2009 Holden Cruze - First Steer

$19,490 Mrlp
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2009 Holden Cruze - First Steer

The small car just got serious

- by Matt Brogan

The small car just got serious - at least that's what GM Holden tells us - but would a day behind the wheel prove the latest competitor in the small/mid-sized market has what it takes to tackle the rivals head on?

Holden has done its homework with Cruze and thanks to some clever engineering and thorough thinking, has managed to co-produce a global car that is "right" for the Australian market, and indeed the segment in which it aims to compete.

What does "right" mean exactly? Does it mean "just good enough"? Is my "right" somebody elses' left? And just what is it the Australian market wants?

They're big questions, loaded in fact, but when you weigh up exactly what people expect from cars in this end of the market, versus what they're likely to get for the price, then serious is a pretty good way to describe the new Cruze, though that doesn't mean it isn't any fun.

Exterior styling aims to provide owners with a sporty, sophisticated look while at the same time retaining key family styling cues, such as Holden's trapezoidal grill.

In profile the Cruze features both convex and concave curves to offer a unique yet modern design language while at the same time reducing the number of seams and gaps for an all round better finish (all gaps less than 3mm).

At the rear, dual circular lamps sit within a red tinted lens assembly outboard of a chrome garnish that defines the bootlid's waist line. The bootlid also serves purpose as being specially designed to act as an aerodynamically efficient trailing edge for the car further reducing drag and saving fuel.

With a wide stance, and short overhangs the stylish exterior appearance really only tells half of the story when it comes to the design, and overall fit and finish of this car with just as much thought behind the scenes as is presented outwardly.

The first thing you'll notice is an impressive improvement in the level of attention to detail - one point certain to win back a few Red Lion fans.

All aperture seams and welds are concealed for a better visual perception of quality, rubber bonnet seals reduce frontal wind noise as do fibreglass linings within the door carcass, triple sealed windows and an improved seal system around the windscreen, which also helps limit water contamination to the side glass.

Cruze is available in eight different paint finishes (two solid and six metallic) and features 16-inch steel wheels on the base-spec CD and 17-inch alloy wheels on the top-spec CDX.

Paint colours are as follows:

  • Arctic White
  • Chilli Red
  • Mercury Silver (M)
  • Pewter Grey (M)
  • Light Gold (M)
  • Carbon Flash Black (M)
  • Iced Blue (M)
  • Moroccan Blue (M)

Once inside the Cruze aims to create a sporty, comfortable and spacious "dual-cockpit" layout which has drawn influence from all GM markets during its conception.

Retaining similar styling themes as found externally on the vehicle - such as trapezoidal shaping (note centre air-conditioning/infotainment stack) and tight tolerances - the Cruze offers many features as standard that some rivals consider "extras" or simply do not offer at all.

A tilt/slide adjustable three-spoke steering wheel offers a thick grip, leather clad on CDX, along with both audio and cruise controls, which are incidentally standard on both model grades.

The use of all available space is evident through Cruze's many storage compartments as is the obvious maximising of available cabin space, perhaps most noticeably in the offering of 917mm of rear leg room.

The driving position is comfortable, the pedal box well positioned and reduction in wind and road noise pleasing on all but the most coarse of rural roads.

Instrumentation is logical and concise while still offering a full-trip computer to compliment the four-gauge layout.

Featuring intuitive, simple and logically placed controls and switch gear the Cruze is afforded a pleasant, clean and modern decor using a mixture of colours and textures through all inter-relating materials to assist in a feeling of fluidity and refinement not usually found in cars of this price range.

The base model Cruze CD offers a two-tone sports mesh (cloth) trim with silver and matt black highlights while the CDX gains heated leather upholstery, gloss highlights with chrome and silver accents.

Both Cruze models feature an MP3 compatible single CD tuner with iPod connectivity, express up/down power windows with anti-pinch function, two flip keys, delayed theatre style cabin lighting, full trip computer, cruise control and 60:40 split fold rear seats with a built-in articulating arm rest.

CDX gains front fog lamps, the afore mentioned heated leather trim, rear park assist, and dusk sensing headlamps.

Notably, Cruze misses out on Bluetooth mobile phone connectivity, a six-CD stacker and satellite navigation - even as optional equipment.

Cargo capacity on all Cruze (sedan) variants is 400 litres with the seats up.

