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2017 Honda Civic Hatchback vs. 2017 Chevrolet Cruze Hatchback: Which Is Better?

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author photo by James Riswick November 2016

The hatchback is making a comeback! OK, so it's a pretty modest comeback, but for fans of this beleaguered segment, there's nevertheless reason to celebrate. Arriving on the scene this year are the 2017 Honda Civic Hatchback and the 2017 Chevrolet Cruze Hatchback. Let's take a look at both to see which might be better for you.

2017 Honda Civic Hatchback

2017 Honda Civic Hatchback

There's more differentiating the Civic sedan and hatchback than their cargo areas. The hatchback features slightly different styling: Note the large ventlike features on the bumpers, as well as the black trim elements in place of chrome. The suspension and steering have also been altered to improve handling and driving response, though the ride is subsequently a bit firmer. The hatchback is also available in unique Sport and Sport Touring trim levels, complete with extra power, special styling and bigger wheels. Both 2017 Civic body styles also see the addition of a 6-speed manual transmission on certain trim levels.

2017 Chevrolet Cruze Hatch

2017 Chevrolet Cruze Hatch

The Cruze hatchback is also new for 2017, but unlike the Civic, it only differs from its sedan sibling by boasting a hatchback cargo area and a shorter overall length. It also isn't available in the Cruze's cheaper, bottom-two trim levels. Beyond that, however, the Cruze sedan and hatchback are essentially the same vehicle.

2017 Honda Civic Hatchback2017 Chevrolet Cruze Hatch

Reliability

The Honda Civic has one of the best reliability records of any car in history, though the most recent version has garnered numerous complaints about its touchscreen infotainment system. These include gremlins and inherent design flaws.

The story is almost the exact opposite with the Cruze. Problems seem to have been rampant with the previous-generation car, with plenty of engine, steering and electrical issues reported. Meanwhile, the current version has been trouble-free after one year. Whether that will continue to be the case can only be answered with time, unfortunately.

2017 Honda Civic Hatchback2017 Chevrolet Cruze Hatch

Fuel Economy

The Civic hatchback comes only with a 1.5-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that boasts best-in-class acceleration and fuel economy. It really is quite the remarkable engine and gets even better in the hatchback's unique Sport trim level, where it boasts 180 horsepower versus the standard output of 174 hp. Plus, when you opt for the new-for-2017 6-speed manual transmission, torque output goes up significantly to 177 lb-ft from 162. In both cases, the Civic is the quickest compact car when accelerating from zero to 60 miles per hour.

At the same time, fuel economy remains excellent. With the continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), fuel economy is 31 miles per gallon in the city, 40 mpg on the highway and 34 mpg combined on the LX, EX and EX-L Navi trim levels. These figures essentially only go down by 1 mpg combined with the manual transmission and/or Sport trim level. Note, however, that the Sport does recommend Premium fuel to achieve its optimum horsepower.

Every 2017 Cruze, meanwhile, is powered by a 1.4-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder that produces 153 hp and 177 lb-ft of torque. A 6-speed manual and 6-speed automatic transmission are available. The Cruze's power deficit relative to the Civic can be noticeable when driving. Although punchy off the line, it feels taxed when accelerating hard and is ultimately considerably slower than the segment average. The difference in 0-to-60 times could be as much as 3 seconds between the Civic and Cruze, which in car terms is colossal.

At the same time, the Cruze's fuel economy is about equal to the Civic's. Its best possible rating from the Environmental Protection Agency is 29 mpg city/38 mpg hwy/32 mpg combined with the automatic. Opting for the manual transmission or the Premier trim level drops each rating by 1 mpg.

2017 Honda Civic Hatchback2017 Chevrolet Cruze Hatch

Driving Experience

The Civic's extra power certainly gives it an advantage over the Cruze, and if you like shifting your own gears, the Honda's new 6-speed manual is one of the easiest clutch-and-gearbox combos out there. Having said that, though, the Civic's responsive CVT automatic does a fine job keeping the engine in the heart of its torque-rich power band.

