Hatchback Showdown! New Chevy Cruze vs. Honda Civic, Mazda 3, and VW Golf

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From the April 2017 issue

“If you could have just one car . . . ?” You’re a car person, so non–car people, who, heaven bless ’em, are just trying to make party conversation, probably ask you this all the time. It’s an absurd question of course, because as every car dude knows, owning just one car is like owning just one sock. But it’s a fun mental exercise and relevant since many of us realistically can’t fit more than one car into our lives.

For this magazine, the ingredients for the One Car are light and tight handling, breezy but not fuel-ravenous power, an efficient interior package that converts quickly from commuter taxi to Home Depot hauler, a manual transmission, and an affordable price that leaves enough dough left over for another car. A convertible maybe, with oil leaks. If BMW would only start an assembly line building low-mileage used E36 wagons, we could end this exercise right here.

Absent that, we submit to you four excellent candidates for mono-auto households. Please note that while they are all hatchbacks, none are crossovers because a tall center of gravity and unnecessary weight do not fit our mission. To this test we mainly invited old friends. Two of our cars, the Mazda 3 and the Volkswagen Golf, in their current forms, have already distinguished themselves in past tests. The Honda Civic hatchback is new for 2017, though the platform, introduced last year, is familiar and much approved of in our office. The Chevy Cruze hatchback also rides on a known hardware set but sails in from Mexico (SAD!) as a newcomer intended mainly for overseas markets. We also asked for the new Subaru Impreza, but manual versions were delayed and unavailable at the time. They should be in stores now.

So how do the members of our quartet fit the template? Even the tallest car, the Cruze, at 57.7 inches, is a low flyer these days. The trim Honda scales at 2868 pounds, and the heaviest car, the VW, is just over 3000. Both are modest figures in this day and age. The most expensive, the fairly loaded Mazda 3 Touring 2.5, asks only $23,330, about a thousand more than the lesser-optioned Chevy and Honda.

The VW proved to be the unlikely racer, using its power and gearing to deliver a sub-seven-second 60-mph time. But all except the snail-slow Chevy were quick enough to merge with verve into a freeway rush. And with a range of 46 to 53 cubic feet of cargo room, all four hatchbacks had ample in­teri­or acreage, though with some key differences.

Just one car? you ask. Here is our somewhat windy answer.

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