Mike Stevens | Oct 15, 2009 | 14 Comments

2009 Holden Cruze CDX And CD Diesel Road Test Review

MAKE NO MISTAKE, Holden’s Cruze has some big shoes to fill. Without the perennially popular Astra and the budget-conscious Viva in Holden showrooms, the Cruze needs to be a lot of things to a lot of people.

Globally, General Motors has tagged this car with the responsibility of being a roaring success across North America, Europe, Asia and Australia.

For now, the sedan-only Cruze has to take the fight to a varied competition offering sedans, hatches and wagons. Available in two well-equipped specifications, with a choice of petrol or diesel engine, Holden’s marketing spin is that the Cruze has “changed the small car game forever”.

TMR took a diesel-powered Cruze CD and a range-topping petrol Cruze CDX and put them through their paces to see just how well the new contender lives up to those claims.


Already the Cruze is making a dent in the sector. With 1318 sales in September, it still has a way to go to catch the segment-leading Corolla with 3353 sales, but it is gaining ground.

So, but how does Holden’s new big hope measure up? With production to swap to Australia later next year, expectations are high for this new mid-sized contender from Holden.



Thankfully, there’s a lot to like about the stylistic balance of the Cruze. From nose to tail the small sedan nails its proportional weighting.

The high blunt-edged front and rear ends neatly complement the sweeping roofline which follows one continuous arc from the base of the A-pillar, right over the roof, and along the C-pillar.


Bodysides are broken up by a pronounced crease which develops behind the front wheel arch, runs above the door handles and folds downward inside the tail-lights.

Not everything fits well though. The over-sized grille and tail-lights seem out of place in an otherwise svelte sedan.

The headlights finish abruptly at their inboard edges and the corner crease around the edge of the bonnet can leave the car looking a little tall and narrow when viewed from head on. But, taste of course, is subjective.


Public response though would seem to indicate that GM’s designers have hit the nail with the lines of the Cruze. On numerous occasions we were asked about “that new Holden” when out and about.



The pleasing swooping exterior style is repeated inside the Cruze. Get settled behind the wheel and the first impression of the dashboard is of the smooth sweeping lines that connect the door trims to the dash and on through the centre console.

There’s plenty of interesting touches, from the semi-translucent tubes that house the instruments to the multi-textured metallic and gloss-black centre stack. We also like the chrome highlights and, in particular, the padded dash sections that run into doors, trimmed to match the seats.

In the CDX the seats themselves offer something different from the usual small car fare. Leather-trimmed, the two-tone grey on black seating surfaces make for a pleasant surprise at this end of the market.


Surprising too are features like heated front seats on the CDX with four-way adjustable head restraints and seat-height adjustment for driver and passenger. There is also height adjustment for the seatbelts offered on both models.

The only downside of the swooping dash design is that it travels awfully close to the knees. To avoid collecting the lower dash while engaging the clutch, or opening the glovebox, the seats need to be positioned well back.

Rear seat occupants are treated to the same two-tone leather, with three-point seatbelts and adjustable head restraints in all positions.


There is generous interior width, but, with the front seats back, knee-room quickly becomes tight and taller passengers will find themselves acquainted with the rear headlining.

Utility is enhanced by 60:40 split folding rear seats which fold flat, however the outer rear seatbelts are positioned so that they fall against the seat strikers. Locking the seats back into position requires a fussy two-handed operation that simply shouldn’t be the case.


Boot space is not a problem with a wide opening, a deep floor and 400 litres of cargo room. Ample there for a small family on the move.


Equipment and features

Even in its basic CD specification the Cruze comes loaded with features such as cruise control, heated electric mirrors, auto-down power windows for all doors, 16-inch wheels, a trip-computer and standard air-conditioning.

Entertainment comes courtesy of a single disc MP3=compatible CD player with ‘plug and play’ MP3 player connectivity and six speakers backed up by illuminated steering wheel controls.


The up-spec CDX also adds leather trim with heated front seats, a leather gear-shifter and steering wheel, chrome external door handles, rear park-sensors, front foglights and 17-inch alloy wheels.

Safety equipment is well represented with the 5-Star ANCAP-rated Cruze coming loaded with Electronic Stability control (ESP) with traction control, Antilock Brakes (ABS) with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD) and Brake Assist (BA).

In the case of an accident, occupants are protected by six airbags, seatbelt pretentioners, and, for the driver, collapsible pedals.


Mechanical Package

With the recent announcement of a diesel engine option for the CDX, the Cruze now offers a choice of two power-plants across the range.

The diesel option puts a 2.0 litre SOHC common rail direct-injection turbo diesel engine under the bonnet with 110kW at 4000 rpm and a whopping 320Nm of torque available from 2000 rpm.

