Holden Cruze

words - Joshua Dowling
Priced close to Viva and engineered like an Astra, Cruze offers Holden new hope in the small-car segment

Local launch
Mornington Peninsula, Victoria


What we liked
>> Class-leading safety
>> Well equipped for the price
>> Interior presentation

Not so much
>> Aurion-meets-Civic styling draws mixed opinions
>> Room for improvement in cabin materials
>> Temporary or no spare, obtrusive boot hinges

Overall rating: 3.0/5.0
Engine and Drivetrain: 3.0/5.0
Price, Packaging and Practicality: 4.0/5.0
Safety: 4.0/5.0
Behind the wheel: 3.5/5.0
X-factor: 2.0/5.0

OVERVIEW
-- Holden's latest Korea move
This is Holden's new entrant in the small-car class and one with which the Lion brand hopes to compete with the top-sellers such as the Toyota Corolla and Mazda3.

Despite being called Cruze it shares nothing with, and is not a successor to, the small Suzuki-based hatch of the same name sold by Holden between 2002 and 2006.

The new Cruze is made in Korea but was engineered by General Motors' European affiliate, Opel, in Germany and developed in several countries around the world, including Australia. It effectively replaces the Viva, which Holden sold since 2005 and has now discontinued. The Viva was a low-cost import, also from Korea, that sold alongside the classy, premium-priced, European-sourced Astra.

The Viva was also what is known in the industry as a "legacy" car -- in this case, one that General Motors inherited after it took control of Korean company Daewoo. It's worth mentioning this because while the Viva wore a Holden badge, there wasn't much Holden about it. It was a stop-gap measure until Holden, well, General Motors, could build its own small car from scratch. The Cruze is that car...

Expect to see some hype about the new Cruze. It is the first all-new car to come from General Motors' Daewoo division in Korea, and the first collaborative effort with input from GM divisions worldwide including, as we said before, Australia.

The other reason you may see a lot written about this car is the fact that the Cruze, or a car very similar to it, will be built by Holden at its Adelaide factory alongside the Commodore from late 2010 or early 2011 (see separate news story here /news/2009/small-passenger/holden/cruze-plus-two-for-elizabeth-15205). If successful, Cruze will make Holden's local operations viable (small cars like the Cruze account for almost 25 per cent of all new vehicle sales, large cars like the Commodore now only account for about 12 per cent).

There's one other reason the Cruze will receive a lot of attention. Not only does it replace the Viva, it is destined to also replace the Astra. Holden says recent currency fluctuations have made the price of the Astra too expensive and so once the remaining stock clears it may not be replaced.

Holden wants its dealers to focus on selling the Cruze and make it as successful as possible. On the downside though, for now, the Cruze is a sedan-only proposition. So anyone wanting a small hatch or a wagon from Holden will now have to shop elsewhere.

Holden is also taking a rather large gamble on buyer tastes. Will customers who in the past have appreciated the Astra's European flair and attention to detail be drawn to a (comparatively speaking) cut-price Cruze? Further, it seems Holden may have halved its market potential by having only one body style of Cruze available. Sales of the top selling Toyota Corolla are almost evenly split between hatch (53 per cent) and sedan (47 per cent).

PRICE AND EQUIPMENT
-- Loaded with equipment, with one exception
Depending on whether or not you're a glass-half-full or glass-half-empty kind of person, there are two ways to view the price of the Cruze.

On the one hand it is expensive when compared to the vehicle it replaces. The Viva's starting price has been $19,990 for years, but in the real world the cars were moving out the door for at least a couple of thousand dollars less than that.

Holden dealers have also been told the Cruze isn't a discount car, and there isn't as much room to move on price. So, regardless of what the RRP says, in the real world, when it comes to transaction prices, the Cruze is likely to be a few thousand dollars more than the Viva.

But, that said, this price realignment, as the industry likes to call it, puts the Cruze either on an even footing with its rivals, or indeed at a price advantage, especially once equipment is taken into account.

