Difficult though it might be to believe, 2013 is not just about the VF Commodore for Holden.
As crucial as the big new rear-driver is to the General’s manufacturing future here, it’s the mid-life update of its locally built Cruze small car that looms every bit as large.
Last year the Cruze hatch and sedan came within a whisker of out-selling the sedan and wagon variants of its burly big brother, and it did so in a growing category that now represents just over 20 percent of all new-car sales.
Which is precisely why any changes – even a mid-life update with a notable dearth of styling enhancement – is big news.
The new Cruze may look little different to the old, but Holden has invested wisely in performance and dynamic upgrades that include a new turbo petrol engine, an upgraded six-speed auto for petrol variants, and extensive refinements to the dynamics of every model.
The big news beneath the bonnet is that new 132kW/230Nm 1.6-litre DOHC 16-valve turbo four, which joins the range at the top of the tree as the performance engine in the sporty SRi and SRi-V variants. Thankfully, it adds some much needed starch to the backbone of the luxury-sports models.
The new engine is impressively smooth, with a nice linear power delivery, but needs a few revs aboard to give its best. It spins sweetly to its 5500rpm power peak and beyond but could do with a bit more muscle in the mid-range for more assertive overtaking.
The old 1.4-litre petrol turbo continues on as an option, as does the 1.8-litre atmo four-cylinder, with all three petrol engines available with a new Gen 2 six-speed automatic.
The new auto has been dosing on the Omega 3 fish oil, offering superior adaptive shift logic to deliver a more intuitive and enjoyable driving experience.
Local calibration sees it behaving far more rationally than the fussy Gen 1, which carries on behind the unchanged diesel-powered Cruze variants.
A raft of locally developed and Australian-specific revisions to the Cruze’s underpinnings have resulted in significant improvements to ride, handling and even NVH. Here, Holden’s decision to move to two suspension tunes rather than a single spec across all models has clearly paid dividends.
Specific tuning of the struts and dampers, plus the addition of a stiffer rear torsion beam and a slightly lowered suspension, has sharpened the reactions of the SRi and SRi-V, making them a more sporting drive.
Meanwhile, the base Equipe and CDX models now ride on a more comfort-oriented setting that’s softer yet still delivers superior dynamics.
Grip levels across the range are impressive, thanks partly to new right-hand-drive-oriented Bridgestones, developed locally and specifically for the Cruze.
Inside, all models now feature Holden’s MyLink infotainment system with new seven-inch touchscreen, and there’s a strong value for money story, with price cuts of between $2000 and $3500, accompanied by equipment upgrades of between $1250-$1600.
The 18-month local-development program has delivered a much-improved Cruze that has jettisoned its dull driving dynamics in favour of a more engaging personality – one that now speaks with a distinctly Aussie accent.