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First drive: Holden's Cruze is hot to tot
Tiny-tot Cruze is the thin end of the off-road wedge for Holden
5 Jun 2002
AFTER years of gnashing its teeth as others made money, Holden will finally enter the compact four-wheel drive market on July 1, albeit at the least popular end of the segment.
Its weapon is the Cruze, a re-badged, re-styled, re-engineered and re-named Suzuki Ignis small car with a viscous-coupled on-demand four-wheel drive system.
The five-seat, five-door hatchback will take on the Daihatsu Terios and Suzuki Jimny at the tiny-tot end of the 4WD market, but is too small to pose any serious threat to the likes of the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4 and Subaru Forester.
The Cruze represents very much the thin end of the wedge for Australia's number one car seller, which promises a whole family of four-wheel drive vehicles over the next 18 months, including derivatives of the Commodore-based Cross8 revealed at the Melbourne motor show in March.
Despite the paucity of sales this low in the 4WD market, Holden has pitched the Cruze in with a highly competitive pricing and equipment level, and forecast 3400 sales in its first full year on sale in 2003.
Compare that to Terios, which achieved 1863 sales in 2001 and the Jimny's mere 874 buyers last year.
But Holden is also widening its aim, looking to put a dent in the sales of light cars like the Ford Ka, Toyota Echo, Daihatsu YRV and its donor sibling, the Ignis.
To do that, Holden is offering a single model Cruze, powered by a 1.5-litre, four-cylinder, DOHC 16-valve engine and priced at $19,990 when fitted with a five-speed manual transmission, or $21,990 with the optional four-speed automatic.
It took a lot of work to achieve that pricing. Initially scheduled for a March launch, Cruze was delayed until mid-year as Holden and Suzuki haggled over transfer pricing.
The fact that Cruze's 180mm ride height guaranteed it the cheaper commercial vehicle 5 per cent import tariff would have helped with this issue.
This pricing also emphasises the yawning gap in Holden's 4WD line-up. From here, the next step to stay in a Holden is the medium-sized Frontera wagon at $36,840.
Standard equipment on the Cruze includes air-conditioning, alloy wheels, fog lights, a full bodykit, four-speaker CD audio system, dual airbags, power windows, central locking, a cargo cover and roof rails.
Optional for $700 is ABS with EBD for the disc/drum brake set-up, and metallic paint for $240.
By comparison, the Terios is sold as a DX and SX, with prices running from $18,790 to $22,850. The DX has dual airbags, air-conditioning and a CD player, but only the SX can boast central locking, power front windows, roof rails and alloy wheels.
The Jimny is the cheapest, with the base model manual-only JX coming in at $17,990. While spartan, it has air-conditioning, a CD player and dual airbags as luxury features. The JLX adds power steering, power windows, remote central locking and roof rails. It retails for $19,990, with an extra $1500 for the automatic.
The Suzuki has a clear edge in specifications over both its rivals by being the only one with a set of low range gears for serious off-road work.
But both the Daihatsu and Suzuki have only 1.3-litre engines, which give up significant power and torque ground to the Holden.
The Fishermens Bend spin doctors are also working hard to emphasise the Cruze is much more than a re-badged Suzuki.
Holden Design created the original show car, called the YGM1, for the Tokyo motor show back in 1999, and the team at Asia Pacific Engineering has worked with both General Motors and Suzuki to bring the car to fruition. Incidentally, it is sold as the Chevrolet Cruze in Japan.
Holden conducted an intensive chassis development program. This involved developing a specific 15-inch wheel and tyre package, widening the track, damper tuning, spring selection, ride height modifications of the front MacPherson and beam-type rear suspension, and recalibration of the steering system.
DRIVE IMPRESSIONS:THE aplomb with which Cruze tackled a testing, 160km combination of bitumen and gravel for this week's Australian launch is proof Holden's first light off-roader is more than just a rebodied four-wheel drive Ignis.
Indeed, it seems the raft of changes specified by Holden beneath its own bodyshell has resulted in vastly improved chassis dynamics and interior ergonomics.
Behind the wheel, Cruze offers familiarly tall seating and good visibility, but without the truck-like driving position enforced by some of its mini people-mover rivals - despite the fact its steering wheel is adjustable for height only. Speaking of which, Holden also fiddled with the electric power-assistance of Cruze's steering, which has no variable function but feels natural enough.
It is a much nicer place to be than in the Ignis, too, with brushed alloy-look touches on the centre console and instruments breaking up the otherwise dark interior, and durable looking woven seat upholstery with colour-coded inserts matched to the doors and headrests.
A high level of standard equipment includes air-conditioning, power windows and mirrors, CD player, fog lights and 15-inch alloys and dual airbags - but not ABS.
Holden also moved the rear seat back significantly to increase rear legroom to acceptable levels at the expense of rear luggage space, which is now limited to a single large suitcase. The extra legroom is welcome, but Holden remains hampered by Suzuki's 50/50 split-folding rear seatback, which does not tumble fold or allow the fitting of a centre rear head restraint nor three-point seatbelt.
A modicum of A-pillar wind noise from the driver's side is the only other hint of Cruze's sub-$20,000 pricetag, with Holden's well sorted ride/handling balance reminiscent of some far more expensive vehicles.
Indeed, the extensive lengths to which Holden has tweaked Cruze's suspension appears to have paid big dividends. An exclusive 15-inch alloy wheel and tyre package on a 20mm-wider track at both ends has resulted in a much greater footprint and superior road holding.
But the biggest surprise is the tiny Holden's composure over even the most challenging road surfaces. Holden fitted specific springs, dampers and anti-roll bars at both ends, and the result is impressive levels of compliance during suspension compression, as well as a high level of body control during rebound.
The trade-off is a degree of bodyroll upon turn-in and the ultra-short wheelbase can produce some jiggly fore/aft movement on certain surfaces. But Holden admits compliance was one of its major goals in its suspension revisions and Cruze rides and handles far better than both the car upon which it is based and most of its rivals.
Of course, another of the Japanese-built Cruze's trumpcards is its 1.5-litre engine, which necessitated a 30mm front-end extension over the YGM1 show car. It allows Cruze to better all of its light segment rivals bar Echo on a power-to-weight basis, yet still runs out of puff up hills in upper gears, specially in four-speed auto guise.
So while performance is adequate rather than startling, the absence of torque steer is also a factor in the clever but part-time all-wheel drivetrain beneath Cruze. Like CR-V, Cruze is essentially a front-wheel drive in normal conditions, channelling drive to the rear wheels only when traction is lost up front.
The difference is Cruze employs a clever viscous centre coupling to send torque rearwards. Combined with Suzuki's successful compact off-road heritage, the result is a drivetrain that works very well off-road - offering rewarding levels of rearward torque bias when pushed - with the advantage of slightly better on-road grip in low friction situations.
But this is no hard-core off-roader. Like CR-V owners, we suspect many potential Cruze buyers will be drawn by the off-road styling and high level of standard specification in a practical, Holden sold and serviced compact crossover wagon.
To them, the efficient part-time all-wheel powertrain and greatly improved ride/handling package is simply a bonus.
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