Car reviews - Holden - Cruze - range
Sharp new pricing, class-leading infotainment, bargain 1.6 turbo variant, tuned auto improves 1.8 engine performance, better Bridgestone tyres, spacious interior
Room for improvement
Cheap cabin plastics, no cosmetic updates, base model’s rear suspension still unsophisticated, no sat-nav at launch, 1.8 engine still off the pace, wind noise
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7 Mar 2013
ALMOST a quarter of all new vehicles sold in Australia belong to the small-car segment of which the Holden Cruze is a member, so car brands had better make damned sure they have a competitive offering if they want to make a dent on the sales charts.
Since its ‘localisation’ in 2011, the Cruze has become the default segment choice for patriots, but its dynamic shortcomings, cheap cabin details and above-average price have seen it fall short of the all-conquering Mazda3.
Now, Holden has sought to rectify these negatives with a mid-life upgrade. Yes, it looks just the same as before, but inside the cabin and under the skin, things have come quite a way forward.
The first car we drove – and our companion for more than half of the total launch – was the new, more potent SRi-V sedan (also available as a hatch) in a lairy new orange paint colour called Fantale.
A disproportionate number of small cars sold here are performance variants, and finally Holden has an offering that can broaden the Cruze’s base. With 132kW and 230Nm, the turbo is warm rather than hot, but on paper edges out the sprightly Mazda3 SP25.
The Hungarian-sourced engine is the same as that used in the Opel Astra, but Holden has tweaked the pedal mapping to get more instant response than the German. If we were Opel, we’d be giving the team at Fisherman’s Bend a buzz and asking for the secret.
The engine falls short of sparkling, but thanks to the turbo it gains enough zip to keep things interesting – at least for a car that comes in at less than $23,000. The six-speed manual is the pick. The six-speed auto has a nice sport mode that kicks down mid-corner, but the lack of steering wheel-mounted paddles culls some enjoyment.
Holden claims fuel use of 7.9 litres per 100km for the auto and 7.4L/100km for the manual – we got mid-8.0s at best – still on par with the SP25.
Continuing as before is the Watts link rear suspension, which is notably more sorted and less bouncy than the torsion beam set-up used on all other engine variants, but Holden has added firmer (but still forgiving) suspension tuning and a set of Bridgestone Potenzas that – pardon the pun – run rings around the old Kumhos.
Even on the larger 18-inch alloys used on the SRi-V – big wheels for this segment – ride was still acceptable, if on the firm side.
Road noise is reduced to our ears, but the A-pillars still dish up a lot of wind noise, hurting refinement.
By adding a thicker twist beam and lowering the suspension, Holden reckons it has improved balance and reduced roll, and we’d be inclined to agree. The car felt especially in its element on faster, flowing chicanes, where it was admirably nimble and even engaging.
The electric power steering is not the last word in feel-and-feedback, but a quickened rack makes up for it. The marginally thirstier hydraulic system continues in the 1.8 petrol and 2.0 diesel versions.
There is less to report on the carry-over 2.0-litre diesel (still quite fast, a bit rough and plenty frugal) and the now base model-only 1.4 turbo engine (still smooth and refined).
The entry 1.8 petrol remains the weak spot (tdown in no small part to it having to lug about a hefty 1400kg of car), although some welcome transmission tweaks make it more bearable.
Holden has re-programmed the six-speed auto to hold onto gears for longer, rather than hunt about in the name of economy and on the back of a torque black hole. We even tackled a hill climb, which we would never have dared do before. We’d still opt out, though.
The cabin remains a similar proposition the old model, with the notable exception of the new standard seven-inch touschscreen on all variants. No rival can match that.
Holden also offers Pandora and Stitcher internet streaming via an owner’s smartphone, as well as the gamut of connectivity options. The screen itself is clear and responsive, without lag.
As ever, the instruments are well laid-out and ergonomic, with plenty of steering wheel and seat adjustment, but the hard dash plastics and the occasional rattle. Holden has also replaced the nasty old starter button on CDX and SRi variants with a better-integrated round one.
Always one of the bigger ‘small’ cars – it is nearly as large as a Skoda Octavia – the Cruze remains spacious in the rear for both head and knees, although the seats are flat and there are no rear vents.
So, what do we reckon about Australia’s only locally made small car now it’s had an upgrade? Well, thanks to some incredibly sharp pricing, more features and a welcome performance variant, it’s a much better proposition than before.
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