7 / 10
The locally built Holden Cruze hatch is the perfect answer to the ever-expanding list of European and Asian cars crowding the segment.
With a choice of three engines and three transmissions, the Holden Cruze range has proven very popular this year with over 28,000 units sold by the end of October. The addition of a hatch shape is only going to increase sales of what is already a successful model.
Although the Cruze is based on a General Motors global platform and was originally styled elsewhere, Holden designers were given the task of styling the Cruze hatch for the Australian and global market.
Front-on the Cruze hatch looks identical to the sedan, which, like it or not, has proven a hit worldwide. It’s only when you view it side on or from the rear that the coupe-like styling of the hatch becomes visible. The roof is different (which allows for marginally better headroom) while the rear doors still share 50 percent of their DNA with the sedan.
Measuring 80mm shorter than the sedan, the Cruze hatch has a more solid stance given its wide stature (1797mm wide excluding mirrors) and shorter overhangs. The signature large tail lamps have also found their way on to the hatch, with wrap around styling that bares a resemblance to the Alfa Romeo Mito.
Opening and closing the tailgate is a simple process, with a near perfect weight balance that allows the fifth door to close under its own weight. The rear seats fold completely flat, which makes way for 1254 litres of luggage capacity (413 litres with seats upright).
The re-engineering of the Holden Cruze hatch is more than skin deep. The suspension setup for the hatch and sedan models are different and so is the weight (the hatch weighs about 14kg more). Holden has worked extensively to reduce noise and vibration for back seat passengers, resulting in the hatch being quieter than the sedan.
The real question is, would you buy a Holden Cruze hatch over its competitors, namely the Hyundai i30, Mazda3, Ford Focus or Volkswagen Golf? Despite the Cruze hatch being able to stand on its own as a very worthy contender in this space, Holden believes its local manufacturing is an advantage when it comes to buyer perception.
The company’s research data shows that 92 per cent of owners who have bought a locally produced Cruze sedan knew it was Australian-made and 75 per cent of those said they were more likely to buy a Cruze over its competitors because it’s made locally. But despite being built in Adelaide, it’s important to know the engines are not locally produced. In fact, only about 40-50 per cent of the Cruze hatch is made from locally sourced materials (the Commodore is 50-60 per cent).
We suspect that for the average buyer it really doesn’t matter where it’s made, so long as it looks good, provides top-notch safety, comes packed with loads of standard features and is competitively priced. If it happens to be made in Australia, then that’s a bonus. Thankfully, the Holden Cruze hatch ticks all those boxes.
To launch the new body shape, Holden brought the automotive media to Adelaide where we embarked on a series of drive programs through the hilly countryside and the CBD. Much like the Cruze sedan, the variation in engine choices makes a tremendous difference to the driving feel. The turbocharged 1.4-litre four-cylinder is still the pick of the bunch with the 1.8-litre coming in last. The 2.0-litre diesel is a great choice if economy is top of your priority list with Cruze hatch manual taking the honour of being the most fuel efficient car ever built in Australia, sipping just 5.6L/100km (beating the Toyota Hybrid Camry which is 6.0L/100km).
Around the hilly outskirts of Adelaide we found the 1.8-litre ECOTEC petrol struggling, despite its 104kW and 176Nm of torque. It’s actually rather reasonable when driven around town but given the price difference to jump up to a 1.4-litre turbo is a mere $1250, you’d have to be mad not to upgrade (but given 40 per cent of Cruze sedans sold so far are powered by the 1.8-litre engine, there’s a lot of buyers out there that buy on price alone).
The 1.4-litre turbo delivers 103kW and 200Nm of torque, but despite the measly 24Nm of additional torque (and one less kilowatt) compared with the 1.8-litre, it feels like a totally different car. For a start, the noise level inside the cabin is noticeably lower under hard acceleration, and torque delivery is linear and punchy, which makes driving it a little more fun. When coupled to Holden’s six-speed automatic, gear shifts become smooth and almost unnoticeable (calibration for that has been done in Melbourne). Better still, it uses less fuel, so you really can’t go wrong.
