THE EQUIPE IS THE BASE MODEL OF THE HOLDEN CRUZE RANGE, AVAILABLE IN SEDAN OR HATCHBACK FROM $19,890 FOR THE MANUAL (PLUS ON-ROAD COSTS), OR $22,090 PLUS FOR THE SIX-SPEED AUTO TESTED HERE.
We start with price because this not-so-small car is all about ‘value for money’, and the Cruze Equipe provides what the badge says, offering plenty of equipment for a base model.
The rest is orthodoxy for the class, including a small 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine.
But the Cruze is getting quite long in the tooth, and is battling a wave of newer contenders. So, can this lightly facelifted model still make a case for itself in the small car class?
Vehicle Style: Small sedan
Price: $19,890 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 104kW/175Nm 1.8 4cyl petrol | 6-spd automatic
Fuel Economy claimed: 7.4 l/100km | tested: 9.9 l/100km
Back in 2011, it was billed as Australia’s small car. But already two years into its model lifecycle, the Holden Cruze had simply switched from being built in South Korea to being made in South Australia.
This first generation Cruze is now six years old. In the fast-moving small segment, that’s getting on to pension age.
Holden is waiting on a new model imported Cruze (the badge is staying as part of the post 2017 Holden line-up) and the sexy new Astra that’s coming from Europe in about a year’s time. It has at least another year of the local Cruze and the current Astra to slug it out in the small car segment.
For this year, the Cruze gets an aggressive new face, but mechanicals remain the same. Thankfully, the mechanicals have been given a heavy fettling by Aussie engineers, improving the Cruze out of sight compared with when it first arrived on these shores from South Korea.
- Standard equipment: cruise control, power windows and mirrors, keyless entry, multi-function trip computer, air conditioning
- Infotainment: 7.0in touchscreen with Holden MyLink software, USB/AUX and Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, Pandora and Stitcher apps connectivity
- Cargo volume: 445 litres
Even back in 2009, the Holden Cruze didn’t lead the class for cabin design and finish, and the look and feel of this interior is now thoroughly outdated.
The plastics are hard and shiny and some switchgear feels cheap, though our test car had the best finish (including the tightest shutlines) of any Cruze we’ve driven.
Even when the local factory understands its fate, it still appears to be producing good work. Well done, Team Australia.
The Cruze cabin also works best in base trim, simply because there are items the Equipe provides that rival base models do not.
A bright, colour touchscreen with excellent ergonomics and apps connectivity is rare for this class. Even a base Mazda 3 Neo provides only a 1980s dotmatrix-style audio screen as standard.
And we’d love the Equipe even more if a reverse-view camera was standard, but at least rear parking sensors are included.
Another nice touch rarely found on a base model is dusk-sensing headlights.
The Cruze is also one of the roomier small cars on the market, sliding in between the smaller Mazda 3 and larger Toyota Corolla sedan for rear legroom and shoulder comfort.
Front seat support could be softer, while the reasonably supportive rear bench could be matched by air-vents that are, regrettably, unavailable at any price.
The sedan’s boot is one of the largest in the class (at 445 litres) and unlike other models in this class, there’s only a 32 litre penalty if your tastes more closely align with the identically-priced hatchback (as is the case with this tester).
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 104kW/175Nm, 1.8-litre 4cyl naturally-aspirated petrol
- Transmission: 6-spd automatic; driveline configuration: FWD
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front, torsion beam rear
- Brakes: ventilated front discs, solid rear
- Steering: hydraulically assisted mechanical steering, 10.8m turning circle
- Towing capacity: 450kg (unbraked), 1300kg (braked)
Driving the Holden Cruze is like squeezing a soaked sponge. You have to wring it if you want to get much out of it.
The ingredients working beneath the Equipe are somewhat humble, but Australian engineers have managed to get every last droplet of ‘goodness’ from them.
The elderly 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine lacks new technologies such as direct injection. It is quite loud and slow to rev, and is not helped by the fact the Cruze is quite portly – at 1378kg it is among the heaviest in the class, where Corolla, Hyundai i30 and Volkswagen Golf are in the 1200kg region.
Holden has, however, tuned the six-speed automatic expertly.
Although the auto is kept busier than a casino card-shuffler, it doesn’t need a wallop of throttle to wake the Cruze up and get it ‘cruising’.
The auto is so quick to respond that you can plug gaps in the traffic faster and easier than you can in, say, a CVT-equipped Corolla.
The engine is a little toiler, anyway, making peak torque at just 3800rpm. It needs a good squeeze if you really want to wake it up, but works at its relaxed best just tapping into that torque.
You can find big spurt of acceleration if overtaking, which is accompanied by a fair bit of huffing from under the bonnet, but the driveability of the Cruze is best described as adequate, not inspirational.
What the Cruze can’t escape from is fuel usage. Our mixture of freeway, country road and urban driving resulted in high consumption of 9.9 litres per 100 kilometres.
On the other side of the ledger, Holden has been a bit cheeky with the Cruze suspension tune. It is considerably better than the base-spec badge suggests it should be.
The Equipe gets a ‘comfort’ tune – the SRi scores a sportier set-up – but still manages to deliver among the sharpest handling in the class.
Wearing quality Bridgestone Turanza footwear wrapped around good looking alloy wheels (where daggy hubcaps are usual base-model fare), this small car is agile and balanced, more so than a Corolla or i30, and, in pure handling terms, dare we say, the new Mazda 3.
The downside is a firmer suspension compliance that can make life choppy on some city streets. It can fidget and thump on ratty surfaces, and, while not uncomfortable, you can feel the limitations Holden engineers are working with in a model of this vintage.
Also, the old-school hydraulic steering is lifeless around town, but it too is better on the open road, becoming nicely linear and weighted just-right when cornering.
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars - this model scored 35.04 out of 37 possible points.
Safety features: Six airbags including dual-front, front-side, and full-length curtain, ABS, ESC, rear sensors.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
In the sales race, Cruze sits fifth behind the Corolla, Mazda 3, Hyundai i30 and Volkswagen Golf, all rivals worth considering. Against most in that list, what it lacks in engine dynamics, it gathers ground in features and equipment, and in handling balance.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Holden regularly offers great deals on the Cruze Equipe, so while the automatic’s RRP may read $22,090 plus on-road costs, at the time of writing a sale brings that to $19,990 driveaway.
At that price, add another half-point to this small sedan’s score.
For its equipment for the money, cabin space, muted road noise, pleasing dynamics, intelligent automatic and cheap servicing ($185 a pop every 12 months/15,000km), the robust and reliable Cruze Equipe is honest buying.
The 1.8-litre can only do so much to lug around all this weight, though, and if you’re going to have a heavy small car it should at least have nicer furnishings.
If you’re chasing function over fashion, and are a keen bargain hunter, Australia’s ageing (but not aged) small car is worth a look in its final year or two.