Cruze in control
Sure it looks the same, but Holden’s small model is now a whole other and better car
AMID what promised to be a routine and unremarkable midlife upgrade, Holden’s Cruze finds itself with the weight of a nation on its slender shoulders — or at least a nation’s auto manufacturing industry.
As Carsguide drove the updated versions through Tasmania on Monday and Tuesday, it became known that Holden had its worst month in seven years. For the first time, three Japanese brands forced it off the podium, three whose small cars are the strongest competitors for the only one made in Australia.
Cruze, still the best-selling locally produced car, is the only
riposte to the Mazda3, Toyota’s Corolla and Nissan’s reinvented and resurgent Pulsar. Small cars such as these dominate the top 10 sellers.
With tens of millions of our dollars underwriting it and public sentiment never more indifferent to Strayan made, the very validity of carmaking in this part of the planet focuses unblinkingly this week on the solid, honest little Cruze.
This time last year the Cruze didn’t make Carsguide’s comparison test of the top four small cars. If ever there was a moment to find form, it’s now.
The good news for buyers in this madly competitive market segment (try 252,000 sales last year) is at least one of the variants strikes a rich vein of form, all are markedly improved and all are priced to widen eyes.
Mind you don’t slip in the blood. The Cruze’s sticker has been sliced to the very marrow.
The entry 1.8 Equipe starts at $500 less than the Corolla at a new low of $19,490 with a fresh auto transmission (as has the rest of the range) adding $2200. Standard are 17-inch alloys, rear parking assist and MyLink multi media system with Pandora dual keyed via 7-inch touchscreen.
The other Equipes are automatics and come with a choice of the 1.8 petrol engine, 1.4 turbo petrol or the 2.0-litre turbo diesel. The auto only CDX spec level adds leather and keyless ignition at $24,190 for the 1.8 and $28,190 for the diesel.
Then it gets interesting as the models with the Opel- sourced 1.6 turbo petrol four kick in at only (you’ll see why we say ‘‘ only’’) $22,490 for the SRi manual with $2200 more for the adroit new Gen II auto.
This is the sweet spot of the range, with much of the fruit mentioned above plus a belting power plant. From $26,490 the SRi-V adds CDX extras and 18-inch alloys.
A bum note is sounded by the absence of sat-nav, a fixture on the previous SRi-V. A new system, being developed in conjunction with the VF Commodore, won’t be online till mid-year, so you wait to buy or miss out.
Still it’s generally a case of more stuff for less dough— up to $4k less in some cases. A Golf TSI comparably equipped to an SRi-V specification could scarcely be got on road for less than $40K. And it’s not fanciful to compare the two.
Not so much a mid-life facelift (the exterior look is all but the same as 2011 vintage) as a heart transplant. Holden’s engineers were given two years and a clean slate to redevelop this well-meaning but generally mediocre car. What a job they’ve made of it.
The highlight is that new and exceptionally smart auto transmission (with manual sport shift on the cars with the 1.6). Even the previously appalling 1.8 has benefited via the sharpened gearbox and massive engineering effort. Cars under the SRi run a basic rear suspension and are tuned for comfort, but in a way that transcends the old sluggard.
The SRi and above are essentially different cars, not hot hatches (or, more commonly, sedans) but smart, responsive and bloody clever devices that most obviously benefit in all aspects— transmission, suspension, damping— by the expertise of Holden’s engineering team. In addition to a more sophisticated Watts Link
No pressure: The very validity of carmaking in this part of the planet focuses unblinkingly this week on the solid, honest little Cruze
Value: The Cruze’s sticker has been sliced to the very marrow