Holden Cruze 2009 Review

Large cars have taken a fall from grace in the current turbulent economic climate and this has rocked Holden back on its heels. But rather than go all head-in-the-sand Holden has elected to expand its small car range. Now, Holden is backing its new featherweight champion the Cruze to generate serious sales in the hard-fought small car market.

The Cruze fills the gap left by the Vectra and like Holden’s Barina and Epica models is sourced from General Motor’s subsidiary, formally Daewoo, in Korea. The Koreans know how to make cheap cars and the Cruze is priced from $27,490 making it very competitive in the segment. Available in two variations, the entry level Cruze CD and the higher-spec CDX, we spent time with both to get the low down.

The Cruze is a sharp looker in both guises and has a conservative modern appeal with definite hints of its Commodore stable mate. The uniquely shaped light clusters front and back and the strong character lines in the bonnet are areas of styling interest. Overall, the design flows cohesively and colour-coded door handles and side-mirrors work in with a raked roofline and bold grille for a smart executive look. The Cruze CDX is upgraded with chrome trim on the grille and door handles and 17-inch alloy wheels replacing the 16-inch steel rims on the CD model.

Get inside and you’re greeted with a surprisingly slick-looking interior that uses fluid shapes and contrasting colours. The cloth trim in the Cruze CD and the leather in the CDX wraps in a band from the side doors across the symmetrical dashboard. It’s a clever touch that cocoons the vehicle’s occupants and adds visual appeal. Elsewhere silver trim stands out from dark tactile plastics. Switchgear is easy to use but the buttons are untextured and the central display screen is a little basic and sparse. Climate control buttons are also situated tightly behind the gearstick making for awkward use. Nighttime cabin illumination is effective and stylish with a cool blue glow radiating from almost all buttons and knobs. Quality of materials is a mixed bag with some plastics feeling solid and others like the silver-ringed instrument cluster feeling thin and flimsy.

The seats are bolstered and snug and have good adjustment options but could offer more comfort particularly at their base. Cabin space is generally very good with a flat back seat that can easily accommodate three adults. The boot has a 400L load capacity and a 60:40 split for loading longer cargo.

Motivation for the Cruze comes in two forms, firstly a 1.8-litre DOHC ECOTEC 4-cylinder petrol unit that puts out 104kW of power and 176Nm of torque. Alternatively a diesel option is available with a 2.0-litre common rail turbo motor that delivers 110kW and 320Nm from 2000rpm.

The petrol engine is decent on paper with its 104kW of grunt but in reality it can feel underpowered and asthmatic. Response in the lower rev range is pedestrian and even around town it struggles to stay in a usable power band. The six-speed automatic box works overtime to extract all available juice from the engine, but it isn’t smooth enough to prevent its chopping and changing from being obtrusive.

The diesel mill offers more in the way of power and much more torque but distinct turbo lag makes for sluggish movement from stationary. It’s also very easy to get caught out in a high gear even when mated to the 5-speed manual transmission. That said, once you creep into the torque band, the available power is enough to get the Cruze moving at pace. The manual box is easy enough to use with a light clutch but the gear-stick throw is noticeably long.

Driving dynamics are generally good the suspension is firm but well balanced and body roll is minimal. The steering is firm and offers some feedback through the thick wheel. Cornering is a strength of the Cruze with the vehicle staying low, flat and offering ample grip on windy roads.

Ride comfort is fair but some harshness from uneven roads makes its way into the cabin. Wind and tyre noise isn’t an issue but the diesel engine’s rattles are audible especially when cold or at higher revs.

Safety bases are well covered in the Cruze with features including Electronic Stability Control with Brake Assist, ABS braking with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution and a full compliment of six airbags including side airbags. This set-up is good enough to achieve a maximum 5 star ANCAP test result.

What’s the bottom line? The Cruze is a good looking, well priced and safe small sedan that does some things very well but is ultimately let down by its drivetrains in any configuration. My pick would be the diesel engine matched with the manual transmission, this offers the best mix of performance and economy.

The Cruze will generate some sales but is facing a tough battle to compete against the likes of the Mazda3, Kia Cerato and the Ford Focus despite its price advantage. Ultimately the Cruze is guilty of focusing too strongly on its aesthetic finer details while neglecting its mechanical basics.

Click through to the next page for a list of specifications

Price: CD from $27,490, CDX $31,49

What we like:

  • Sharp exterior and interior looks
  • Solid driving dynamics
  • Well priced
  • Safety credentials

What we don’t like:

  • Both engines lack response and low-range power
  • Marginal interior quality
  • Auto transmission struggles
  • Noisy diesel engine

Words and Photos: Adam Mamo

Holden Cruze (2009) – Specifcations

1.8 litre 4-cylinder DOHC petrol 2.0 litre 4-cylinder SOHC Diesel
Bore x stroke (mm) 80.5 x 88.2 83.0 x 92.0
Capacity (cc) 1796 1991
Compression ratio (:1) 10.5 17.5
Power (ECE, kW)# 104 @ 6200rpm 110 @ 4000rpm
Torque (ECE, Nm)# 176 @ 3800rpm 320 @ 2000rpm
Recommended Fuel ULP/E10 Diesel/EN590
Fuel tank capacity (L) 60 60
Steering hydraulic power steering hydraulic power steering
Electronic Stability Control (ESC) Incorporating: Anti-lock Braking System (ABS), Brake Assist (BA), Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD),
Traction Control System (TCS)
Incorporating: Anti-lock Braking System (ABS), Brake Assist (BA), Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD), Traction Control System (TCS)
Brakes 4 wheel disc brakes. Front ventilated 4 wheel disc brakes. Front ventilated
Anti-lock Braking System 4 channel, 4 sensor 4 channel, 4 sensor
Suspension front: McPherson strut rear: Compound crank axle front: McPherson strut rear: Compound crank axle
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