The new Aussie-built Holden Cruze has been transformed...
Stone the crows Else, Holden’s commitment to smaller, fuel efficient cars hasn’t just been lip service. They are now assembling the Holden Cruze in house, and at the same production facility the cornerstone Commodore product is built.
That’s great news. Across the ditch there has been a little unfair criticism about the level of actual locally-sourced parts (the main body panels are stamped in Australia and then mated to the largely imported selection of parts). That has to be expected really, but the fact is the Adelaide plant is now running at near capacity; that – and healthy sales – is the name of the game. As important as it is, even the revolution in Holden’s assembly strategy isn’t the big deal for me. I see the big story being the car itself.
I suspect a lot of media will glaze over the level of improvement evident in this Aussie-built Cruze, particularly those who raved about the previous Korean-sourced version. That’s the problem of being an industry kiss-arse: use up all the superlatives on something that doesn’t deserve it and it waters down any praise for future improvements. Fortunately, I don’t have that problem. I hated the outgoing model.
While cool to look at, the 2009 Cruze remained one of the least exciting drives of that year for me – which is exactly what I reported at the time.
Holden engineers also saw significant room for improvement and went about finessing the suspension and engine offerings to suit. The result has genuinely transformed the car in most models, and rather than tolerate the stereotypical Korean influences, you can truly revel in what feels more like a well-sorted European.
This is most applicable in the 1.4-litre intelligent turbo induction (iTi) variations, available pleasingly at both the affordable and higher spec ends of the range.
There’s a good amount of interior space and comfort in the Cruze, which impresses at the $29,000 entry point (1.4 iTi starts at $31,000) with six airbags, 5-star crash safety and stability control, steering-wheel mounted audio and cruise controls, MP3 compatible audio with usb port and a multi info display. There’s plenty of plastic on display, but you can live with it at this money.
Stepping up through the range you pick up some big ticket items, from leather, heated seats and parking assistance (CDX), to an excellent satellite navigation and 7” inch screen, keyless start and premium audio that stores 10gb of music on an integrated hard drive (SRI-V), and get this: the top end audio package also allows you to record 30 minutes of radio, so you can leave the morning show when you reach work and pick it up again on the way home.
The 1.8-litre petrol and 2.0-litre diesel remain but with much improved output and response, but the pick of the bunch is easily the 1.4 turbo. Sourced from Austria, the 1.4-litre follows similar trends out of Europe for high output, small capacity turbo engines. Volkswagen’s potent TFSI receives all the accolades, but the General Motors unit is considerably smoother at idle and low rpm, which is pretty important for the urban run, which the car handles well.
The miniscule turbo mill develops 103kW of power, and the 200Nm of torque delivers a rewarding surge with a stab of the go pedal. I reckon its best mated to the relaxed throw, well-ratio’d six-speed manual, I usually do, but the general consensus won’t be short-shifted with the six-speed auto which is destined to be a volume seller. Holden Australia has calibrated the drivetrain well for antipodean conditions, and the auto returns a strong performance and economy option.
The 1.4 engine and the new Watts link rear end have been pilfered from the latest Astra out of Europe. The Astra may yet return as a premium product under GM’s ‘premium brand’s’ umbrella, but it’ll be a hard sell given the Cruze’s new-found road manners. The ride is sympathetic, yet the turn in is sharper and grip levels mid corner are among the best in the class.
So, an Aussie-built small car that – with a real character injection – is finally pretty spectacular. I might be the only one to think it, but this represents a real turn around.
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