With its homogeneous styling and extensive ‘small car’ credentials, the new Holden Cruze wedges its way into a crowded line-up of disturbingly similar cars.
More grown up than the Astra, but not quite grasping the maturity of its slightly larger sibling, the Epica, the Cruze suffers from your classic ‘middle child’ syndrome.
Its form, economical engine and respectable price point are not unique selling points. It’s starting on the back foot, but no more so than many of its rivals.
While the Cruze does not leap out and scream, well, anything, it’s far from offensive or disappointing. We’ve just seen it all before; where’s the benchmark?
Its exterior styling is classic, conservative and cohesive. Even proportions made up of large flat panels give the Cruze a solid appearance, while some nice body lines and the occasional splash of chrome add visual appeal and focus points.
Colour-coded wing mirrors and door handles add to a smooth, clean exterior. It looks nice and its design will no doubt stand the test of time.
It’s inside the cabin where the Cruze comes into surprisingly slick form – and well above its competition. Our test vehicle had a leather, plastic, cloth trim combination that worked together beautifully.
The cloth trim wraps in a continuous band from the side doors all the way across the dash. The lines flow nicely and the various interior components blend seamlessly.
This more tactile selection of finishes gives the cabin warmth and added visual appeal. As for cleaning and maintaining an expanse of cloth on these areas, time will tell.
Every element of the Cruze feels well built, from solid closing doors to smooth rolling dials and solid buttons. There’s nothing flimsy or budget about the fit or finish.
The centre console and instrument cluster are simple and easy to navigate or decipher. The centre screen display however, is a little underwhelming and basic.
Powered by a 2.0-litre turbo diesel, four-cylinder engine, the Cruze delivers 110kW at 4000rpm and 320Nm at 2000rpm, but how does this translate to on road performance?
From a stand still, the Cruze suffers distinct turbo lag. On many occasions, where seconds felt like minutes, I found myself willing the car forward in the absence of movement.
On the move, as you creep into the torque band, this is not a problem and auto gear selection feels good and the power at hand is more than adequate.
Overall handling of the Cruze is dynamic and very satisfying. Its steering is firm and turn in is beautifully responsive, and power through the exit is smooth and composed.
There’s minimal body roll and well balanced suspension is quick to diffuse a range of road finish flaws, running the standard 16-inch steel wheels.
The Cruze handled all manner of driving conditions with confidence and ease – the sluggish take-off aside.
On a test cycle that was weighted more to short-trip around town driving rather than long freeway hauls, the Cruze delivered reasonable fuel economy of around 8.5 litres per 100km – a little over the 6.8 litres per 100km claimed.
On the down side, the diesel engine gives off an intrusive, agricultural gurgle that may well be heart-warming to farmers, but I prefer a quiet cabin, unless of course it’s the alluring rumble of something far more exciting.
Although the seats are firm and lack adequate bolstering, the driving position and overall level of comfort is pretty good. The well executed interior design creates a nice, almost premium ambience with ample space.
As you enter the rear seats, there’s a noticeable drop in standards. Seats are slab-like and reminiscent of a ’70s bench seat and heating/cooling is delivered via in floor vents. However, space, head and leg room, is good.
The Cruze offers load versatility you would expect from this segment, with simple to operate 60:40 split folds seats which produce a flat base to cater to larger loads.
In cabin storage is good, with lots of handy storage spaces and cup holders in front and back.
While the Cruze’s large pillars – all of them – are great for safety and build rigidity, they get in the way. Visibility is poor and in some instances completely obstructs the drivers view. I found that I had to be overly cautious with every manoeuvre. At a minimum, rear parking sensors, which come standard on the CDX model, would be a plus.
The Cruze was awarded a five-star ANCAP rating and has six airbags: front, side and curtain. In addition, electronic stability control, anti-lock brakes, electronic brakeforce distribution, traction control and brake assist all come as standard.
The Cruze ticks all of the standard requirement boxes – and in some areas, such as interior styling, it excels.
However, when you’re the middle child, you need more than the basics to make an impression. Holden has missed a chance to rock the boat and intimidate the relatives. Some gentle, rebellious behaviour never hurt anyone; if only to be noticed.
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