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Car reviews - Holden - Cruze - hatch

Our Opinion

We like
Roomy cabin, high level of standard features, strong 1.4-litre turbo engine, refinement, no-cost full-size spare option
Room for improvement
1.8-litre petrol needs more power, diesel is loud at idle and low speeds, premium Watts Link suspension should be standard

9 Nov 2011

THE second variant of Holden’s small globally developed Cruze that is built in several locations around the world, including Adelaide, finally gives Australians another chance of owning a locally made hatchback after Toyota, Ford and Holden all stopped building them by the end of the 1990s.

Holden says its own research shows Cruze customers really do value that it is made in Australia.

However, the Cruze sedan introduced in mid-2009 was initially shipped straight from Seoul and sold strongly, and Holden sells plenty of South Korean vehicles (Captiva, Barina and Barina Spark) and the Thai-made Colorado. In this writer’s experience, many non-car people assume that all, if not most, Holden cars are made in Australia.

So Holden will use the Cruze’s ‘Australian-ness’ as a unique selling point in a fully-imported class, which might work on patriotic folk, but for the most part the Cruze will have to fight on merit.

The sedan is already doing extremely well and the hatch is more practical, so it should be a raging success.

Is it the best in its class? From first impressions, the answer is no. But it is good enough to be competitive in many areas that resonate with customers, especially those with value in mind.

The Cruze was developed in South Korea as a sedan only, with the hatch being developed later by the Melbourne-based Holden design team. It was not an easy task, but the team did an excellent job to create a roomy cabin and good useable cargo area.

From a visual perspective, the hatch looks great from the back, with smooth flowing lines.

It appears a little odd from the side, partly because we’re familiar with the sedan and partly because the front of the car has a long sedan-like nose and the rear has a short hatch that doesn’t match up convincingly.

The hatch opens easily with extremely little effort, the grab handle is well designed and the luggage space is considerable, even with a raised floor sitting on top of an optional (at no extra cost) full-size spare wheel.

Engineers have come up with some wet storage areas around the spare wheel (below the floor) for sodden wetsuits or muddy shoes, which will be handy for many.

There is heaps of room in the cabin and the rear seat passengers need not worry about being cramped. The headroom is particularly impressive, more than in the sedan, and there’s ample knee room, too.

Getting in and out is particularly easy, so the hatch wins points on practicality.

The rest of the interior is useable, but not class-leading as base models of rivals like the Mazda3 and Ford Focus give a better impression thanks to more modern designs and better plastic finishes. The Cruze plastics fit well, but are rock hard.

The leather ‘appointed’ seats (which means there is some leather, but not much) are stylish, but I think the cloth seats in the base 1.4-litre car look and feel better. You also tend to slide around a bit on the ‘leather’ seats.

In terms of the driving experience, Holden offers up a mixed bag, with different cars possessing different characteristics thanks to major variations in steering assistance and the rear suspension.

None of the combinations beat the Golf, Focus or Mazda3 for handling, but the sportiest Cruze, the 1.4 turbo, is still fun to drive in the twisty stuff – the electric steering assistance is a little too light, but it was generally competent.

The 1.4 gets the more advanced Watts Link rear suspension, which better soaked up mid-corner bumps and generally felt more agile and sporty.

It would be good is this suspension system was used on the other Cruze models, which get a cheaper torsion beam set-up that is not as sharp.

As for the engines, we were not exposed to the 1.8-litre petrol during the national launch in Adelaide, but previous experience suggests it is best avoided if you can afford the entirely reasonably cost of $1250 to step up to the 1.4-litre turbo.

The 1.8 is an ageing engine that really needs some additional power and torque, though Holden is not alone in offering a weak entry-level engine as the 1.6-litre Focus range-starter is also underwhelming.

The 1.4 turbo is far better, though you still need to keep it working relatively high in the rev range and on boost let the revs drop and it bogs down dramatically.

There is some turbo lag with the 2.0-litre diesel, but it really gets going. In fact, the pull is quite dramatic and the torque makes it the model of choice for carting loads or lugging a trailer.

However, the diesel is not very refined and is intrusively loud at low speeds and idle.

Generally speaking, and with the exception of the diesel’s clatter, the Cruze is one of the quietest cars in its class.

The six-speed manual gearboxes in the diesel and 1.4 petrol worked well and the auto did a reasonable job in the diesel but is not the smoothest or sharpest auto around.

When it comes to value for money, the Cruze hatch (as is the case with the sedan) does well and you get plenty of gear for the price.

The standard safety gear is reassuring and features like cruise control and Bluetooth phone connectivity will be appreciated by many customers.

The Cruze doesn’t advance the small hatch in the areas of handling and performance, but gets the thumbs-up when it comes to practicality, comfort and value.

It should make it onto the shortlist for customers hunting an affordable small hatchback and the fact it is made in Australia can’t hurt its cause.

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