Testing Chevrolet, Hyundai and Toyota’s Cool Compacts
How do these three hatchbacks stack up?
By Cherise Threewitt, Contributor, Car-ED.com | June 2018
We recently had the chance to check out the 2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback XSE, 2018 Chevrolet Cruze Diesel Hatchback, and 2018 Hyundai Elantra GT Sport. These three hatchbacks were tested during the Midwest Automotive Media Association’s annual Spring Rally, which is based at Road America in Wisconsin. Each member of the media who attends the rally gets a day and a half to spend with a roster of nearly 100 vehicles, from affordable compact cars to luxury SUVs to race cars. We used the opportunity to test out and compare some of the new vehicles that we expect to be most meaningful to car-ED readers. All three of the vehicles mentioned here were approved for street use only and were tested on the winding country roads that surround the Road America facility.
2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback XSE
The Toyota Corolla Hatchback XSE was an early favorite thanks to its sporty appearance and eye-catching bright blue exterior, and it was the first of our drives for this comparison. A disclaimer inside the vehicle stated that this was a preproduction prototype, which means that when the vehicle is available at dealerships, some elements of the vehicle may have changed. The interior was quick to impress, with a stylish and modern-feeling two-tone design and a comfortable steering wheel. Though we had only a couple of minutes to play around with the infotainment system, it was easy to see and reach the screen. The driver’s seat was reasonably comfortable and supportive during our short trip.
Our initial impression of the Corolla Hatchback XSE is that it will make a very good vehicle for urban dwellers. It has strong acceleration from its 168-horsepower four-cylinder engine and strong braking, which are beneficial no matter what kind of driving it’s tasked with, but its handling and steering also shine. That comes in handy while navigating through parking lots and trying to slip into the last small spot on a busy street. Even the slightest bit of steering input from the driver corresponds to the car changing course accordingly. Also noteworthy: this car has one of the most reliable-seeming traffic sign recognition systems we’ve encountered.
The 2019 Toyota Corolla hatchback starts at $19,990, and the XSE trim level tested here starts at $22,990.
2018 Chevrolet Cruze Diesel Hatchback
The Chevrolet Cruze is a well-rounded, affordable compact car, but for 2018, Chevy made the unusual decision of rolling out a turbodiesel version of the Cruze hatchback. When we found out this vehicle would be able to test at the rally event, we had to see how it stacked up against other sporty small hatchbacks. In terms of look and feel, the turbodiesel Cruze has appeal. Exterior styling is understated, and inside, we found a mix of soft-touch and hard materials. Most interior materials look soft, but they’re actually hard, but the aesthetics are good and they lend a cozy, upscale feel. The seating is comfortable and the upholstery in our test car was a stylish two-tone black and brown with contrast stitching.
This Cruze gets a 1.6-liter turbodiesel engine rated for 137 horsepower. Our test car came with a nine-speed automatic transmission, though a six-speed manual is also available. The engine sounds great and provides peppy acceleration. Handling is also impressive, with tight, nimble steering that is perfect for city traffic.
Though the Chevy Cruze has a starting price of $16,975 for the sedan model, the hatchback models are available only in premium trim levels and cost significantly more. The Chevy Cruze turbodiesel hatchback starts at $25,520. We suspect it might be hard for the turbodiesel Cruze to attract an audience at this price point.
2018 Hyundai Elantra GT Sport
Hyundai has earned a reputation as a force to be reckoned with in the compact car class, though its cars sometimes look sportier than they actually feel. The Elantra GT hatchback, which has been redesigned for 2018, is an exception to this rule, particularly in top Sport trim. It’s a good-looking car with understated styling, a comfortable and spacious interior, and easy-to-use features.
The Elantra GT Sport features a 1.6-liter turbocharged engine that makes 201 horsepower, which is a considerable upgrade from the base Elantra GT. We found this powertrain to be a good match to move the little car. The Elantra GT Sport also features graceful handling. It’s easy and comfortable to drive, but willing to be pushed a little harder through corners if the urge should strike. The Elantra did feel a little rougher over bumps and railroad tracks than the Cruze and Corolla, however. Overall, the Elantra GT Sport represents a good value in this segment and seems worth the upgrade over the base Elantra.
The 2018 Hyundai Elantra GT starts at $19,350, and the Sport trim is a somewhat pricey upgrade that comes in at $23,250.
Of these three, the Chevrolet Cruze was the biggest surprise. Even though it has a lower horsepower rating than the Toyota Corolla XSE and Hyundai Elantra GT, the torque generated by the turbodiesel engine gives the little Cruze an energetic feeling. The three vehicles are closely matched in handling characteristics and all three feel fairly sporty. However, if value is the main consideration (which it often is for shoppers in this category), the Hyundai Elantra GT Sport is the clear winner. It costs only a little more than the Corolla XSE, yet provides comparable amenities and much more power.