by Brad Leach - 17/05/11
First penned in Germany, made in Korea, now refined in Melbourne, made in Adelaide and powered by engines from Korea and Austria, the Holden Cruze is proof positive of General Motors global strength.
Improvements in the first locally-built Holden Cruze – the JH model – stretch across the board, way beyond the ‘minor facelift’ classification (although that applies to its minor appearance changes).
And while the superb Opel-sourced, turbocharged 1.4-litre petrol engine gets star billing, engineering upgrades and Holden’s hallmark manufacturing quality mean the Series II Holden Cruze lives up to industry expectations for the first Australian-made small car for over a decade.
Car Showroom has spent three weeks back-to-back in the latest Series II Holden Cruze – two CD grades (1.8-litre petrol, manual and 1.4-litre turbo automatic) and a CDX powered by GM’s latest 2.0-litre turbo-diesel.
Our Holden Cruze 1.8-litre was the entry-level model (priced at $20,990) and drove through a five-speed manual transmission while the CDX diesel used a six-speed manual and was priced at $28,490. The CD 1.4-litre turbo ran a six-speed automatic and was stickered at $24,440.
Over the Holden Cruze CD, CDX models gain 17-inch alloy wheels, fog lights, leather seats, steering wheel and gear lever plus rear park assist and some extra chrome outside.
Range-toppers for the Holden Cruze lineup are the SRi and sporty SRi-V models.
While Cruze is classed as a ‘small’ car, dimensions have become blurred over time and if you parked the current Cruze next to an early Commodore or a Camira you would be surprised how ‘small’ has actually grown.
No doubt about it, that new 1.4-litre turbocharged engine, sourced from Opel in Austria is a beauty, however overall we must deduct half a point from the Cruze for the 1.8-litre petrol and 2.0-litre turbo-diesel.
While the 1.8 is impressively economical at 7.0l/100kms (five-speed manual as tested), and thanks to Holden’s engineering inputs is now much more lively in standing starts and overtaking, we reckon the it still leaves the Cruze lagging in comparison to say Ford’s current Focus or the Mazda3 (admittedly both 2.0-litre powerplants). Of course the turbo 1.4-litre is a completely different scenario.
And while we certainly liked the performance of Holden’s 120kW/360Nm turbo-diesel (virtually a match for Volkswagen’s excellent GTD), it doesn’t quite match Volkswagen’s quietness. The new generation model is significantly improved, but remains just a bit below the segment’s high-markers for refinement.
However that’s a minor quibble and overall, at $28,490 as tested, the Holden Cruze CDX manual is well-equipped, sharply priced and would definitely be on our shopping list for small diesel-powered sedans.
But for the Series II Holden Cruze lineup, the turbocharged 1.4 iTi engine is a shining star. Sourced from Opel’s Aspern, Austria plant, this high-tech powerplant delivers 103kW of power at 4,900rpm and peak torque of 200Nm from 1850rpm, but can still return fuel economy as low as 6.4l/100kms (6.9l/100kms for the automatic version we tested).
Matched to the six-speed automatic transmission, our 1.4-litre turbo Cruze CD was fast off the line with hearty acceleration throughout the engine range. Combined with the extra refinement delivered courtesy of Holden’s engineering expertise, this is the sort of Cruze we had been waiting for.
There’s a lot to like inside the latest Holden Cruze. In fact the Series I Cruze, made in Korea was headlined by its nicely styled, well appointed and spacious interior, so it’s no surprise Holden has not gone overboard with significant changes in the locally-produced Series II range.
Compared to some rivals, Holden Cruze scores big points thanks to the nice quality look/feel of the interior trim materials and plastics.
The leather in Holden Cruze CDX adds a luxury touch, but all models deliver nicely sculptured and supportive front seats with height adjustment for the driver and rake/reach adjustment for the sporty three-spoke steering wheel delivering a comfortable driving position.
We liked the layout of the three-gauge instrument binnacle and the clear, easy to read graphics. And the brushed aluminium look for the center console added a modern touch.
Audio in our test cars was a six-speaker system with in-dash CD plus compatibility for iPod, MP3 and USB flash drive.
Rear seat accommodation was on par with others in this segment and the 445-litre boot passed our golf club test. The rear seat split folds 60/40 for extra cargo versatility.
Technically a facelift, Holden Cruze Series II models are identified by the more modern Holden style front grille, taillights and new wheels.
CD models run 16-inch wheels while the CDX gains good-looking 17-inch alloys.
Since it first appeared the Holden Cruze has won many fans for its looks – conservative yet contemporary with modern clear-glass headlights and nicely integrated indicators. We continue to like the curved roofline and creased waistline which give the Holden Cruze an upmarket look that’s just a bit more sophisticated than some rival small sedans.
Holden Cruze Series II models fitted with the turbo 1.4-litre petrol engine score a Watts link rear suspension and electric power steering – the improvement in driving dynamics is demonstrable and worth the extra coin if you can stretch.
The engineering team at Holden has worked hard with extensive extra sound deadening and suspension isolation for the Holden Cruze Series II and the results are immediately obvious with enhanced refinement on all road surfaces.
Over our high speed mountain roads test loop, not surprisingly the turbo 1.4 was the winner thanks to that watts link rear end which felt flatter and more connected. Not that the other Holden Cruzes we tested languished – again attention to detail from Holden’s engineering department has delivered the hallmark Holden driving dynamics which are tailor-made for Australian roads.
Sure the 1.8-litre petrol didn’t match the turbo 1.4 for punch out of corners or when overtaking but again it’s much improved over the previous version.
And the diesel was also very handy in acceleration but just a tad noisy at higher speeds.
Around town, good all-round visibility and a handy 10.9-metre turning circle made all of our Holden Cruze test cars easy to maneuver and park (the CDX model assisted by its standard rear park assist).
Apart from the previously mentioned minor issues with the 1.8-litre petrol and 2.0-litre diesel engines, we would deduct some points from the Holden Cruze Series II for ride quality/driving dynamics in models not fitted with the watts link suspension/electric power steering of the 1.4-litre turbo versions.
Although better than their predecessors, our CDX diesel and CD 1.8-litre petrol were noticeably harsher and a tad shorter in the refinement department than the 1.4-litre turbo CD we tested.
The CDX diesel test car also had a bit of a rattle in the steering.
The switch to local manufacturing/engineering has paid-off massively for the Series II Holden Cruze. Just as we suspected, Holden’s expertise has delivered the all-round technical and quality improvements which provide the latest Holden Cruze the artillery to take on the small car stars.
The chassis is better, the dynamics are better, the refinement is better and that turbo 1.4-litre petrol is superb.
Holden Cruze has always had the looks and interior style – these have improved too.
And Holden’s Finance department has co-operated by keeping value-for-money a Holden Cruze standout.
The override in all of this is Ford’s all-new German-sourced Focus which doesn’t arrive ‘Downunder’ until later this year. In the meantime, the Mazda3 and Volkswagen Golf/Jetta lineups shape as the main rivals in the small car segment – you need to carefully compare features across the model ranges.
Toyota’s Corolla still fights hard but is showing its age and on-road just isn’t quite as sharp as the bench-setters.
Honda’s re-pricing of the Civic lineup brings it back into contention (despite its age, the Civic still looks good and drives great) but there’s no diesel option.
Kia’s Cerato is sharply priced and must be considered, likewise the Mitsubishi Lancer – but neither has a diesel.
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