Not often does the sequel surpass the original, but for Holden's sake Cruze II had better. Holden will be hoping the second incarnation follows in the footsteps of The Empire Strikes Back, The Godfather Part II and Aliens as second incarnations that surpassed the first instalment.
The introduction of the Adelaide-built Cruze brought with it the SRi-V model, packing the Austrian-built 1.4-litre low-pressure turbo four-cylinder (shared with the Opel Astra) and a Watts-link controlled rear suspension.
The new Cruze flagship starts from $27,990 - plus $2000 for the auto as tested - and carries as strong list of standard equipment - the feature highlights include leather-trimmed seats with heaters, fog lights, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, rear parking sensors, keyless entry and start, air conditioning, satnav and premium sound system (with 10 gig of storage and live-radio pause function), all controlled via a 7in colour LCD screen, automatic headlights and a rear lip spoiler. But a notable absence from the factory features list is Bluetooth - but Holden says its a dealer-fit option for around $500.
The new 1.4 litre turbo four - shared with Opel Astra - has double overhead camshafts and variable valve timing. Holden says the turbocharging can deliver torque comparable to a naturally-aspirated engine more than 2.2 litres in capacity - the little four boasts 103kW at leisurely 4900rpm and 200Nm of torque stretching from 1850 to the same 4900rpm engine speed.
The 1.4 comes with a new six-speed manual or six-speed automatic, with the manual claiming 6.4 litres per 100km. Stump up the $2000 for optional (as tested) six-speed auto and the consumption claim rises to 6.9 litres per 100km, although out time in the car (with plenty of metro work) had 9.3 on the trip computer. Also added to the new top-end models is a Watts link set-up the carry-over compound crank rear suspension, which Holden says improves the resistance to cornering forces.
The Series II Cruze is easily recognisable but with a few facial tweaks, the grille and the front indicators, extra chrome accents among the changes range-wide - the SRi-V gets body add-ons, a bootlid lip spoiler and 17in alloy wheels to sex up the basic sedan bodyshape. It's not as sexy as the incoming hatch but there are certainly less-attractive small sedans on offer in the marketplace.
The Cruze bears a five-star ANCAP safety rating with six airbags, stability and traction control, four wheel disc brakes with ABS and electronic brakeforce distribution and a bodyshell built using 65 per cent high-strength steel. Front occupants also get seatbelt pretensioners and load limiters.
I recently spent 1000km behind the wheel of a CDX turbodiesel automatic and it impressed for its on-road composure, beefier (than the asthmatic petrol 1.8) mid-range and cabin comfort and space. The SRi-V builds on the latter and the little turbo four does much to swing the balance back towards petrol engines within the Cruze range. The only concern came when the six-speed automatic flared some changes and hestitated on others, something that hopefully is not typical of the breed.
Given the Commodore has only 51 more litres, the 445 litres of bootspace is ample (Corolla claims 450 litres, Focus boasts 510) but not class-leading for a "small" car. But what does feel like it will put Cruze to the top of the heap is the ride/handling compromise, which is hinting at firm without going all the way there.
It's refined and quiet; the interior feels as though it has taken a step forward as well, with the new satnav set-up making the Commodore's look a little lack-lustre - although the controls are a little less intuitive. The seats are firmer than those from SeriesI but still feel supportive in the right spots and comfortable.
The Adelaide-built Cruze has more than filled the shoes of its Korean-built forebear and the new petrol engine is a pleasant and effective powerplant; add the hatch (with this engine and a manual gearbox we suspect would be best) and the small car battleground is going to be an even tougher place to be ...
4 out of 5
HOLDEN CRUZE SRI-V
Price: from $27,990 (auto $2000)
Warranty: 3 years, 100,000km
Service interval: 15,000km or 12-months
Economy: 6.9 l/100km; 164g/km CO2
Safety equipment: six airbags, stability and traction control, ABS, EBD
Crash rating: 5 star
Engine: 103kW/200Nm 1.4-litre 16-valve four-cylinder turbocharged petrol
Transmission: six-speed auto, front wheel drive
Body: 5-door, 5 seats
Dimensions: 4629mm (L); 1788mm (W); 1477mm (H); 2685mm (WB)
Tyres: 17in alloy wheels; 215/50R17-91V tyres, sealant and air compressor kit, 16in spare optional