’s a topic for another day. Making things interesting, however, is a diesel offering, with the 2018 Chevrolet Cruze Diesel Hatchback.
Starting at $26,395, the Cruze hatch with the 1.6L diesel engine is nearly $10-grand more than the base model, and this is with the six-speed manual transmission. The MSRP comes in above the frugal Spark and long-in-tooth Sonic, but nearly $10-grand under the electrified Volt (our take-home favorite), and the futurist Bolt EV – before their incentives kick in. Despite its C-segment nature, it’s the solid middle child in Chevy’s hatchback family in terms of price.
The hatchback body style, DIY gearbox, and diesel four-pot make this configuration of the Chevy Cruze an enthusiasts’ choice, by default. It also makes it the fuel-saver’s choice, as EPA testing alleges 35 miles per gallon combined, at 29 mpg city and 48 mpg highway. The 9-speed automatic version equates to the same 35 mpg combined, but with 30 mpg city and 45 mpg on the highway. For reference, the Cruze diesel sedan with the 9-speed auto does 37 combined mpg. That two miles per gallon is a decent compromise for the gracious hatchback utility, if you ask any reasonable person. And with its fairly small 13.5 gallon tank yielding nearly 500 miles of estimated ranges, it’s hard not to see the road trip appeal here. And we’re not talking the simple jaunt to the nearest national park, or the city in the next state. We’re talking cross-country, on the cheap, with 47.2 cubic feet of stuff with the seats folded down, and a tech-suite of connectivity features. Freedom!
The original plan was to road trip from Michigan to Colorado again, like we did in 2013 with the last-generation Cruze Diesel. This was in hopes to see how much more of an improvement the new Cruze diesel is, fuel economy wise, over the old model with the same test. Alas, plans had to change. Instead, we drove the entire span of Michigan’s M53 from Detroit to tranquil Port Austin, Michigan. That’s at the tip of The Thumb, for those that don’t know. On the way down we traced the thumb coast via M29, and back to the city. That’s about 270 miles worth of round-trip highway driving, once out of the stop-go patterns of southeast Michigan.
At 137 horsepower and 240 lb-ft of torque, the 2018 Chevrolet Cruze Diesel Hatchback has more than enough off-the-line push that it feels like it might actually be a performance hatch. And compared to the outgoing model, the Cruze diesel benefits from superior balance, and is far less nose heavy than before. Still the fact remains that the Cruze Diesel isn’t performance hatchback, but its handling is nevertheless even-keeled, buoyant, and inoffensive. Premier models feature a compound crank (Watt’s Z-link) setup in the rear that contribute to decently behaved the cornering, but the steering isn’t sharp enough, nor are the tires sporty enough, for the current Cruze to be a true athlete. All you need to know is that it drives far less generically than it looks.
To that point, it would be to Chevrolet’s benefit, we feel, to see its passenger cars to not be visually mistaken for Hyundais. Though even Hyundai seems to understand the appeal in a performance hatch, as seen with the i30 N sold oversees, and the upcoming Veloster N for here in the States. It continues to collectively frustrate enthusiasts to see a brand so well versed in how to build performance cars and yet keep shy of the hot-hatch segment. To wit, the last FWD performance car Chevrolet built was the Cobalt SS Turbo, which was discontinued nearly 10 years ago.
Even though this $26,000 Chevrolet hatchback isn’t of the performance variety, or much of a looker, there are plenty of things to like. The OnStar 4G LTE wifi, MyChevrolet mobile app, a 7-inch touchscreen that isn’t too fussy, an 8-way power adjustable driver’s seat, and attractive 18-inch wheels all help sweeten the deal for this TDI-fighting Chevy. Of course, with nearly every diesel hatchback purchase that has taken place, the real unique selling proposition is the mileage.
So, for the moment of truth. At the end of our day-trip, the 2018 Cruze Diesel Hatchback averaged 60.9 mpg combined, over 290 mostly highway miles. Some other publications have managed even higher. At the end of our trip, the tank wasn’t even halfway empty. In fact, the vehicle’s computers were stating that if we kept our driving habits and conditions constant, we’d still have another 513 miles to go. That an estimated range of over 800 miles. That’s Detroit to Myrtle Beach. That’s Seattle to San Francisco. That’s Dallas to Atlanta. Chicago to NYC. For what would probably be around $40 to fill up. It’s hard not giggle at the fuel savviness of this five-door Chevy. And, unlike the Bolt EV, there’s no range anxiety to be found here. Diesel pumps remain a mature and abundant infrastructure network all over the world. Because of this, we’d confidently drive to Juneau, Alaska if we had enough time. For reference, we achieved just over 800 miles in one tank with the last-generation Cruze Diesel, as well, but the tank is a notable 2.1 gallons larger. The latest Cruze diesel does more with less.
This performance of intended function in respect to real world fuel economy is what makes the Chevrolet Cruze Diesel Hatchback a darling of a car, and does a lot to save the bored and lukewarm design language. Lastly, if those 2019 model-year CVT rumors are true, you better move fast for that stick-shift to own a 2018 Chevy Cruze Diesel Hatch unicorn, before it’s too late.