Already receiving mixed reactions from punters, a newly released mid-life refresh has once again got people talking about the Holden Cruze.
Back in 2011, the Holden Cruze was comfortably the local car maker’s second-best-selling model behind the Commodore and Australia’s third-best-selling small car behind the top-selling Toyota Corolla and Mazda 3. That year 33,784 units rolled into Australian driveways.
Fast forward to the end of 2014 and the picture looks a little less rosy. With 18,554 units sold for the year, the Cruze had dropped to fifth place trailing the Corolla, 3, Hyundai i30 and Volkswagen Golf. And while maintaining its position as the local Lion’s second-best seller, now, the small car only edged out the Holden Colorado commercial pickup by 506 units.
Cut to the end of February just gone and the Cruze’s tally of 2979 is a fair way off the 7501 figure of the segment-leading Mazda 3. It also puts the Cruze a mere 99 vehicles ahead of its Colorado stable mate.
So if a change is as good as a holiday, then pack your bags and feast your eyes on the new-look 2015 Holden Cruze.
Our test car here is the SRi-V and it starts at $27,140 – up $250 on its equivalent predecessor.
The entry point into the revised range’s flagship model, our SRi-V sedan is equipped with a six-speed manual transmission, netting buyers a saving of $2200 over the six-speed automatic.
Referred to as “bold” by Holden’s marketing department, the new front-end is highlighted by twin grilles, a shrunken lion badge, LED daytime running lights, a lower chrome ‘blade’ and black strips on a revised lower lip.
Confronting as it may be to some, the ‘new’ design has been seen on US-spec Chevrolet-badged Cruzes since the car was revealed last April at the 2014 New York motor show.
As before, the SRi-V is powered by the same 132kW/230Nm turbocharged 1.6-litre petrol engine used in the $4000 cheaper SRi. Claimed combined cycle fuel consumption too remains unchanged at 7.4 litres of premium unleaded per 100km.
Helping to justify its additional coin, the 2015 Holden Cruze SRi-V now comes standard with rain-sensing wipers, suede seat inserts and remote start. Redesigned 18-inch alloy wheels are also included, along with grid lines for the carryover reversing camera.
Sitting up front in the comfortable and supportive (and reasonably bucketed) red-stitched and heated leather and suede seats, you are still confronted by a mix of hard and scratchy plastics and trim materials.
The helpful dash-top storage container and key-sized cut just forward of the gear lever both remain, but unfortunately so does the previous model’s visible bonnet-mounted washer jets.
Clever and adjustable, the plastic cut-out between the handbrake and driver’s seat is also useful for holding drinks and phones and the like, though, being entirely hard plastic – without any rubber or felt lining – ‘stuff’ will slide around.
The felt-bottomed centre console bin has the right idea, also housing USB and AUX inputs. It is rather basic though, and is realistically too small and shallow to be overly useful. Larger front door pockets, closed-off door pulls and a decent glove box, however, create good storage alternatives.
Along with excellent rear head, toe and legroom, rear-seat occupants receive two map pockets, two small door pockets and a fold-down centre armrest with two, albeit shallow, cup holders. There’s also a 12 Volt power outlet but sadly rear air vents are again missing.
Folding 60:40, the rear seats can help expand the Cruze’s ample boot beyond its 445-litre seat-up capacity, though, can’t improve its narrow aperture and gooseneck hinges – the latter often responsible for a crushed bag or two. A space saver spare tyre also lives in the back, as does a single cargo hook (ideal for shopping bags).
Push the engine start-stop button and the Cruze shakes and jitters as the 1.6-litre turbo fires into life.
A 30-plus degree day is not always ideal for testing but we are in Australia after all and temperatures this high and beyond are more than commonplace.
Despite being near class-leading in terms of power and torque, the engine is immediately not very happy being below 1500rpm, almost grinding to a halt when faced with a hill when the air conditioner is on.
You aren't forced to constantly go in search of its 6400rpm redline, though, as by 2000rpm – air-con on or off – the little four-cylinder is far more responsive, delivering keen pickup and reasonable acceleration.
Lacking a particularly favourable ‘sweet spot’, the Cruze happily coasts at 80km/h in sixth gear at bang on 1800rpm.
And while the snickety six-speed manual transmission is surprisingly noisy when moving between gears (windows up or down), every throttle application – whether squeezing it on or lifting off – is attached to some type of turbo noise. Subtle but still audible, these vary between induction, spool and turbo pressure release sounds.
The gearbox too, like the clutch, is light and fairly feedback free. But while the steering follows a similar path in terms of its weighting, it is consistent and accurate, even off-centre.
Suspension is unchanged for the 2015 update, meaning the firmer riding SRi-V again straddles the line between surprising cornering ability and reasonable comfort.
Riding on 45-profile Bridgestone Potenza tyres, the sporty-ish Cruze does pickup up cats eyes and road imperfections but rarely get busy or crashy. And while flat cornering ability and impressive body control are positives, the flip side is a cabin exposed to ever-present road noise and tyre roar – accentuated on coarse-chip surfaces.
Continuing to preference ease of driving over driver engagement are the slightly doughy and detached brakes. Requiring what feels like about half to two-thirds of the pedal travel to have much effect, once engaged the set up actually does a solid enough job of pulling up the 1428kg (tare) Cruze.
Updated or not the Holden Cruze is a legitimate player in the small car game.
Some foibles are hard to overlook – the low-rent fishing line-like stitching on the leather-wrapped steering wheel, lack of a footrest, thick B-pillars, the engine’s requirement for 95 octane premium unleaded and one of the worst front seat recline adjustment lever positions of any car currently on sale. But its combination of equipment, practicality, space and overall driving dynamics make it a strong contender. Its three year/100,000km warranty, one-year roadside assistance and lifetime capped-price servicing doesn’t hurt either.
Will its new mug help it get back to the dizzying sales heights of 2011 before the arrival of the second-generation car, tipped to be revealed at next month’s New York motor show? Only time will tell…
Click on the Photos tab for more 2015 Holden Cruze SRi-V images by Tom Fraser.