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The Mercury Cars Guide : November 12th 2011
02 Holden Cruze hatch craig.du @carsgu CRAIG DUFF Small car, big ask There is more than just sales supremacy riding on Holden's locally built hatch THE Holden dealership was derelict, abandoned years before, judging by the blistered paint and dust. The silver lining in this tattered cloud was a half-recognised glimpse of panelwork behind the window as the new Holden Cruze hatch purred through Nhill. We're at the wheel of one of the first examples of the Holden Cruze hatch, the newest Australian-made car and the model on which Holden --- and, indeed, the very future of car making in this country --- has a lot riding. It's several days before other Aussie media will get to drive the new small Holden and we must have the car in Adelaide by tonight to be prepped and preened for its national launch. I can't resist comparing and contrasting the Cruze with a bronze TF Gemini at the grimy dealership. Holden built the Gemini at its Acacia Ridge, Queensland, plant from 1975. Production shifted to Elizabeth, South Australia for the front-drive RB Geminis built from 1985, before Holden sold ''badge engineered'' Nissan Pulsars as Astras and then Toyota Corollas as Holden Novas. It wasn't until 1996 when Holden returned to German- built Opel Astras that the Red Lion again had a small car it could call its own. The locally made Cruze is the Gemini's spiritual successor and there are plenty of parallels, starting with Opel underpinnings. As with the Cruze hatch, the TF Gemini was built and fine-tuned in Australia on a global platform. And like the Series II Cruze, it was a hit, selling 28,000 cars in its first (and only) year on sale. The Cruze sedan, which Holden started building locally in August 2009 after initially bringing in cars from South Korea, has already tallied 28,000 sales year-to-date, trailing only the Mazda3 and Toyota's evergreen Corolla for small-car category leadership. It's a booming category, in stark contrast to the rapidly shrinking large car market in which Holden's Commodore is the dominant player. The changing tastes of a steadily downsizing Aussie motoring public make this not only one of the biggest categories, with year-to-date sales of more than 204,000 vehicles, but also one of the most hotly contested, with 43 models competing. And as hatches account for some 60 per cent of sales in the segment, the significance of this model joining its successful sedan sibling cannot be overstated. Holden is convinced the two-pronged assault has the potential to take Cruze to the top of the category, and has been open in predicting that it may not be long before it also ends the Commodore's 15-year reign as Australia's most popular car. As I soon discover, the hatch is a better car than the well- regarded sedan --- though that's an advantage it may not hold for long. Holden's engineers have tweaked the fastback's suspension to improve ride quality, and lightened the steering at low speeds without sacrificing steering feedback. The same improvements will be applied to 2012 model sedans --- when Bluetooth will become standard across the range. On the road out of Nhill, the trip computer is hovering in the low 6.0L/100km range as the turbocharged 1.4-litre petrol engine hauls along at a cruise- controlled 110km/h. The headwind isn't doing fuel consumption any favours but does highlight the hatch's good aerodynamics. There's a faint whoosh over the mirrors at this speed but no need to pump up the stereo volume. Tyre noise varies depending on the surface and coarse bitumen generates some boom but it's not untoward. The direct route from Melbourne to Adelaide runs through Horsham and then bee-lines for Murray Bridge. It's not as pretty as the coastal road but it's two hours quicker --- and importantly for me --- the roadworks are a pain rather than an outright blockade. On the Western Highway, the big rigs --- both those coming at us and those we're passing --- fail to ruffle the hatch's composure. Truckies dismiss the bright blue hatch as a ''ladies' car . . . The sedan looks better, mate,'' I learn from a beer-and-burger girthed bloke wearing a fluoro vest. It's a different story in Ararat, where a P-plated Commodore posse begrudgingly concedes the little Holden ''looks all right, but you'd buy the Golf GTI''. Such summation is not surprising given Holden'sV8 performance heritage but nor is it surprising that the Red Lion brand is working on a performance Cruze for 2012, perhaps even a seriously souped-up version wearing an HSV badge. The monotony of the highway lifts in the run into Adelaide, when hills and corners give the hatch a chance to stretch its suspension and show that on-highway behaviour improves on back roads. It's not as road- huggingly adept as a Mazda3 but it is a spirited performer with solid mid-range poke. Fuel use climbs into the mid- 9.0L region but that's still a cheap price for a very entertaining drive. The City of Churches provides a final surprise. The same suspension that soaked up mid-corner ruts and cattle grids transfers some bounce as it rolls over the recessed metal covers around the CBD. At 30km/h it's not close to jaw- rattling; at 50km/h it's only half as bad. As I park the car with 769km on the trip meter and showing just on 9.0L/100km, two things are obvious. One, I don't have a sore back or backside, which is testament to the quality of the leather-trimmed seats after 10 hours in the car. And two, Holden has a small car to take on the class leaders. It will flog the ''Aussie built'' marketing line mercilessly but most potential buyers will be swayed by the combination of features and pricing. Patriotic jingles apart, the Cruze is a very capable and comfortable car with more interior space than most in this class. That will help encourage some mid-sized and large car owners to step down --- and Holden boss Mike Devereux has said he doesn't care whether he sells Commodores or Cruzes, as long as they have the Red Lion logo. Cover story The hatch's changes will carry over to the sedan 2 MERCURY ON SATURDAY www.themercury.com.au SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 12, 2011 97 Suzuki Swift 5 Door Hatch 1.3lt manual, spot on road test. 99 Honda CR-V Wagon 2.0lt auto, p/s, a/c, electrics, alloys, 4x4. 97 Mitsubishi Pajero GLX 3.0lt auto, p/s, a/c, electric, alloys, 7 seater. 77 Toyota Dyna Flat Tray 1.8lt manual, canopy, towbar top condition. 95 Holden Commodore Acclaim 3.8lt auto, p/s, a/c, alloys, only 113,000km. 96 Nissan Navara D21 DUal Cab 3.0lt auto, p/s, a/c, canopy, only: 98 BMW 318Ti E36 Hatch 1.9lt manual, p/s, a/c, electrics, alloys, low kms. 85 Holden Gemini RB SL-E 1.5lt manual, as traded, drives well. 01 Peugeot 406 Sedan 3.0lt manual, p/s, a/c, electrics, alloys, well featured, tidy. 03 Mazda Bravo Dual Cab 2.6lt auto, p/s, a/c, tow bar & canopy. $2995 $7995 $7995 $4995 $4995 $5995 $4995 $9995 $1000 $7995 $8995 zest. 2365L www.thecarmart.com.au 6211 0566 14 Derwent Park Rd, Derwent Park Specialising in cars... Under$10,000 Easy on-site finance available call 6211 0564 01 Kia Rio 5 Door Hatch 1.5lt manual, p/s, a/c great value. $3995 97 Mitsubishi Lancer GLI Coupe 1.5lt, manual, p/s, a/c, alloys, value. Peta Kennedy 0437 556 055 David Steer 0410 297 976 Todd Jackson 0419 514 956 Rob Sylvester 0418 124 226 (Finance)
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