Interior Dimensions are as follows:

  • Leg: 1074mm(F)/917 (R)
  • Shoulder: 1391(F)/1370 (R)
  • Head: 999 (F)/963 (R)

Under the bonnet Cruze features the choice of petrol or diesel four-cylinder engines mated to either a five-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission with Active Select - though we should point out that at this stage, the diesel is only available in CD spec.

The engines are set in a four-mount cradle and are mounted on a slight angle, specifically tuned to the engine's inherent torque axis, so as to minimise the transfer of vibration and noise.

The 1.8-litre Family I, Generation III petrol unit manages 104kW at 6200rpm with thanks to dual continuously variable valve timing, twin continuously adjustable camshafts and a two-step intake manifold with a rotary sleeve (instead of flaps) to minimise any flow losses.

Developing 176Nm of torque, 90 per cent of which is available from between 2200rpm and 6200rpm, the engine isn't exactly a powerhouse, but manages to achieve decent performance if kept in the upper reaches of the tach.

The petrol engine is capable of running on 91 - 98 RON fuel and is E10 compatible.

However, for my money the pick of the pair is easily the 2.0-litre, intercooled, turbo-diesel unit that utilises common-rail injection and a variable geometry turbo to develop 110kW at 4000rpm and 320Nm, which again offers 90 per cent of its power across a wide band - this time between 1750rpm and 3500rpm.

The diesel engine meets Euro-4 emission regulations and is fitted with a particulate filter than remains maintenance free for the life of the car.

My only drama with the diesel is that there is a noticeable amount of turbo lag, particularly with the manual variant, though adapting your driving style should see this minimised. Service intervals are 12 months/15,000kms for either engine.

Fuel economy returns are as follows:

  • 7.0 litres per 100km (petrol manual)
  • 7.5 litres per 100km (petrol automatic)
  • 5.7 litres per 100km (diesel manual)
  • 6.8 litres per 100km (diesel automatic)

With the long wheelbase and wide track, as we touched on earlier, the Cruze feels very stable on the road. Cornering is nimble, sharp and well balanced thanks to a MacPherson Strut (F)/Torsion Beam (R) suspension arrangement specifically tuned for Australian conditions.

Steering feel too is excellent, a true highlight of the car, remaining positive and well weighted on centre with a sporty, linear feel with ample levels of feedback through the turns (turning circle 10.9 metres).

Large diameter discs brakes provide capable stopping with an organic brake pad lining enhancing what's already a terrific pedal feel while at the same time extending pad life and reducing brake noise.

The ride is firm, but I would stop short of saying stiff, though with such positive road holding characteristics I'm sure few buyers will mind.

On a practical note, and perhaps an indication of Holden's desire to cater for the local market with Cruze, petrol models come standard with a 16-inch steel spare wheel while diesel models are afforded a tyre inflation kit.

The good news is that for diesel customers wanting the reassurance of a proper spare wheel, one is available as a no cost option (this is not provided as standard so as to reduce weight).

Exterior dimensions are as follows:

  • Length: 4597mm
  • Width: 1788mm (excludes mirrors)
  • Height: 1477mm
  • Track: 1544mm (F) / 1558mm (R)

Safety was a strong priority throughout Cruze's 27 month and US$4 billion development process with some 221 prototypes trialled.

Cruze faced more simulated crash tests than almost any other car in its category and, as you can see from the picture above, was also crashed in the lab by Australia's own ANCAP engineers.

With dual front, side and curtain airbags (no knee airbag available), collapsible pedals, ESP with Traction Control and ABS with EBD standard across the range - in addition to the generous use of high tensile steel in its frame (65 per cent) - the Cruze scored 35.04 from a possible 37 points to achieve a five-star (from a maximum of five) ANCAP rating.

Cruze hopes to attract buyers of all demographics but expects most buyers to be young, professional couples looking for a stylish, safe, fun and economical car that represents exceptional value for money - and I for one wish them well.

The Cruze represents a new style of thinking from Holden and is a vast improvement on recent "badge engineered" examples from the Daewoo camp.

Provided buyers can see the car for what it is in such a crowded market place, there's no reason Cruze won't sell in droves.

Recommended Retail Pricing is as follows:

  • Cruze CD (Petrol) - $20,990 (M) / $22,990 (A)
  • Cruze CD (Diesel) - $23,990 (M) / $25,990 (A)
  • Cruze CDX (Petrol) - $23,990 (M) / $25,990 (A)

CarAdvice will carry out full road tests of a number of Cruze models in the coming weeks, so stay tuned!