The 2.0-litre diesel currently accounts for only 10 per cent of sales (sedan), but since it commands a $4000 premium over the 1.8-litre, the figures are understandable. Sure, it has more power and torque (120kW/360Nm) and it drives better as a result, but unless you get a kick out of feeling the additional torque pulling you along it’s not much of a logical choice over the 1.4-litre. Comparing apples with apples, a 1.4-litre six-speed automatic Cruze hatch uses 6.9L of fuel per 100km while the 2.0-litre diesel six-speed auto uses 6.7L/100km, so the economy gains are unrealised in the automatic diesel variant and very few go for the manual. Therefore we’d recommend the 1.4-litre automatic as the pick of the bunch.
When it comes to ride and handling the Cruze hatch is pretty good at absorbing bumps and potholes but is not as sure-footed as a Volkswagen Golf. Around town it’s certainly comfortable (afterall, its suspension has been tuned for Australian roads by Australians) and will do nicely as a daily drive. Steering and handling is different for 1.4-litre models compared with the rest and that’s because it uses electric power steering instead of a hydraulic system and Watt’s link rear suspension over compound crank axle (front is independent MacPherson strut).
Even though the 1.4-litre is being targeted at the sporty side of things, we found the electric steering a little weightless at centre and feeling a tad disconnected at times. This is not a bad thing when you’re buzzing around town and need all the assistance you can get, but it can be a little discouraging when you’re after a little feedback. Despite being more ‘old school’ in its design, the hydraulic system employed in the 1.8- and 2.0-litre models feels more driver-friendly. Rear suspension feel is tighter on turbocharged variants but not all that noticeable unless driven hard.
On the inside the Holden Cruze hatch is pretty much the same as the sedan. Holden has added Bluetooth phone connectivity with voice recognition as standard equipment for all 2012 Cruze models while adding a seven-inch full colour touch screen with satellite navigation in SRi-V models.
Music lovers will be happy to know there’s full iPod compatibility via USB but it’s disappointing to note that despite having Bluetooth telephone connectivity, the Cruze lacks wireless audio streaming capabilities.
The front seats are fairly comfortable with reasonable side bolstering and lumbar support. There’s a good deal of storage space around the cabin but the front doors could do with a little more storage room. You’ll have little to no issues fitting two average-sized adults in the back, but legroom can be compromised if front passengers are tall (this is a segment-wide problem and not limited to the Cruze).
Like most cars in its class, the Holden Cruze hatch proudly wears the maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating, meaning it’s about as safe as it can get. Six airbags are there to protect occupants in the event that the Cruze’s long list of electronic active safety features (stability control, brake assist, traction control) is unable to help the driver avoid an accident.
Of all the vehicles that Holden sells in Australia, at least 60 per cent are locally built – significantly more than Ford and Toyota. With the addition of the hatch body shape, Holden is likely to keep its Cruze sales above 3000 units per month into the foreseeable future. If buying Australian holds a special feeling in your heart, it’s rather hard to look past the Cruze hatch as a practical vehicle fit for nearly all purposes.
When you put it all together, the Holden Cruze hatch is a very good offering that has been styled, tuned and built in Australia. It’s practical, safe, efficient, sporty and we think it looks rather good (reserve judgement until you see it in the flesh as it doesn’t look as good in photos). For a starting price of $21,240, it’s also very well priced. Compare it with the Ford Focus, Volkswagen Golf, Mazda3 and Hyundai i30.
Check out the standard features and pricing below:
Holden Cruze standard features across the range:
The mid-range Holden Cruze CDX model gains:
Holden Cruze hatch SRi adds over CD:
Holden Cruze SRi-V adds to SRi with
Holden Cruze hatch pricing – Manual / Auto: