Cheaper, better equipped and with re-tuned suspension, the entry-level Holden Cruze does just enough to be a compelling small car force.
Calling it an assimilation process is a bit much, but the 2013 Holden Cruze has for the past 18 months been re-worked by local engineers to become more suited to Australian conditions and "feel more like a Holden".
On the outside, both the Holden Cruze sedan and hatch look near-identical to the Series II models that first rolled off the Australian production line in March 2011 – and those cars in turn looked a lot like the Korean-built Series I from 2009.
Because the Holden Cruze is a General Motors ‘world car’ the local designers weren’t permitted to alter the styling. But local engineers were happy that most of the facelift budget was spent on a re-engineering effort.
The 1.6-litre turbo SRi and SRi-V models are the ‘hero’ cars of the range, quite different to the entry-level Equipe and CDX models in this review (read 2013 Holden Cruze SRi Review). But the entry Equipe, particularly, gets the killer $19,490 price tag, with seven-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth and internet streaming, 17-inch alloy wheels and fog lights now standard (read 2013 Holden Cruze pricing and specifications).
The standard 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine still struggles to impress, however. This is a two decade-old engine, revised over the years with variable valve timing, and in this latest iteration, it gets a new control unit with software designed to “iron out the flat spots in the rev range”, according to one Holden engineer.
But Cruze 1.8-litre models weigh 1389kg as a manual, and 1415kg with an auto. By comparison, a Toyota Corolla 1.8-litre weighs from 1250kg – a full 140kg less. Producing an unchanged 104kW at 6300rpm, and 175Nm at 3800rpm, the Cruze 1.8-litre continues to feel slow to rev and sounds harsh when extended.
Driveability, however, is transformed thanks to a new Generation II six-speed automatic transmission tuned by Australian engineers. Holden admits the previous Cruze was criticised by both customers and journalists for a transmission that defaulted to tall gears each time the throttle was released, only to hunt back through gears on hills, which affected both refinement and economy.
The new auto has a hill-detection mode and a Performance Mode Lift Foot (PMLF) function that allows steady-state throttle on hills by holding lower gears, even when the throttle is lifted.
It works brilliantly. Finally, the Cruze 1.8-litre auto offers a cooperative and smooth driving experience. Only when maximum acceleration is requested does the 1.8-litre reveal itself as slightly off the small car pace. The auto in the Equipe and CDX also lacks the excellent Sport mode standard on the SRi.
Performance anxiety issues are addressed with the 2.0-litre turbo-diesel engine, but it adds $4000 over the 1.8-litre petrols. Now available with an automatic transmission only, the $25,690 Equipe and $28,190 CDX diesels slightly lose their value message at this level. The fixed price service schedule also favours the petrol engines – to three years or 60,000km, petrol Cruze owners will pay $185 per 12 month or 15,000km genuine service, compared with $335 for the diesel.
With unchanged outputs of 120kW at 3800rpm and 360Nm at 2000rpm, the diesel engine is both punchy and reasonably refined on the move. The six-speed auto is a Generation I unit, not a Gen II like in the petrol, so it regularly defaults to top gear. Unlike the petrol engine, however, the diesel has real torque and never suffers a lack of driveability.
Claimed fuel economy is also unchanged at 6.7L/100km, or 1.1L/100km more than its Hyundai i30 rival, but that car produces only 94kW and 260Nm. Whether performance or fuel economy matters more largely decides the call between them. The Cruze diesel is more economical than the 1.8-litre (rated at 7.4L/100km) but is only slightly more frugal than the 1.4-litre turbo petrol Equipe (6.8L/100km). The $23,190 Cruze Equipe 1.4 wasn’t available to test.
With a new ‘comfort’ oriented suspension tune, the Cruze Equipe and CDX models are now slightly softer than before.
Without back-to-back testing it’s difficult to measure the changes, but the 17-inch tyres on both models lack the sidewall width of the previous CD model’s 16-inch tyres. That’s possibly to blame for the slight restlessness at freeway speeds on ostensibly smooth surfaces, but the control over large bumps is excellent, and comfort over wrinkled urban tarmac fine.
The grip from the new Bridgestone Turanza tyres is also far beyond that of the previous car, which used Korean-made Kumhos. Steering feels light and consistent, but far too vacant on centre, with only the Equipe 1.4 sharing the SRi's superior electro-mechanical steering. Those models also uniquely get a more sophisticated Watts link rear suspension set-up, but the Equipe and CDX Cruze models at least now offer grippy handling to match their decent balance.
Beyond the addition of the seven-inch touchscreen with MyLink infotainment system, very little is changed inside the 2013 Holden Cruze Equipe and CDX.
The plastics remain of the hard and durable variety, and the mismatched plastic and ill-fitting sunglasses holder atop the dashboard makes the interior design the least impressive of the small car crop.
Refinement levels, however, continue to impress – this is a far quieter car than a Mazda 3 – although the Bridgestone tyres do seem to throw up more road noise on coarse-chip surfaces than the previous Bridgestones. Front and rear legroom and seat comfort are above average for the class, while 413-litre boot on the hatch, and 445-litre sedan, are among the largest in the class.
The Holden Cruze still isn’t the most polished offering in the small car segment, and the Equipe and CDX models pale alongside the rejuvinated SRi range.
If Holden had matched the boldness of the pricing with an equally bold decision to flick the 1.8-litre and make the far superior 1.4-litre turbo standard, this facelifted Cruze would be even better.
All are roomy and refined, however, and with more standard equipment, lower prices, and markedly improved driveability, the 2013 Holden Cruze is now a force in the market, holding the fort until a major styling change arrives late next year and the all-new Cruze follows in 2016.