Price: £16,845 plus £1,250 for six-speed automatic transmission.

Top speed: 130 mph

0-60 mph: 8.7 seconds

Consumption: 42.1 mpg

CO2 emissions: 177 g/km

Also worth considering: Kia cee'd, Hyundai i30, Vauxhall Astra

Chevrolet's Cruze is turning into a car that people might actually want to buy. It has always been good enough; it's just that it has so far been available only as a saloon, and that has inevitably kept it out of the mainstream in Europe, where hatchbacks are the norm for Golf-sized cars. But now a hatchback, first shown at this month's Paris Motor Show, is on the way, which should finally allow the Cruze to fulfil its potential.

There are good reasons why the Cruze was the way it was at the beginning. The Cruze is a sister car of the latest Vauxhall/Opel Astra – one of the reasons it does the basics well - and comes from General Motors' former Daewoo operations in Korea, a country that is rapidly becoming an important source of good but inexpensive cars. It's designed to be built and sold around the world, including in Chevrolet's traditional home, the USA, as well as emerging markets such as China, India and Russia, where saloons tend to be much more popular than hatches.

None of those countries are big on diesels either, although Chevrolet has that base covered already, with a two-litre engine available in 125 or 150 horsepower forms and with a manual gearbox or a six-speed automatic transmission. I tried the more powerful of these with the automatic, which provided a completely different driving experience to the last Cruze I drove, which had a 1.6-litre petrol engine. The 1.6 petrol was sweet enough but not very peppy, so manoeuvres such as accelerating in order to merge with motorway traffic required a certain amount of planning. Gearing in top was low, meaning that the engine was turning away busily even when cruising.

The 150 horsepower diesel, by contrast has ample torque and very high gearing, meaning strong acceleration and relaxed motorway driving, even with the automatic transmission, which is a good six-speeder. The engine itself is thoroughly modern in feel, quite smooth and free-revving, but the official fuel consumption and CO2 emissions figures are a bit behind those for the latest European diesels, which is consistent with the slightly disappointing “real world” mpg figures recorded by the Cruze's own on-board computer which were typically in the low- to mid-forties. That said, the official figures for the 125 horsepower diesel with manual transmission are rather better.

For the rest, the diesel Cruze is much the same as the petrol version, with good on-road behaviour, although a bit softer than the European norm, and a fairly pleasant and functional interior, albeit with lighter shades and apparently more basic trim materials than some of the European competition. Those characteristics are probably the result of the Cruze's “world car” character which needs to appeal to a very wide range of customers in many different countries.

As well as the forthcoming hatchback Cruze, Chevrolet will be introducing the Orlando people carrier which uses the same platform; both should make the company a much stronger contender in the Golf class.

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