The Cruze range starts at $20,990 plus on road costs (driveaway pricing was yet to be announced as this report was compiled) for a 1.8-litre petrol manual, to $25,990 for a 2.0-litre turbo diesel auto.

There are two model grades for the petrol: CD and CDX. The diesel is available only in CD grade for now. In truth, a CDX diesel Cruze would likely cost as much as a mid-sized Epica, so Holden is loathe to go there for the time being.

The CD model comes with six airbags and stability control (see SAFETY for more detail on the Cruze's impressive credentials), cruise control, steering wheel audio controls, and power windows.

The CDX is distinguished by 17-inch alloy wheels (instead of 16-inch steel wheels with covers), fog lights, chrome trim on the door handles, leather seats and rear parking sensors.

Some nice touches: the driver's window is auto up as well as down, the three rear seats have adjustable headrests and the large side mirrors are convex on both sides for ultra-wide visibility. These three features alone highlight how much value can be found in small cars, as the Commodore lacks these.

One blot: petrol powered Cruze models get a temporary spare wheel and the diesel gets a tyre inflation kit. This was done to save weight and likely helped the Cruze into a more favourable position for the fuel economy rating label tests. It's not a rort, it's called working the system.

Thankfully, a full size spare is a no cost option. But we wonder how many dealers (or customers) will remember to ask for their free full size spare tyre?

MECHANICAL
-- Petrol or diesel, your choice
Diesels are popular in Europe but they are still gaining popularity here. Diesel engines are more efficient, and you can drive further between refills, but there are some downsides.

The price of diesel has at times been up to 40 cents a litre dearer than petrol, at which point it doesn't make financial sense and you'd be better off in a petrol car. This is partly why Holden has a conservative estimate on diesel sales of the Cruze. Only 10 per cent of the Cruzes ordered so far are diesel, so the maker is still banking on petrol being the choice of the day.

The 1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol engine is no ball of fire -- but in this class economy and driveability are more important attributes (7.0L/100km, 166g/km for the manual and 7.5L/100km, 179g/km for the auto).

Helped along by a choice of either a five-speed manual or a six-speed automatic transmission, the 1.8 petrol (104kW/176Nm) is relatively fuss free, although on the winding roads selected by Holden to test the car, it was occasionally left wanting on hills. In such circumstances, the 1.8 needs to be encouraged with high-ish revs, despite Holden's claim that 90 per cent of its torque is available between 2200 to 6200rpm. If that's the case, it's 90 per cent of not enough.

Compared to the petrol, the 2.0-litre turbodiesel (110kW/320Nm) has more torque and more effortless power delivery, especially up hills. The manual is frugal (5.7L/100km, 149g/km) but the auto, curiously, is less impressive for a diesel (6.8L/100km, 180g/km).

We also noticed some subtle torque steer (where, under acceleration, the car wants to follow the contours of the road) on a few occasions. We won't deliver a final verdict on this until testing the car more extensively, but thought it was worth mentioning as an early sign.

As with the petrol, the diesel engine is also available with a five-speed manual or a six-speed automatic.
Matched to either engine, both gearboxes work smoothly and efficiently. As with many 'smart' transmissions these days, the auto shifts down and holds gears as required and you can select gears manually if you desire. Sometimes, however, depending on road conditions, the automatic can have too many gears to choose from and the car can "hunt" between gears -- particularly in the case of the petrol variant.

Neither engine was a standout for anything particularly good or bad, they both seemed about par for the course against the vehicles with which they'll be competing.

PACKAGING
-- Big things in a small package
Although it looks compact, the Cruze is slightly longer and wider than a Corolla sedan. The most important difference, though, is the distance between the front and rear wheels. The Cruze is longer here, too, which should translate to a slightly roomier cabin than the Corolla, however, we are yet to compare the back seat space of the Corolla and Cruze sedans side by side.

What we can report is that the back seat of the Cruze has enough kneeroom to not feel cramped, even with a tall driver up front.

