Once upon a time, there weren’t all that many choices for U.S. drivers looking for a hatchback. Thankfully, however, times they are a changin’ and we’re getting more hot hatch options this side of the pond, including the Ford Focus RS, Hyundai Elantra GT and the new Honda Civic Type R.
Overall, hatchbacks are popular because they offer more cargo room, a sportier look, and it’s easier to load and unload cargo. They also offer better visibility.
Two models we’ve recently reviewed are the 2017 VW Golf R and the 2017 Chevrolet Cruze Hatchback. The Golf is generally considered the original hot hatch. It’s iconic styling and impressive handling make it a strong seller and the R is the hottest in demand hatch of the lineup. The Cruze Hatch is new for 2017. It’s based on Chevy’s top-selling sedan introduced in 2008.
Here’s our side by side comparison of these two decidedly different options in this edition of the Car Pro Showdown.
In terms of looks, the Golf R stands out with its unique sporty style. But the Cruze holds its own too.
The Cruze hatchback is stylish with curvy lines, taking design cues from its redesigned siblings the Malibu and Impala. Check out the large grille, wrap-around headlights, and 17-inch aluminum wheels. It comes in two trims: LT and Premier. The LT offers manual and automatic transmission options. Our Premier tester came standard with an automatic. Inside, we love the stitched leather, heated and power adjusting seats, and heated steering wheel.
Our seventh-generation Golf R tester impressed in a standout Lapiz Blue color with 19-inch wheels. Nice sporty touches include a rear spoiler, quad tip exhaust system, and special R grille. The inside continues the blue theme with cool blue accent gauges. We found the rest of the interior a bit dark, but nice. The cabin is much sportier than the Cruze with sport bucket seats and a flat-bottom steering wheel. The letter R also looks nice on the seat backs.
Under the Hood
If you’re all about engine choices, this could help you make your decision. Both the Golf R and the Cruze Hatch offer one engine each. It breaks down to the Cruze focusing on fuel-efficiency. While, unsurprisingly, the R goes the more powerful sporty route.
The Cruze Hatch currently comes with a 1.4-liter DOHC turbocharging four-cylinder. It gives you 153-horsepower with 177 pound-feet of torque. The powertrain features include Continuously Variable Valve Timing and front-wheel drive.
The top-of-the-line Golf R packs more of a punch. It comes with a 2.0-liter TSI engine. The engine pumps out 292-horsepower with 280 lb-ft of torque. But fuel economy pales in comparison to the Cruze. The Golf R rates 22 city and 31 highway mpg. The Cruze hatch offers 28 city mpg and 37 highway mpg. If the Golf’s design appeals to you. But the powerful not-as-fuel-efficient engine doesn’t check out the base Golf. It gets a slightly better 25 city and 36 highway mpg. Of course, the ultimate fuel saver is the e-Golf with a 124-mile range per charge.
One big thing to note: Chevy will offer a Cruze hatchback diesel for 2018. The Cruze Diesel sedan will come with a record-breaking 52 highway miles to the gallon, making it the best fuel economy for a non-hybrid or electric model in America.
Performance and Handling
The Golf R is more performance-focused. Meanwhile, the Cruze continues to take a more practical stance, but that doesn’t equal snooze.
The Cruze’s 1.4-liter gets the job done. We actually found it quite fun to drive, though it is a bit sluggish if a full-on hot hatch is what you’re looking for. It comes with stop/start that unfortunately can’t be disabled. Remember, though, it makes it up at the pump.
The R, on the other hand, brings the handling as expected. And by expected we mean it’s exceptional. It nails cornering with a non-compromising yet firm drive. VW’s Dynamic Chassis Contro adjusts to road conditions by rotating between four modes of suspension firmness.
VW brags the standard DSG six-speed automatic transmission is faster than manual. It uses Tiptronic technology and includes Sport mode. The R goes from 0-60 mph in 5 seconds. We also love the Golf’s Auto Hold feature. This allows you to take your foot off the break and put it in neutral at a complete stop. It’s great for commuting if you still want manual handling.
One of the main appeals of opting for a hatch instead of a sedan is the extra room. The Cruze Hatch excels in this area. It offers space for 15 carry-ons with the rear seats up and 33 carry-ons with them folded down. (The sedan version only comes with trunk space for 10 carry-on suitcases). The Hatch’s rear seats also do a 40/60 split thing for lots of cargo options.
The Golf barely beats this with its more square hindquarters. It offers room for 36 carryons. Its seats also do a 40/60 split folding. The second-row seat of the Golf technically offers seats for three. However, by our testing, we’d say it seats two adults.
Both models come with plenty of standard features. The Golf R, with a higher price point, comes with more. But the Cruze Hatch shines here, too.
The Cruze comes standard with the Chevy MyLink system. This offers Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Bluetooth connectivity. The big standard features really making the Cruze stand apart is Chevy’s OnStar 4G LTE and Teen Driver system. It allows you to set a speed limit on your kids. It also automatically turns off the radio until everyone buckles up. It even generates a report card of driving habits.
Meanwhile, the R comes fully loaded. Standard features include heated seats, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, front collision warning with emergency braking, keyless entry, and push-button start. Connectivity wise, it comes with App-Connect and Car-Net. App-Connect offers Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.
Add-On Equipment Packages
The Chevy Cruze hatch offers more add-on packages and more flexible pricing because of it. However, keeping things simple, the R comes with more standard equipment.
Our Cruze hatchback tester came fully loaded. We love the Sun and Sound Package and its sunroof, nav system, and Bose stereo. The RS package gives it more of a hot hatch feel with 18-inch wheels and a spoiler. The Cruze’s Enhanced Convenience package adds features not even on the Golf, like wireless phone charging and heating rear seats. The Cruze also offers similar safety features like the ones that come standard on the R with a Driver Confidence package. It includes automatic high beams, rear park assist, forward collision alert, rear cross-traffic alert, lane keep assist, and blind spot monitoring.
The Golf beefs up its safety features with a Driver Assist package. It adds on front and rear parking sensors, lane departure warning, and high-beam assist.
Now for where things really narrow it down for you. There’s a substantial $10,000 price difference between the R and the Cruze Hatch we tested. Our fully loaded Cruze Hatch stickers at just under $30 grand. Meanwhile, the R comes in at just over $40 grand. Even without the extra packaging, the R still starts at $38,480. The Cruze Hatch starts at $23,945. Both of those prices are for manual transmission.
Our loaded test models cost $29,465 for the Cruze and $40,195 for the R.
Best Overall Value
When it ultimately comes down to it, these two models capture just how diverse the hatchback class is. If you’re looking for a top-of-the-line sporty hot hatch, go for the R. But if an overall good value hatch with lots of diverse options and choices appeals to you, go for the Cruze.
Also note: Teen Driver makes the Cruze Hatch the obvious pick if you are a parent and think that you might be sharing this car with a kid either now or in the near future. Plus we really don’t recommend giving a teen the nearly 300-horsepower of the R.