By Nitish S. Rele,

Some years ago, we had test driven the compact Cruze sedan and it had left a lasting impression on us. If you recall, it’s the same car that then replaced the Cobalt. Now, Chevrolet has produced an all-new Cruze hatchback, which we must point out is a surprisingly splendid, lively and fun-to-drive car offering superb handling and steering feel.

Our hatchback came in the Premier RS trim with a 1.4-liter turbocharged inline-4 engine putting out 153 horsepower @ 5600 rpm and 177 pounds-feet of torque @ 4000 rpm. Getting power to the ground is a six-speed automatic transmission. Suspension is handled by an independent front MacPerson strut and a rear Z-link torsion beam, which isolate occupants from rough surfaces. Gas/diesel savings are enhanced by a rack-mounted electric power steering that doesn’t require hoses or pumps.

With noticeable wraparound headlights housings sweeping into the fenders and the sculpted hood, and the centered familiar bow tie, the Cruze stands out in a crowd. And props to Chevy for its interior packaging, especially the cool-looking ice-blue illuminated analog and tachometer instrument cluster. With the 60/40 rear seat folded, 47.2 cubic feet of space opens up, which is substantial for a compact. Standard cabin amenities include a/c, leather tilt/telescopic steering wheel, power door locks and windows, trip computer, remote keyless entry and vehicle start, eight-way power driver seat, 7-inch touchscreen and a front center console. Major options are navigation with power moon roof, blind-spot monitor, and rear-park and lane-keep assist. The RS package ($995) will get you a rear spoiler, front fog lamps, body kit and RS insignia in grille.

That safety is paramount in the Cruze is evident in standard dual front and side airbags, front knee airbags, side curtain for both rows, stability and traction control, antilock brakes, collapsible pedal system, rear camera, three-point safety belts for all positions, tire pressure monitor and daytime running lights.

If in the market for an affordable compact ride that comes with several bells and whistles, and more, this hatchback should get a serious look. With generous midsize interior for a compact hatch price (base priced at $23,945), the Cruze is a hands-down winner.

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