With those outputs, the diesel engine becomes the ‘performance’ option in the Cruze range, while still being the more frugal choice. Mixed cycle consumption is just 5.7 l/100km for the manual or 6.8 l/100 in the automatic.


With 104kW of power at 6200 rpm and 176Nm of torque at 3800 rpm, the DOHC 16-valve petrol four doesn’t quite match its compression-ignition sibling. That said, it gives little ground in relation to some of its 2.0 litre petrol-powered opposition.

Holden quotes a fuel consumption figure of 7.0 l/100km for the mixed cycle (7.5 l/100km for the auto) for the petrol-powered models. Over an even split of city and highway driving we found that figure a little hard to match, recording 7.7 l/100km.

Trying to keep pace during stop-start driving would be the biggest contributor there though, with the 1.8 litre engine often wrung-out to meet the performance of surrounding traffic.


Transmission choices extend to a standard five-speed manual or optional six-speed Active Select automatic.

Braking hardware consists of four-wheel disc brakes with ventilated front rotors. Suspension is MacPerson struts up front with a torsion beam rear axle.


The Drive

While a 1380 kg kerb weight isn’t particularly hefty, it proves to be a lot for the 1.8 litre petrol to move. It’s certainly less of an issue with the torquey diesel under the toe, although the diesel tips the scales at an even heftier 1506 kg.

Progress certainly isn’t glacial, but the petrol Cruze never feels truly zippy. That’s quite a shame as the under-stressed chassis certainly feels like it could easily handle more power.


For a ‘low tech’ torsion beam rear-end, the suspension in the Cruze performs well. Even through some challenging bends the Cruze remained planted, with a fairly neutral handling balance which never felt nose-heavy, only pushing into safe understeer under duress.

On rough roads the Cruze stayed comfortable and quiet inside, soaking up big hits with only the slightest quake through the cabin. Being underpinned by a strong platform means body flex is absent.

Encouragingly, there was also an absence of rattles in each of the test cars, pointing to a robust construction (necessary on Australian roads)


Progress on loose and gravel surfaces is also pretty well-sorted. The deft hand of Holden’s chassis and suspension engineering is evident here. The Cruze’s good road manners mean that ESP is only occasionally called upon for back-up.

Certainly, it has to be said, particularly of the petrol version, that there’s not so much power that the Cruze lands itself in trouble.

The hydraulic power-steering is well weighted around town and on the open road. It is lacking a little feedback though (we’d prefer a bit more ‘feel’ for the road).


Braking performance is strong, it was able to withstand a serving of multiple hard stops without suffering from fade. Pedal placement though is quite high in relation to the accelerator which can take a while to adjusting to.

The clutch is light without feeling numb and is matched by a solid gear-shift action. It might not quite match Japanese-built cars for precision, but still has a quality feel with a mid-length throw between slots.

One refreshing aspect of the Cruze is its rearward visibility. While the C-pillars are thick at their base, a wide rear window and good mirror coverage combine to allow confident lane-change manoeuvres.


Front seat comfort also rates highly with well-shaped, well-bolstered front buckets which remained comfortable after long hours on the road. The bolsters however are a little narrow; wider bums than this one may not share the same view of comfort on an extended trip.


At first and second glance, the Cruze offers plenty of kit for its $20,990 (plus on road costs) base price. Moving up to the $23,990 CD diesel or CDX petrol models as tested here does little to diminish that appeal.

A great array of essential safety features and unexpected luxuries like the heated leather seats of the CDX make the Cruze an excellent package for anyone downsizing from a larger car but not wanting to come up short on features and equipment.

Coupled with a rewarding driving experience, Holden’s newest small car has the fire-power to make its presence felt in the sector. Currently built by Daewoo (in which Holden independently owns a large stake), it might just be ‘game-on’ when production begins here.


It might not have changed the category forever, but the Cruze has certainly advanced it. Certainly the addition of the diesel to the well-equipped CDX will strengthen its place in the market.

If your priorities lie less with winning the traffic light grand prix and more with quiet, comfortable and well-equipped transportation, then the Cruze wraps up all of the above in a handsome package.

We have been pleasantly surprised by the Cruze. Its price, value and on-road manners make a convincing argument in its favour.


Holden Cruze CDX petrol Automatic -


Holden Cruze CD diesel manual -




  • Generous equipment
  • Quiet and comfortable interior
  • Accomplished handling
  • Outstanding safety features
  • Frugal diesel engine


  • Dashbord eats into front knee-room
  • Underpowered petrol engine
  • High brake pedal
  • Fussy rear seat folding action

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