The Holden Cruze is a thoroughly competent and well-priced small-medium sedan
Holden NZ can't wait for the Cruze to go on sale on July 1. Its May passenger sales were 16 per cent down on April, and 46 per cent lower than May last year.
It's under-performing at the smaller end of the market at a time when consumer confidence - already wobbly given economic and exchange rate woes - was further hit by news of GM filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the US.
The Holden Cruze may not be a magic bullet, but the recent launch revealed a thoroughly competent and well-priced small-medium sedan that should do well here.
This is the first car to use GM's small car platform, which will underpin the next Astra. It's a world car, with an all-new body boasting fit, finish and materials designed to please even GM's fussiest markets.
It took 27 months of development including feedback from various design arms including Holden; it cost US$4 billion in investment; and included 221 prototypes driving over a million test kilometres in countries as far afield as Sweden and China, the US and Australia.
The result could have been a bland, designed-by-committee white-bread-mobile, but it's actually rather good.
Cruze's nuggety exterior lines are complemented by a smart cabin and an innovative use of materials - literally. For the base CD model includes fabric on the dash that delivers a visual and tactile treat over the more usual plastic.
We'll get a 104kW/176Nm 1.8-litre petrol or a 110kW/320Nm 2.0-litre common rail turbo-charged intercooled diesel with a particulate filter. Either engine can be delivered with a five-speed manual or six-speed auto transmission in base CD form, though the leather-clad CDX specification is only available as a petrol auto.
All get ABS brakes, ESP and six airbags, plus a five-star crash test rating, while the CDX adds fruit like 17-inch alloy wheels, heated seats, rear park assist and auto headlights.
Our Australian launch drive proved too cruisy to truly test the handling, though the ride was impressively compliant. I look forward to sampling the car on my own roads, and checking how achievable Holden's fuel economy claims are - the manual diesel that would be my pick apparently capable of a 5.7l/100km thirst.
Why not the 1.8 petrol? It delivered over-relaxed performance especially in auto form, though that proved the benefit of having additional cogs. Kia's equally handsome and similarly priced Cerato is a natural competitor, but its four-speed auto can't hack the pace as well as the Holden's six-speed transmission.
The diesel may not be available in up-spec CDX form, but it's well priced and in manual format you can make the most of the plentiful torque.
Holden can't or won't confirm whether it'll continue with the Astra badge, though Viva is currently on run-out. That car was little more than a rebadged Daewoo of the old school. This Cruze truly is a world car, and though it currently only comes in sedan, not hatch and wagon format, it should put a cat among the small-medium pigeons.