Being the new kid in a school can be one of the toughest transitions of a lifetime. The sleek second-generation Chevrolet Cruze arrived in 2016 in sedan-form only. For 2017, the model is available in one of our favorite body styles—the hatchback—for the first time in North America. And Chevrolet even sees fit to make this creation available with an actual clutch pedal. They’re speaking our language. Arriving late to a well-established class, the Cruze is looking for a spot on the dean’s list.
Wherefore Art Thou, Turbo?
The badging on the Chevrolet Cruze LT RS that we tested indicates the new hatch may be struggling to find itself; LT might just as well stand for Lacking Torque. Power for this Cruze comes from a new turbocharged 1.4-liter inline-four producing 153 horsepower. Chevy says peak torque is 177 lb-ft at 2000 rpm, but it feels as if its force quickly falls off the chart at 2001 rpm and never returns; the lack of thrust had us opening the hood to make sure there was indeed a turbo attached to the manifold. Spirited driving through the Angeles National Forest often required the accelerator pedal to be pushed into the engine bay in order to maintain pace.
Our affection for the manual transmission is well established, and we give props to Chevy for offering one on the Cruze, a car aimed at young buyers so digital that they often can’t read analog clocks. Really enjoying a manual, though, demands that the car have an appealing shifter mechanism, and the Cruze’s, topped with a large, hard plastic shift knob the size of a computer mouse, does not make the cut. A giant reverse-lockout trigger on the backside of the shifter is more distracting and odd than a fidget spinner, and the shifter’s action and feel are more utilitarian than pleasing.
Hang On, We’ll Get There
At the test facility, the Cruze failed to make the track and field team. The RS badge historically has designated a Rally Sport trim, but these days there’s not much that’s sporty about a car requiring 8.3 seconds to reach 60 mph from rest. The longtime all-star Volkswagen Golf in Wolfsburg trim only needs 6.6 seconds. This hatchback with a stick is also 0.6 second slower than the equivalent automatic we’ve tested. The sprint to complete the quarter-mile consumed 16.4 seconds, crossing the line at 88 mph, again falling behind the automatic by 0.4 second (although the manual was 1 mph slower). Aside from the sluggish acceleration, the Cruze’s traction-control system, even…