Holden and indeed the larger Australian car manufacturing industry is feeling the heat after labour union discussions were leaked last month raising premature questions about the Commodore’s future after 2018.
No question, a few things need to come together. Despite the Commodore still topping sales charts in Australia, its drivetrain needs to be made more relevant. Holden's once burgeoning export strategy has been stifled by the mineral boom driving the Aussie currency higher than what international markets can afford and a small co-share of investment from Government is needed to make the large car and localised production really fire on all cylinders again. So, no biggie then.
Luckily for Holden, they are still making plenty of cars and the recent addition of the Cruze to the production line is a genuine lifeline during these tough times. And then there's the work we don't hear so much about the contract work Holden does for the larger GM family, many of which is never seen on antipodean roads. As Holden's giant US parent operation finds its feet and regains momentum post meltdown Port Melbourne stands to be one of the most dynamic and important incubators of Automotive talent in the world.
The Cruze hatch is the cake Holden can eat in that it was a true blue Aussie design that won out over other entrants from around planet GM and will now be adopted globally and it's for local release.
Ignoring the boring 1.8 litre petrol variant, I love the latest series II version. It's more lively, responsive and better equipped than the Korean-sourced model of 2010. The hatch version predictably changes little.
That styling job out of Port Melbourne's isn't the most radical - the car remains unchanged from the B-pillar forward and the rear door lowers are also consistent, leaving the top frames, glass (locally made), roofline and rear end as the changed bodywork. It's not over-the-top adventurous but all works well and as the lowered, 19" shod show car Holden revealed a few months ago at the Australian Motor Show demonstrates, if you want to make it look more aggressive, that's easy.
Specification-wise, the hatch mirrors the popular sedan, but adds middle of the pack SRi spec vehicles (manual and automatic) to bridge the gap between the CDX 1.8 litre and the range topping SRi-V. The series II Cruze is well equipped even at entry level, for those unfamiliar with it, let's recap. Standard stuff includes 5 star safety and six airbags, Bluetooth connectivity with voice recognition for phone dialing etc, cruise control, MP3 compatible and USB input audio, trip computer and steering wheel mounted audio controls. The CDX - which isn't really the one you want - adds 17" alloys, leather, heated seats, chrome headlight garnishes and fog lamps. Despite only having cloth interior (leather wrapped steering wheel/gearshift), the SRi looks the business externally with a sportier body kit and rear spoiler, the 17" alloys and chrome grille. Then the top dog SRi-V adds all the fruit like a large 7" screen incorporating sat nav and audio functions, rear park assist, keyless entry/starting, voice recognition for searching and selecting audio tracks or radio stations and a 10gb hard drive and leather with electric memory setting and seat warmers.
Sounds expensive, but it's the best value you'll find for the very fair $38,900 ($40,400 auto) sticker price. SRi-V models also offer the best drivetrain and chassis set-up with the excellent Watts linkage rear suspension as used in the latest Astra in Europe that sharpens up the steering beautifully and a gutsy 1.4 litre turbo engine - another European-sourced part - mated to either a five-speed manual or six speed auto. To be fair though, you do also get that engine / suspension option in the SRi or the entry level CD model too. The CDX targets people who want the options but don't really mind what's underneath, it sticks with the outdated 1.8 litre and conventional beam axle.
Ordinarily you'd forgive it a little extra road noise because of the more open rear cavity, but the hatch is actually quieter thanks to extra noise suppression material thrown into this configuration. There's also a little more headroom for rear entry and egress so you don't have to duck down so much getting in.
So, an attractive and practical hatch with heaps of cool specification and genuine European road manners that provides jobs for Aussies (and probably a fair share of Kiwis) while still competing on price with the mas developed Asian product. Is it just me or does that just seems impossible these days? Long may it last.