The Civic is also the more rewarding car to drive. The hatchback's sharper steering tuning and revised suspension make it that much better than the regular Civic sedan, which was already the more involving and confidence-inspiring car to drive compared to the Cruze. That revised suspension is firmer, however, and together with the Sport trims' 18-inch wheels, you may prefer the Cruze's softer ride.

Now, we have to say most of this really speaks to how good the Civic is, as opposed to any problems with the Cruze. The Cruze is actually quite a pleasant car to drive, with a refinement many wouldn't expect from a compact Chevrolet. And although its steering is devoid of feedback, it can nevertheless zip through a series of quick turns with noteworthy poise.

2017 Honda Civic Hatchback2017 Chevrolet Cruze Hatch

Safety

Every Cruze hatchback can be equipped with the Driver Confidence I and II packages. Both include blind spot monitoring and rear-cross traffic alert systems, while II adds forward-collision warning and lane-departure warning and intervention.

All but the base Civic EX come with Honda's LaneWatch blind spot camera (though fancier, it's arguably less helpful than a blind spot monitoring system). Available on all trims is the Honda Sensing suite of forward-collision warning and auto-brake, lane-keeping assist, road-departure mitigation and adaptive cruise control.

The Civic hatchback received a perfect 5-star rating in every government crash category. The Cruze has not yet been rated by the government, but the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gave it the best possible Good rating in its moderate-overlap and side crash tests. The IIHS named the Civic sedan a Top Safety Pick after the model received the best possible ratings in all tests.

2017 Honda Civic Hatchback2017 Chevrolet Cruze Hatch

Interior and Cargo Space

Technically, the Chevrolet Cruze hatchback has more cargo volume than its sedan sibling, but the difference on paper is deceptive: Most of it comes above the back seat line, where you'd really only place bulky items. In actuality, the Cruze hatch's cargo area is a bit narrow and not as useful as you might expect from a body style that's supposed to improve versatility.

The Civic hatchback doesn't offer as much depth its sedan counterpart, but unlike the Cruze, it's still plenty wide and we found it could hold more and bigger suitcases. We also appreciate the Civic's novel retractable cargo cover, which is mounted on the side rather than against the seatback -- you don't have to remove it completely when folding down the seat.

The Civic also benefits from a clever center console design, featuring a deep bottle holder and a sliding cupholder -- all of which keep your beverages out of the shifter's way. There's also a tray big enough for a variety of smartphones and helpful method of wrangling USB wires. Now, the Cruze doesn't have the same interior storage space or versatility, but you can outfit it with a wireless smartphone holder/charger that eliminates the need for wires entirely.

Technology

The Cruze offers a choice of two touchscreen interfaces: a simpler 7-in one and an enhanced 8-in one. Both are considerably easier to use than the Civic's available touchscreen and feature more standard feature content. For instance, every Cruze comes standard with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and satellite radio, whereas only the upper EX, EX-L and Sport Touring Civic trim levels come with those features. The touchscreen included on those trims is also frustrating to use. The base system, which pairs buttons with a color screen, is at least user-friendly, though lacking in content.

Big points to the Cruze, then, which also comes standard with OnStar.

Value

The Cruze and Civic hatchbacks' simplified trim and engine lineups make the two a bit easier to compare. The Cruze may have the previously mentioned tech extras, but it also has a higher base price ($21,240 versus $19,700), less cargo space, less power and a slightly lower-quality cabin. The Civic Sport, complete with 18-in wheels, sportier styling, extra power and a leather-wrapped steering wheel is only $60 more than the base Cruze.

The Cruze Premier adds on an upgraded suspension, plus niceties like leather upholstery, for $23,945. Leather doesn't show up on the Civic until the $25,300 EX-L Navigation. And yet, a fully loaded Civic Sport Touring hatchback is $28,300, whereas a similarly loaded Cruze Premier with the sporty RS package is $29,465. Although you may be able to get a better deal on the Cruze, it's a bit hard to find an area where the Cruze is the better value

Autotrader's Advice

The 2017 Honda Civic Hatchback is more powerful, efficient and spacious, better to drive and has more available safety features, all while while being similarly priced. The Cruze is a nice enough hatchback, but it's quite simply outdone here.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2017 Honda Civic Hatchback vs. 2017 Chevrolet Cruze Hatchback: Which Is Better? - Autotrader