This is where it's at with the 2013 Holden Cruze – the new 1.6-litre turbocharged SRi and SRi-V models.
With 132kW of power, 230Nm of torque, and an 8.4-second 0-100km/h claim, the Holden Cruze SRi offers higher outputs and faster performance times than any petrol-engined competitor within sight of its $22,490 starting price.
As a gauge of how far the value equation has improved with this facelifted Holden Cruze pseudo-sports model, that price isn’t just a full $3500 less than the old SRi, but it also gets the 0.2L-larger engine, and adds part-leather trim, a seven-inch touchscreen and rear parking sensors to the standard equipment list (read 2013 Holden Cruze pricing and specifications). Even more tellingly, the SRi automatic is now $350 cheaper than the old base model CD 1.4-litre turbo that wore hubcaps over its steel wheels…
So it might come as a surprise, then, that adding value and performance isn’t the end of the Holden Cruze SRi story.
Holden’s Australian engineers have sprinkled their magic dust over the Delta II chassis, the underbody parts of which are shared with the European cousin to the Cruze, the Opel Astra. Clearly, that dust is made of the same stuff that has continued to make the VE Commodore a dynamic star, seven years after its launch.
According to the engineering team, step one was to flick the Korean-made Kumho tyres used on all Cruze models, as they lacked grip. The replacement Bridgestone Potenza tyres – 17-inch for SRi, and 18-inch for SRi-V – are less squeal-prone and complement the revised suspension settings.
Where the Cruze Equipe and CDX models use a new, softer ‘comfort’ suspension tune (read 2013 Holden Cruze Review), the SRi and SRi-V go the other way. Holden borrowed a stiffer ‘twist beam’ for the rear suspension used in sporty Opel Astra models. The SRi now sits lower, with shorter springs, a new rebound spring in the front strut, and firmer dampers.
What all this engineering-speak amounts to is a more dynamic drive, with very little penalty in terms of comfort. Only on the freeway does the Cruze SRi fidget and jiggle a little too much, but its rough road absorbency is outstanding. There’s much less bodyroll than before, the body remaining impressively flat during higher-speed cornering. Expectedly, the tyres grip well. Push harder and the Cruze SRi doesn’t push the nose wide of the corner, but nor does it savagely kick its backside out if the throttle is lifted in the middle of the corner. Instead, it tucks its nose in, and remains neat, stable and neutrally balanced.
The electro-mechanical steering has also copped a “global re-tune” to make its steering less feather-light than before. But if anything, it’s made the steering slightly more resistant to inputs, blunting the on-centre response that remains, as before, quite immediate. Holden engineers had to accept what the global team offered, and the result is good, but not brilliant like a Mazda 3 or Ford Focus.
The $2200-optional six-speed automatic thankfully was tuned by Holden in Australia, and it’s a beauty. Like the re-tuned auto in the 1.8-litre four-cylinder Equipe and CDX, the gearbox now detects hills and holds a lower gear to allow steady state throttle. It’s also equipped with what Holden calls Performance Mode Lift Foot (PMLF), which similarly detects hard driving and holds a gear when the throttle is released after powering out of a corner.
Unlike the 1.8-litre models, the SRi and SRi-V get a dedicated Sport mode that also downshifts automatically when braking for a corner and is quicker to upshift between gears. The contrast with the sluggish old Generation I automatic is stark. The new auto has a tipshift manual facility, but it doesn’t need to be used.
Only occasionally does the auto second-guess the driver and get it wrong. Sometimes it can be too quick to ‘think’ the fun driving is over and slur into a taller ratio. Holden admits that in the final round of testing it was decided that the Sport mode they originally had planned was too annoyingly aggressive, so they went for a slightly safer setting.
The 1.6-litre turbo still feels at its best with the standard six-speed manual gearbox, however. Third gear shows off the fine flexibility of this engine, pulling effortlessly from low revs and swiftly through the mid-range. It’s no hot-hatch, but it's definitely higher on the Peri Peri scale than most rivals.
Like the Equipe and CDX, the SRi models are also reasonably quiet, but the new Bridgestones do seem to throw up more road noise on coarse chip surfaces than the old Kumhos. It’s especially noticeable on the SRi-V which gets even wider tyres – typically, the bigger the contact patch with the road, the greater the noise.
It’s in the areas Holden engineers haven't fixed that the Cruze remains average. The interior design, like the exterior, is now four years old. Plastics quality is of the hard and durable type, but the ill-fitting sunglasses holder atop the dash is an example of sub-standard finish.
The seats are comfortable, and the new touchscreen MyLink entertainment system intuitive, although the $26,490 SRi-V no longer gets satellite navigation standard (it will be added later this year when the new VF Commodore system is configured). That said, the SRi-V works on a similar value equation to the SRi, costing $3000 less than before and adding other equipment like climate control. The SRi-V also now adds 18-inch alloys and a reversing camera.
Both SRi and SRi-V are available in hatchback or sedan configuration, each with capacious 400-litre-plus cargo capacities and 60:40 split-fold rear seat capability.
All Holden Cruze models get fixed price servicing, costing $185 per service, every 15,000km or 12 months for up to three years and 60,000km.
The Holden Cruze has never been like the Mazda 3 or Volkswagen Golf. It has always been inferior. The Cruze SRi still isn’t like them, but it now offers its own, slightly brash personality, and from a performance and value perspective, presents as a fine alternative to both class benchmarks.