Does the hot new hatch from Holden live up to its name? David Linklater finds out.
Here's a novelty for a carmaker: eye up the market, bide your time — and then launch something that's guaranteed to result in conquest sales. Probably from your own brand.
Holden's been doing well with its Korean–designed Cruze small car. Up until last year, it was only available as a sedan — ostensibly the wrong shape when 70 percent of the New Zealand small–car segment is hatchback. Despite that, it was a solid fourth–place in its class until the end of last year.
That's when Holden launched the Cruze hatchback, a car for global consumption (Cruze is sold as Chevrolet elsewhere in the world) but designed right across the water by Holden. Our Cruzes are even now built in Australia — both sedans and hatches, since the model went to face-lifted second–generation form in 2011.
Which brings me to our test car, the SRi–V hatchback. It represents everything that's new and shiny about Cruze at the moment: it's a five—door, naturally, but it's also in flagship SRi–V specification. It's got a high–tech 1.4–litre direct–injection turbo engine with six–speed automatic, more sophisticated Watts Linkage rear suspension (as per the European Astra) and a wealth of standard equipment. Keyless entry/start, power seats, integrated sat–nav with DVD audio/hard drive and leather upholstery are all standard.
Surprisingly, it's the small–capacity iTi (for intelligent Turbo induction) engine that's the highlight of the package. It makes 103kW/200Nm, has a surprisingly sprightly demeanour and yet still returns 6.9 litres per 100km. It's not the most refined powerplant under load, and while the six–speed gearbox is smooth it can also be a bit lethargic at times — but these are foibles that don't diminish the entertaining and sophisticated feel of the car.
Mind you, have every right to expect a little sophistication for the $40,900 price tag of our top–line test car. It's loaded with equipment, although the cabin architecture and hard plastics are more in keeping with the lower–end Cruze models' status as fleet vehicles than the premium aspirations of the SRi–V.
Spoiler kit or not, the Cruze's handling is not especially sporty, but the SRi–V certainly tackles corners with authority and the chassis communicates clearly with the driver.
That price puts the Cruze up against some stiff competition: sporty cars like the Ford Focus and Mazda3, or even European models like the Volkswagen Golf. The Cruze lacks polish compared with many rivals, but it feels like honest fun and the equipment levels simply cannot be beaten for the money.
It's practical, naturally, with a large fifth door and 60/40split–folding rear seats. Although it might surprise you to learn that the Cruze hatch has a slightly smaller boot than its sedan sibling: 413 litres against 445 for the three–box model.
It's a good–looking thing — but then so is the sedan. So the decision to go hatchback may not be as cut–and–dried as it initially appears, especially when you can have the sedan in the same upmarket & SRi–V specification. Either way, you're getting a very impressive package.