If I was impressed with Holden’s new Series II Cruze in base model CD spec with the optional 2.0 litre turbo diesel powerplant on the first day of this press launch, then my enthusiasm for this model just did a triple somersault with back flip after a quick (read fast punt) steer in the surprisingly agile 1.4-litre SRi iTi variant.
It might only have a displacement of 1.4 litres, but the SRi is what Holden calls the performance car in the new Holden Cruze range, although don’t think for one minute that the diesel is some kind of slow coach, because nothing could be further from the truth. But more on that later.
The diminutive 1.4-litre turbo petrol unit produces just 103kW of power and 200Nm of torque, and while I’d have to agree that just wouldn’t cut it on the set of latest Fast and Furious instalment, it is a lot of fun, especially in the bendy bits.
You just don’t need oodles of power in a small car when you’ve got 200Nm of torque on tap all the way from 1850-4900rpm – this is a proper little performance car.
There’s a touch of initial turbo lag when you jump on the throttle too quickly, but the moment the needle strikes 1850rpm, the Holden Cruze SRi is the kind of car you want on these long windy roads in rural Victoria. Winding the revs up to 3000-4000rpm in third and fourth will have you moving – rapidly.
The six-speed manual box is a treat too, and further enhanced by a leather-bound short-throw shifter that makes quick changes a breeze. For a 1.4-litre in what is probably the largest ‘small’ car in the segment, overall performance is very impressive.
It’s also pretty good in traffic too, with a relatively gentle clutch with early take up meaning easy progress in busy conditions. The only thing that appears been omitted from the arsenal of standard kit on the SRi iTi is ‘Hill Start Assist’, which takes the pressure off ‘hill’ starts in cities with undulating terrain, such as Sydney.
I also had a drive of the Holden Cruze SRi-V iTi in automatic guise, and again it’s surprisingly punchy; although by this time we had unfortunately run out of the bendy roads and onto more mundane freeway conditions. That said it’s a six-speed auto with a sequential manual shift option, which Holden call ‘Active Select’ and would surely be a must-have option when you come upon some quiet windy roads.
The other real benefit of choosing the SRi variants in the new Series II Cruze range, apart from the outright performance aspects, is the extra handling credentials from the ‘Watts link’ suspension set-up at the rear end. Charging hard into corners is a very stable affair in the SRi, as the rear axle is effectively stabilised during cornering manoeuvres, allowing for a surprising level of confidence from behind the wheel.
It’s also very well behaved when negotiating quick changes of direction; the chassis feels well balanced and well and truly up to the task of pushing on in a more spirited fashion.
There’s nothing wrong with the electric power steering unit in the SRi either. There’s good feedback through the leather-bound sports steering wheel too, and plenty of weight from dead centre and through the turning arc.
Despite this being a smallish four-cylinder powerplant that does its best work midway up the rev range, there is a level of refinement with this engine that is every bit equal or better than anything in the same class from Europe. I’m well aware that’s a big call, but the lack of any harsh engine noise or vibration inside the cabin is quite remarkable and testament to the work Holden engineers have done in the area of NVH (Noise, Vibration, and Harshness) on the Cruze.
That said, when you’re carving up the rural backwaters somewhere in the middle of Victoria, there’s a sweet little performance growl (good thing) that still finds its way into this cabin.
I mentioned how supportive these sports style seats are in an earlier piece on the 2.0-litre diesel Cruze, but after a couple of hundred kilometres in the driver’s seat of the SRi, let me reiterate just how good these pews really are.
It seems you don’t need to enlist the services of Recaro to get some great seats. It’s the level of bolster, both seat and side, that hold your torso pretty much bolt upright, even when pushing hard into fast corners that is a standout quality of these chairs. They are also entirely back friendly over long distances, and I’m not talking about the leather version in the SRi-V either, just the fabric seats.
I also had some time behind the wheel of the six-speed manual diesel CD, and you would be forgiven for thinking that this wasn’t an SRi sports model, such is the way this thing can devour the bitumen.
As I set up my driving position in the Cruze CD manual diesel, one of my colleagues leaned inside the driver’s window, and quietly said, “You’re gonna love that”.
After hopping out of the SRi 1.4iTi, I really didn’t take that much notice of his words of enthusiasm – until about five seconds into the drive route, when all of 120kW and 360Nm came on song. Why Holden haven’t badged this charged-up oil burner as a SRi variant is a mystery to me, although the additional 143kg under the bonnet might be a reason for them holding back.
Not that it worries this thing when the need to overtake a fast-moving B-Double on the freeway arises. Jump on the right pedal, and you’re gone baby gone.
Just don’t expect a whole lot of induction noise to come anywhere near the cockpit when you do so. It doesn’t seem to matter whether you’re driving a diesel or small displacement four-cylinder in the Cruze line-up; the level of refinement inside the cabin is the same – it’s quiet!
Holden has produced a first-class small car in the Series II Cruze and bona fide competitor to the Euro fleet. The only difference is, you’ll get more room in the car if you choose local.