Cruze in con­trol

Sure it looks the same, but Holden’s small model is now a whole other and bet­ter car

Herald Sun - Motoring - - First Drive - PAUL POT­TINGER CARS­GUIDE ED­I­TOR paul.pot­tinger@cars­guide.com.au

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.

VALUE

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.

TECH­NOL­OGY

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

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