The Holden Cruze is now ‘Australia’s small car’ with a big asterisk next to that statement. The addition of a wagon variant – naturally dubbed Sportwagon to complement Commodore – leaves only its sibling hatchback and sedan variants built locally, as the big-booted Cruze hails from South Korea.
Cruze-with-a-square-back mostly mirrors its less practical siblings, but doesn’t feature the only genuinely good engine in the range – the 1.4-litre four-cylinder turbo. Nor is a manual transmission available.
The entry Holden Cruze Sportwagon CD auto costs $25,790, or $2000 more than the locally manufactured sedan and hatch. As with the less practical variants, a 2.0-litre turbo-diesel can be had for a further $4000.
For a little bit less than the base diesel – $29,040 – buyers can choose the petrol-auto-only Cruze Sportwagon CDX, which adds 17-inch alloys, fog lights, leather trim with heated front seats, and leather-wrapped steering wheel. The base CD only scores 16-inch steel wheels and cloth trim, while both spec levels get Bluetooth connectivity and cruise control. A running update to the entire Holden Cruze range, coinciding with the Sportwagon launch, sees alloy-look cabin trim and full climate control air conditioning added to the CDX models.
The extra $2K essentially buys another 55-litres behind the rear seat and roof rails standard. The Cruze Sportwagon offers a neat 500-litre cargo capacity, expanding to 1478 litres when both sides of the 60/40 split backrest are folded.
Crucially, however, basic torsion-beam rear suspension geometry allows for an ultra-practical, ultra-low loading lip which rivals that of many taller MPVs like the Honda Odyssey. It essentially means families won’t need to lift a pram up and over a high rear bumper bar, so the saving in physiotherapy fees may be enough to warrant the spend on the wagon alone...
In every other way, the Sportwagon drives just like the regular Holden Cruze. So that means it’s ordinary, sprinkled with bits of goodness.
Like the hatch and sedan, the base CD retains the 103kW 1.8-litre Ecotec four cylinder that has been used in Holdens since the 1998 TS Astra. Except the Astra weighed 1160kg, around three hefty blokes worth less than the Cruze Sportwagon.
The Cruze at least offers six ratios inside its torque-converter automatic (the Astra had four) to attempt to disguise the paucity of power. But the auto isn’t the smartest unit around – has GM ever produced a genuinely intelligent automatic? – fumbling between ratios as the engine winds-out slowly to redline.
It’s probably not wise spending $4000 on the 2.0-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder, either. Although the oiler reduces combined consumption from 7.5L/100km to 6.8L/100km, and raises outputs from 103kW/176Nm to 120kW/360Nm, it’s a laggy and unrefined engine.
Unfortunately, the impressive 1.4 turbo engine simply isn’t produced in Korean Cruzes. The electro-mechanical steering and Watts-link bars for the rear suspension – both of which improve sharpness and comfort – are only available in the turbo model, too, so the problem is compounded.
At least all Cruze models offer fine noise suppression and a reasonably compliant urban ride, although there’s nothing remarkable about the steering response nor the handling.
A bigger, but not necessarily better Holden Cruze, then. The range desperately needs the upgrades planned for March 2013. Or just the better engine, steering and suspension.
For now, the $27,990 Opel Astra Sports Tourer, which shares the Cruze platform and gets the 1.4 turbo, and the $29,490 Volkswagen Golf 90TSI wagon, are superior picks. It’s also worth keeping in mind that the Hyundai i30 wagon will arrive early next year.