Sequels don’t often live up to expectations but the Series II Holden Cruze might just buck that trend. Like a rock band recording a second album Holden had to get a new take on a now familiar sound. Shifting production of the Cruze from Korea to Australia has given the small sedan a positive new flavour. It’s received cosmetic tweaks revised suspension and in our tested SRi-V variant – a new turbocharged powerplant. Car and SUV spent some time with the Series II Cruze to find out if this sequel tastes sweeter than the original formula.
The Australian sourced Cruze has received some subtle styling tweaks to boost the vehicles appeal to a local palate. The grille and front indicators have been replaced and chrome trim has been used more extensively across the range. Our top-spec SRi-V model has been given the sporty treatment with a full body kit, bootlid spoiler, fog lamps, chrome door handles and 5-spoke 17-inch alloy wheels. The result is a very handsome small sedan with brawny big car styling in a compact body. The coupe-like roofline, broad shoulders and sharp creases work together nicely to give this sporty Cruze genuine road presence.
In the cabin there are few changes over the original Korean built model so there’s still fluid lines, decent space and high equipment levels. The leather trim is a highlight with the SRi-V boasting two of the nicest front chairs in the segment. They’re well bolstered for support, six-way adjustable, are comfortable and add a sporty feel to the driving position. Colour-matched fabric trim features on the Cruze dashboard adding a luxury Euro feel to the cockpit. Elsewhere, black plastics are broken up by silver accents in a cosseting arrangement for the driver. Build quality has been noticeably improved and while some of the silver/chrome plastics still feel hard everything is screwed down tight and all shut lines are exact.
The Cruze Switchgear is logically laid out with good functionality, the only small niggle here is the green light on the start/stop button which is very bright and can be distracting. Instrumentation isn’t large but is easy to read in a chrome-ringed four dial layout and it looks the business fully illuminated in blue. Our SRi-V model included an all-new premium multimedia system, which is an outstanding unit for a vehicle at this price point. It has a 7-inch colour LCD screen that displays standard radio menus, satellite navigation and shows DVDs. It also has a 10GB hard disk for storing music and can even pause live radio. As a stereo its not bad either with six-speakers and USB connectivity, but no Bluetooth as standard. Other equipment on the SRi-V includes heated front seats, rear parking sensors, keyless entry and start, trip computer, auto-on headlights and cruise control. That’s a tidy haul of gear for any vehicle priced under $40k.
Cabin space is generous up front but in the backseat things are more constrained by the coupe roofline, but with correct adjustment two adults can ride in relative comfort, three may prove a squeeze. The boot has an ample 445-litre luggage capacity with the rear seat back splitting 60:40 and folding forward for longer items. The boot hinges are the older gooseneck style so when fully loaded you have to be careful they don’t crush fragile cargo.
The Series II Cruze’s interior and exterior design is all in order but the big news comes with what’s under the SRi-V bonnet. New to the Cruze range, this Euro-sourced 1.4-litre four-cylinder engine uses turbocharging to produce 103kW of power and 200Nm of torque. While these figures aren’t overly impressive alone the full compliment of torque is available from 1850-4900rpm giving the SRi-V a broad power band. You’re not going to drag off a Subaru WRX from the lights but wind the revs up above 4,000rpm and this Cruze pulls with strength. Mash your foot on the go pedal when the SRi-V is at low revs and you will discover some turbo lag, but if you work the engine hard rewards include good hustle and a raspy exhaust note too.
The 1.4-litre engine can be mated to either a 6-speed automatic transmission or like our test subject a 6-speed manual box. The manual box furthers the SRi-V’s sporty claims with its leather-wrapped short-throw shifter that encourages quick changes. Its not a burden in traffic either thanks to a light clutch pedal that engages predictably.
With the small 1.4-litre engine and manual transmission the SRi-V returns an excellent fuel consumption figure of 6.4L/100km combined. That’s an impressive result for any vehicle with a performance edge and even with some spirited driving our Cruze still managed 7.5L/100km during testing.
Dynamically both the SRi and SRi-V variants move with more swagger than their Cruze siblings thanks to a Watts linkage rear suspension set up. This increases chassis stability and makes the SRi-V a much more stable and assured handler than its imported predecessor. The SRi-V rear end tracks tightly through corners with an overall feel that’s flat and predictable when pushed harder. Even with the sportier and firmer suspension feel, compliance on broken or harsh surfaces is still reasonable. There’s plenty of grip through the front driving wheels, making the sporty Cruze fun to pull through the bends. Another special feature of the SRi models is electric steering, which is accurate and delivers some feedback when cornering, but during motorway cruising it can be more vague.
Refinement is an area Holden engineers have clearly worked hard on and the Cruze allows very little engine or road noise into the cabin. With extra insulation added to the firewall the only time the engine intrudes is on invitation, by the driver pushing the engine hard.
During safety testing the Cruze scored a 5 Star ANCAP rating thanks to a range of electronic aides. Standard kit includes traction and stability control systems, ABS brakes with brake assist, six airbags (front, front side and curtain), seatbelt pretensioners, and three-point belts for all seats.
So what’s the final word on the Cruze SRi-V? It’s impressive, not just because it’s a very good car but also because it’s evidence of Holden’s ability to take an existing vehicle, bring production in house and make it a whole load better. As a sports model the SRi-V isn’t a hardcore performance machine but it can be a fun and involving drive, something the earlier Cruze simply couldn’t do. Its strengths come with excellent fuel economy from the small motor and suspension that’s set for both dynamic ability and fair compliance. There’s an impressive level of equipment for the price and the interior is nicely appointed with the seats and multimedia system particular highlights. All up, the Series II changes have taken the Cruze from life as a journeyman in the small sedan segment, to being a genuine frontrunner.
What we like:
- Lots of equipment for the price
- Modern and strong turbocharged engine
- Dynamically capable
- Improvements in build quality and refinement
- Value for money
- Safety credentials
What we don’t like:
- Annoying light on stop/start button
- Some interior plastics still have a cheap feel
- Steering feels vague during cruising
- Gooseneck boot hinges
Who will buy this car: Will continue to prove popular with fleet customers but has solid appeal for varied applications. Single men, young families, even retired couples could put the Cruze to good use.
Cool Factor: Moderate, there will always be Holden fans who dismiss anything that isn’t a Commodore but the Cruze looks sharp and in SRi-V form has the tricks and the pace to impress.
Words and Photos: Adam Mamo