HOLDEN is in the final throes of readying an expanded, multi-tiered line-up of its soon-to-be-Australian-made Cruze small car ahead of its March release.
The first small car to be built in Australia in more than a decade has been caught undergoing final development testing in New South Wales as further leaked details suggest the sedan and hatch will be offered with at least four different four-cylinder engines.
The range will eventually add a sports model to tackle hot-hatch kings such as the Volkswagen Golf GTI and Subaru WRX.
Set to replace the Cruze that has until now been imported from Korea, the locally made model will feature a hatchback for the first time and is set to have one of the most expansive small-car ranges in Australia, with prices likely to stretch from about $20,000 to more than $40,000.
While it won't have the unprecedented eight-engine range of the rival Volkswagen Golf, the combination of body styles, engines, model grades and transmissions will give Holden an expansive line-up that looks certain to put pressure on the ageing Epica mid-sized car that's soldiered on against fresher competition.
Due to the imminent price clash, the Cruze will probably steal some sales from the Holden Commodore alongside which it will be built in South Australia. But insiders are understood to be keen to capitalise on the downsizing trend that has seen small cars emerge as the most popular new-car segment, following a decade-long demise in large-car sales.
The Cruze will likely make a bold pitch for the No. 1 status in the small-car class, but it will have to pip Toyota's Corolla and the Mazda3 — both of which have outsold it this year. It would also threaten Commodore's record-breaking run, which is on track to notch up its 14th consecutive year as Australia's best-selling vehicle.
So far this year, Mazda has sold 32,604 of its 3s, while Holden has sold 38,407 Commodores.
The Australian-made Cruze will be offered with the current model's 1.8-litre four-cylinder and 2.0-litre turbo diesel engines, although tweaks are likely in line with Holden's push to introduce incremental economy gains.
While it won't be available at launch, Holden is believed to be readying a new 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder that will give it a genuine hot-hatch version of the Cruze.
The new engine produces 132kW and is said to be easily tuned to "closer to 150kW", opening the door for HSV to return to the increasingly popular turbocharged four-cylinder scene.
However, the new 1.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder is likely to throw down the fuel-economy gauntlet. The current Cruze 1.8-litre model uses 7.0 litres per 100 kilometres of fuel but the more efficient 1.4-litre turbo fitted to the Opel Astra in Europe consumes just 5.9L/100km. Given its size, the Cruze should use a similar amount of fuel, reducing its fuel economy to levels close to that of the class-leading Golf; the new 1.2-litre Golf uses 6.1L/100km, while the 1.4-litre turbocharged and supercharged engine uses 6.2L/100km.
Of the half-dozen or so Cruzes our spies spotted testing, some were believed to be fitted with the much-anticipated new 1.4-litre turbo. That engine produces 103kW overseas but is said to be capable of more, with engineers believed to be working on a higher-output version that promises to address one of the biggest concerns with the current Cruze — its lacklustre performance.
The local Cruze is also expected to bring updated styling. Under the black cladding hides a new front fascia, with an updated black mesh grille and more aerodynamic lower bumper bar. New wheel covers and wheels will also help differentiate the various models.
Holden spokesman Jonathan Rose won't give too much away but tells Drive he thinks the new Cruze will offer Australian buyers a better package.
"We're not ready to discuss details on the local range yet but we think we'll be making an incredibly popular small car even better," Rose says.
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