The interior presentation of the Cruze is pretty impressive. The sweeping, modern lines and clear layout have a very Astra feel, except for one thing: the feel of the materials themselves. Holden, Daewoo, GM, or whoever would like to take responsibility for building the Cruze, has matched the grain of the Astra's dash. But where the Astra has a soft touch, the Cruze feels a bit like outdoor furniture plastic.

Granted, most people don't drive around touching their dashboards, but the elbow section on the door trims is also from this same, hard material and detracts a little from the positive first impressions of the cabin.

The CD runs its technical fabric onto sections of the dash -- an effect that works better than it sounds. Indeed, we weren't the only observers to comment on the fact the base CD model presented better (in some aspects) that the leather upholstered CDX.

The switchgear is fine, the instruments are easy to read, and there are ample storage pockets.

The back seat is very flat. The positive side is the centre passenger is not perched up like 'Jacky'. The negative is that it lacks 'location' when used by the two rear passengers most Cruze's will carry.

The boot is roomy for its class (not the best, not the worst) but "gooseneck" hinges (so called because of their shape) protrude into the luggage space. The Cruze is by no means alone in this class in this regard but given that carmakers are increasingly using multi-element hinges that don't intrude on luggage space, this should probably viewed as a sign that GM decided to focus on spending money elsewhere on the car.

SAFETY
-- Top marks, high five
The Holden Cruze scored five stars out of five for occupant protection according to tests by the Australian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP), an independent body funded by roads and traffic authorities, motoring clubs, and insurance companies.

Scratch the surface and you'll discover it's a high five-star rating, scoring 35 out of a possible 37 points. This makes the Cruze the highest scoring car tested by ANCAP locally and among the best internationally.

Stability control and front, side and curtain airbags are standard on all models. So at long last the level of crash protection is not determined by your budget.

Now all we need to do is get Holden, which is very proud of the safety credentials of its Cruze and Commodore, to make one of the most basic safety aids -- anti-lock brakes -- standard on all versions of its cut price Korean Barina.

COMPETITORS
-- Join the 30-something club
The small-car class is the most competitive group of cars there is. More than 30 makes and models compete for buyer interest and the category makes up for almost a quarter of all new-vehicle sales.
No wonder Holden wants a slice of the action.

Holden's Cruze faces some stiff competition, however. The Toyota Corolla and Mazda3 have a stranglehold on sales leadership and the Cruze must also compete with (at the premium end) the Honda Civic, Ford Focus, Holden Astra, Volkswagen Golf, and (at the budget end) Kias, Hyundais and Nissans and the like.

Because Cruze is a new (or revived) model name, Holden has a challenge ahead getting its relatively unknown car on small-car shopping lists.

ON THE ROAD
-- Middle of the road
The Cruze is a significant first step in the right direction for the reborn (or about to be reborn) General Motors. In some regards, it's GM's first attempt at building a car the Toyota way: that is, for the world and by committee.

The good news is that, despite the committee meetings, there is still some flair hidden in this car.

The Cruze is nice to drive, and most people probably won't appreciate that it grips the road quite confidently, and is better than what many might have been expecting. It's quiet in terms of wind noise and shows some real advances in noise vibration and harshness in terms of products that are sourced via GM's Korean operation. Indeed it's quiet enough to at times expose the petrol powerplant as just a touch coarse.

Are we being too harsh... We'll probably need to reserve our judgement until we've spent longer in the car.

Though nearly all our driving was on semi-rural roads, we reckon as a commuter car, the Cruze is fine. But it needs to be better than that. If GM wants to take on the small car leaders it needs to build a better car than them, not one that (almost) catches up to them.

The steering is fair to good (though not up to Focus standard), the brakes are also, and the suspension was somewhere between good and better than good. But I couldn't help but get the feeling there was still something a little more left in this car.

Here's hoping the people at Holden can work some more magic on the locally produced version when it arrives late next year.

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