8

10

Model

SRi

Price

$22,490

The Numbers

1598cc, 4cyl turbo, 132kW, 320Nm, 6spd man, FWD, 0-100km/h in 7.5secs (est), 7.4L/100km, 186gkm CO2, 1474kg

The Topgear Verdict

Holden puts homegrown engineering goodness into the Cruze and delivers a winner. Bang for your bucks, thy name is SRi.

2013 Holden Cruze SRi

This page is henceforth declared a Commodore-free zone. Why? We're driving a car that's arguably more important to Holden's future because, hopefully, it will still be rolling down Team Red's production line after the mighty 'Dore becomes extinct in 2016.

That's the plan. It's no done deal, though. Hammered by drive-away discounts on the Mazda3, Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla, plus an image still tainted by Holden's dalliance with some dreadful Daewoo dungers in the Noughties, the Cruze has been doing it tough since mid-2012. This time, it has to fire.

So Holden has thrown absolutely everything at the 2013 update, including its formidable engineering nous.

A high-tech connective infotainment system with internet radio and mobile app-streaming capability (plus voice and satellite navigation to come) sugars the car's showroom appeal, as does the fact that Holden has also axed prices by up to $3500.

You've probably seen the 'It's a Holden' ads for Cruze. It's the oldie but goodie patriotism pitch designed to remind you that this car ain't got Seoul no more and is now 100 per cent (okay, it's about 50 per cent, but let's not quibble) Aussie, Aussie, Aussie.

Sedan and hatch prices, and lineups, are the same. The 1.8-litre slugger/five-speed manual Equipe starts at $19,490. That's plus on-roads, but a drive-away deal for about 20 large will surely come.

The auto adds $2200; the responsive, refined and frugal 1.4-litre engine/auto Equipe is $23,190, which also includes electric steering. Holden has saved some bucks by deleting the Watts link from the 1.4-litre Cruze's rear suspension.

The 2.0-litre diesel Equipe, with the auto as standard, is $25,690.

CDX variants, also auto, add $2500 to 1.8-litre and 2.0-litre Equipe prices.

The model worth your attention is the SRi. It's got a 132kW 1.6-litre turbopetrol donk, Holden-calibrated sports suspension with a stiffer rear torsion beam plus the Watts link to keep it properly located, 17-inch alloys with 225/50 Bridgestones, a leather-wrapped wheel and gear lever, and a body kit.

Price is just $22,490. Sure, it ain't quite a pukka hot hatch like the Renault Megane or VW Golf GTI, but the SRi is almost half the price of those cars and in the right hands it will do them damage. It's also $12,500 cheaper than the Opel Astra GTC three-door hatch, which has the same General Motors DNA and 1.6-litre engine.

The 1.6's 132kW and 230Nm of grunt at 2200rpm is certainly enough to have some serious fun, though the SRi's a chunky unit at nearly 1.5 tonnes and this does suck a bit of sting out of the engine. It's an easy, well-balanced piece in corners, with accurate, passably tactile steering and suspension that's more comfortable and controlled on our rubbish roads than anything I've driven lately with a German badge.

The manual's slicker than most and the automatic is pretty good too, with a Sport mode that's aggressively and intuitively calibrated when it senses you're up for a bit of a fang. Manual shifting is also provided, though without paddles. The SRi-V, at $26,490, includes leather, a rear camera and heated front seats, plus 18-inch alloys and 235/45 Bridgestone tyres. These sharpen steering response and grip like they mean it; the quid pro quo is a more punishing ride. I'd be a happy man with the SRi manual. At the price, I'd almost be stealing it.

Reviewed by: Bill McKinnon

Driven: June 30, 2013