While local production may have ended, Holden hasn't given up on the small sedan. The new Astra sedan is coming and Paul Maric heads to the States for a drive.
With Holden winding up local manufacturing, it wasn’t just the Commodore that would no longer be produced in Australia. The Holden Cruze also met a similar fate, with a little over 126,000 units produced locally over five years.
Replacing the locally produced Cruze is a brand new one, built off a global architecture and the D2 platform, which is shared with the Holden Astra hatch.
When it arrives in Australia mid-year, it will be badged as the Holden Astra sedan, so we jetted off to North America’s country music capital, Nashville, Tennessee to sample the Chevrolet Cruze sedan and to find out whether it has the goods to take on Australian roads.
Australia’s version of the Cruze sedan will receive a unique steering and suspension tune, giving a more Holden feel. This isn’t the first time Holden has tinkered with an imported vehicle – the Astra hatch received extensive local tuning, likewise the Spark, and of course the next generation Commodore, based on the Opel Insignia will also benefit from local development work.
But in the interim, this half-day drive would give us a chance to experience what the base product is like before leaping into an Australian-tuned Astra sedan when it arrives later this year.
Let’s start with the thing that struck us the most – the design. What an absolutely sharp looking vehicle. The sharp lines give it a sporty look, while highlights like LED daytime running lights, chrome strips and a sporty stance make it a car hunting for a new demographic.
We only had the chance to experience the top-specification Premier RS model, which was loaded with kit – most of which we're unlikely to get in Australia. These things include front and rear heated seats, a heated steering wheel and OnStar in-car 4G LTE hotspot – although this technology is coming to Holden within the next three years as our infrastructure begins to support it.
Inside the cabin, it’s equally as impressive. While there are still some lower quality plastics atop the doors and parts of the dashboard, the lines that surround the car and leather-esque material around lower parts of the dashboard and door make it really pop.
Another thing that also looked really cool was a dual-purpose translucent set of chrome strips that were attached to the dashboard. They surrounded air vents and other parts of the interior and during the day they appear as a glossy chrome, while at night they are translucent and emit a cool blue LED light.
The range comes with two versions of GM’s MyLink infotainment system with seven- and eight-inch screens available across the range. Both versions offer Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, while upper-specification variants also come with inbuilt satellite navigation.
Climate controls and buttons for other vehicle functions are conveniently located beneath the screen in a logical position. They’re easy to use, clear to see and look nice within their housing.
There’s plenty of storage up front with a centre console and a generous glove box. Two cup holders are also joined by a USB port, auxiliary input and auxiliary power. This upper specification Premier RS model also features a 120V power outlet in the rear – it’s not clear yet whether a 240V version of this will be offered for the Astra sedan.
Leg and headroom up front is excellent. The seats are very comfortable and we found them supportive during faster driving. Sometimes with the lower end of the vehicle market, seats can be a big downfall to a car’s comfort levels, so it’s great to see thought put into seat comfort.
In the back there is surprisingly a heap of leg and toe room. Headroom is good too with two passengers able to fit comfortably side-by-side in the second row. There are no rear air vents, with warm air supplied via ducts beneath the seat. There is a huge boot though, measuring in at 419 litres with a space saver spare tyre.
On the safety front, the Cruze sedan comes with 10 airbags for the North American market, but our understanding is that Australia will only receive six. The top-specification vehicle that we drove also had a lane departure assistant that would lightly pull at the wheel to steer the vehicle back into its lane.
It also had a forward collision alert, blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert. But the one key thing missing across the entire range is Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB), which isn’t available at all. This will immediately put the Astra sedan behind its competitive set when it lands in Australia.
Under the bonnet of the new Cruze sedan is an all-new 1.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine with direct injection. This engine is completely different to the 1.4-litre featured in the Trax and previous-generation Cruze.
Fitted with stop/start technology, the engine takes advantage of electrically assisted steering and a coefficient of drag of just .295 to keep fuel consumption down. The engine produces 110kW of power and 245Nm of torque when mated to a six-speed manual transmission and 240Nm of torque when mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. While it doesn't have an official ADR figure yet, the North American car uses around 6.7L/100km.
It is absolutely dead silent in the cabin at idle. Just before we set off, I had to double check with my travel partner that the car was actually on. That trend continues on the open road where wind noise and road noise is surprisingly missing.
While we expect the Australian steering tune to offer a bit more feel, the Cruze sedan’s steering was very much on the lighter end of light. That meant it had little feel about centre and didn’t offer a great deal of communication through corners.
Thankfully it made up for it with an impressive punch of torque from its four-cylinder engine. There’s very little turbocharger lag and it’s ready and eager to kick down and get things moving.
Grade logic control on the gearbox also allows the car to kick down through the gears as it descends at a given rate, which helps keep the engine on tap. It’s not fitted with steering wheel mounted paddle-shifters, but does come with an ability to shift gears on the fly using a switch on the gear lever.
The suspension tune is very much an American tune, in the sense that it’s soft and not overly sporty. This works well in the States where the roads can have high-speed undulations or conversely very smooth bitumen.
The vehicle we drove was fitted with a MacPherson strut with stabiliser bar at the front and a Watts linkage at the rear. This gives the car more confidence through corners and allows it to sit flatter thanks to lateral body control. But, Australian vehicles will miss out on the Watts linkage, only getting a rear torsion beam setup.
There was one incredible stretch of road that we encountered that was newly sealed with sweeping high-speed corners. The Cruze sedan really shone through here with the engine offering poke to pull it through corners and the body enough rigidity and control to keep things flat.
In fact, it performed far, far better than we thought it would. It’s also at this point that I should mention that we have driven 65 per cent build prototypes of the Australian-tuned Astra sedan and while we can’t talk about how that drove just yet, this Cruze sedan is the perfect building block for Australian fettling.
We came away genuinely impressed with GM’s new global small sedan. It’s a perfect mix of style, comfort and performance. It’s clear to see that with over four million vehicles sold since 2008 globally, this next-generation Cruze sedan really had to be a winner.
North America’s Cruze sedan is built in Ohio, but the Australian delivered Astra sedan will be manufactured in Korea. We don’t expect there to be a great deal of difference in build quality and presentation when it does finally get to Oz.
We also drove the 2017 Chevrolet Trax, which will arrive locally in February as the Holden Trax. Keep an eye out for our review tomorrow.