The Chevrolet Cruze has been described as the most important model for General Motors since the company’s bankruptcy in 2009. Built in 11 factories around the world, this VW Golf-sized family car has, since 2008, been delivering growth for GM’s global ‘value’ brand. More than half a million have been sold in a little over three years.

So it might seem odd that the Cruze has yet to make a significant dent in the European C-segment. It’s actually a stark reminder that other territories – South America, China, Russia and India – are now much bigger priorities than the EU for one of the world’s true car-making giants.

Chevrolet’s big European push seems like it is beginning to gather momentum. The impressive new Aveo supermini is on sale and the Cruze has finally been made available in the flavour most palatable to European tastes – as a five-door hatchback, powered by a compact and economical turbodiesel.The estate is expected to take around 12 per cent of sales.

It certainly has the potential to suit tight budgets. The well equipped base model comes in at a keen price, while the top-of-the-range version remains shy of an entry-level Ford Mondeo.

Engine choices are nowhere near as wide as that from Ford: you’ve only got 1.6 or 1.8-litre petrols and 1.7 and 2.0-litre diesel to choose from in S, LS , LT  and LTZ trim levels (not every trim is available with every engine, though).

Buyers have the choice of a five-door hatchback, four-door saloon or five-door estate - with the former taking the vast majority of sales.

 

Top 5 Family hatches

  • More than 29 million Golfs have been sold since 1974

    Volkswagen Golf

    1
  • A big seller is the 113bhp 1.6-litre diesel in Zetec trim.

    Ford Focus

    2
  • Seat Leon SC
    Seat says that much of the inspiration for the SC comes from its IBE concept

    Seat Leon SC

    3
  • Mazda 3
    The SkyActiv platform used in the 3 features more high and ultra-high-strength steel, offering greater strength and less weight

    Mazda 3

    4
  • Peugeot 308
    The 308 marks the first time a carry-over name has been applied to an all-new Peugeot

    Peugeot 308

    5

First drives

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

  • First Drive
    3 March 2015
    Sharper handling, more refined and better-looking. Still a bit rough around the edges, mind, but now good enough to be a class contender
  • Car review
    27 February 2015
    The second pure Mercedes-AMG model is a triumph of engineering and design, and should have rivals from Porsche and Audi worried
  • First Drive
    27 February 2015
    Dual motors and a power hike give Tesla's electric family car supercar acceleration - and the rest of the package is as strong as ever
  • Car review
    26 February 2015
    Flagship performance C-Class is more than ever a true rival for BMW's M3, and impresses with both its breadth of ability and its practicality
  • First Drive
    26 February 2015
    The new Renault Megane GT 220 is essentially a toned-down version of the hallowed Renaultsport 275, but does it have the required DNA?