FROM the outside, Holden's Cruze is wearing a tailored suit. Beneath the metal it's wearing Stubbies and thongs.
The Australian engineering team went to work on the small car and has produced a package which has improved handling, better powerplants and improved features at a lower price.
Getting into a base model Cruze now costs $19,490 (down $2000) while also undercutting the Toyota Corolla by $500.
Yet the savings are even better in the sports derivatives. The range-topping SRi-V is down a hefty three grand to $26,490 and it also comes with a zestier turbocharged engine.
Technically called a model year 2014, the new Cruze sedan and hatch line-up will arrive in showrooms before Easter.
Poverty packs are a thing of the past in the small car genre. The Equipe is testament to how far things have come.
Pivotal to the improved base model look is the 17cm colour touch-screen which replaces the Tetris-looking green digital display.
Textile trim across the dash and doors also lifts the Equipe's ambience, where hard plastics are restricted to around the bottom of the console, door bases and glovebox. A silver glossy finish around the gear shifter and stereo controls offers additional refinement.
The SRi and SRi-V have a brushed titanium look instead of the silver, along with more leather trimmings.
Front seats are supportive and comfortable, but the back bench seat is flat and lacks some contouring.
On the road
The underpinnings of the Cruze are used in various General Motors guises in destinations such as China, Europe and the United States, but our models are not only locally produced in Adelaide, they have been given a thorough Aussie working over.
An Australian engineering team has tuned the suspension settings and the powerplants to better suit our varying road conditions.
Now available is a strong 1.6-litre turbocharged engine standard in both SRi and SRi-V sport models, while the tweaked carryover 1.4-litre turbocharged donk remains an option on the Equipe.
In the base model is the 1.8-litre petrol, while a 2.0-litre turbo diesel is still available.
Also new is the second generation automatic transmission which is a cracking new addition.
Across the range the Cruze feels like a vastly different beast. There's less cabin noise and a more confident feel when tackling corners.
We sampled the new self-shifter in partnership with the three petrol
engines and it's one smooth mover. Gear changes are timely and rarely is there a need to make use of the manual control option.
For those who like to have fun, the SRi-V offers the most rewarding drive, and you can flick the shifter across into Sport mode where it holds the gears longer and takes various factors into consideration (like how hard and fast you are stamping your right foot) for intuitive shifts up and down.
One vital new inclusion for the Cruze is the partnership with Bridgestone for right-hand drive bias tyres. This rubber is especially suited to the camber on our roads.
What do you get?
Key new inclusions from the base model Equipe include the 17cm colour touch-screen with the slick MyLink infotainment unit, 17-inch alloys and rear park assist.
MyLink is especially impressive with its Stitcher and Pandora applications, which enable you to use your smartphone to stream music of your liking or podcasts on an infinite range of issues.
Equipes also have six airbags and stability control which contributes to a five-star safety rating, as well as air-con, power windows, six-speaker CD stereo with USB and iPod/MP3 compatibility, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming as well as cruise control.
The SRi gains sports suspension, cloth seats with leather bolsters and a spoiler on the sedan models.
Everything goes into the range-topping SRi-V, including 18-inch alloys, heated leather sports front seats, climate-controlled air-con and reversing camera.
CDX models are only available in sedan and have leather-appointed seat trim and headed front seats, climate-controlled air-con, keyless entry and push-button start, reversing camera and digital speedometer.
It's a competitive segment. Also worth considering is the number-one selling Mazda3 (from $20,330), Hyundai's i30 (from $20,990) or Elantra (from $20,590), Toyota Corolla (from $19,990) or the Ford Focus (from $20,290).
Holden has capped the servicing costs for the first three years or 60,000km. But even after the initial phase, costs will be at the lower end of the scale. Fuel efficiency isn't best in class but none of the variants are guzzlers either.
The Cruze is a handy family option, with the ability to cope with two adults or teenagers in the back.
There are two cup/bottle holders in the centre console along with bottle holders in each door.
Accessing the child seat points is easy in the seat backs which also have a 60-40 fold function.
What matters most
The good stuff: Improved interior feel with MyLink system, taut chassis and Australian tuned suspension, pricing.
What we'd like to see: Sat nav as an option across the range, sporting exhaust note on the SRi-V, dual zone air-con on up-spec models.
Warranty and servicing: Three-year unlimited kilometre warranty. Capped price servicing for the first three years or 60,000km (petrol models - $185, diesel models - $335).
The writer was Holden's guest in Tasmania.
Model: Holden Cruze.
Details: Front-wheel drive four-door sedan and five-door hatch.
Engine: 1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol generating maximum power of 104kW @ 6300rpm and peak torque of 175Nm @ 3800rpm; 1.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol 103kW @ 4900rpm and 200Nm @ 1850rpm; 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol 132kW @ 5500rpm and 230Nm @ 2200rpm; 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel 120kW @ 3800rpm and 360Nm @ 2000rpm.
Transmission: Five-speed manual (1.8L only), six-speed manual or six-speed automatic.
Consumption: 1.8L - 7.0 litres/100km (m) 7.4 (a); 1.4L - 6.8L/100km (a); 1.6L - 7.9L/100km (m) and 7.4L/100km (a); 2.0L - 6.7L/100km (a).
Sedan and hatch
Equipe 1.8L (m) $19,490
Equipe 1.8L (a) $21,690
Equipe 1.4L (a) $23,190
Equipe 2.0L (a) $25,690
SRi 1.6L (m) $22,490
SRi 1.6L (a) $24,690
SRi-V 1.6L (m) $26,490
SRi-V 1.6L (a) $28,690
CDX 1.8L (a) $24,190
CDX 2.0L (a) $28,190