Graham 'Smithy' Smith reviews the used Holden Cruze 2002-2004, its fine points, its flaws and what to watch for when you are buying it.
Like all cars you really need to decide what you want from a car before you hand over your hard-earned readies and find yourself driving something that’s not what you want. In the case of the Holden Cruze it’s probably even more important. From a distance the cute Cruze has all the looks of a compact four-wheel drive, but the closer you get to it you discover it lacks the credibility of an off-roader, and anyone buying it for that purpose is going to be disappointed.
In reality the Cruse was aimed at smart young things looking for cool round town transport and no intention of leaving the black top.
The Cruze began life in Holden’s design department when then styling chief Mike Simcoe was commissioned to design a small, compact commuter car for the Asian market. It was the beginning for Holden styling and Simcoe in particular as both moved towards a position of prominence within the GM design world.
It was to have a broad appeal and generally did. The boxy lines gave it the presence it needed and the overall effect was one of young and cool.
Under the bonnet lies a Suzuki 1.5-litre double overhead camshaft four-cylinder engine that pumped out 74 kW at 6000 revs and 138 Nm at 4500 revs. It’s a reliable and durable little unit, and tractable too. If it lacks anything it’s in the mid-speed range where it needs to be kept spinning for any sort of response.
The engine output was put through either a five-speed manual or the optional four-speed auto.
With its short wheelbase and tall body the Cruze was in for a hiding on the road. The short wheelbase meant its ride was going to be choppy and uncomfortable, and while it was stable enough when flung into a curve there were times when you reckoned it was going to tip over. It generally didn’t, but there was always the fear that things might go belly up.
It doesn’t like rough roads, either. That’s when the ride turns nasty. It’s then that you discover that the bean counters held sway over the engineers and won the day with the suspension,
Instead of the usual three or four-trailing links for rear axle location the Cruze has only two, with each held to the axle at two rubber-bushed points.
The brakes are a combination of discs at the front and drums at he rear, but they’re very small and need the support of the optional ABS/EBD when trying to stop in a hurry.
Inside, the Cruze was relatively roomy, but don’t try and fit three across the rear seat as Holden claims you can. Three into the space for two just doesn’t go.
The Cruze does have plenty of standard equipment, though, with standard air-conditioning, alloy wheels, power mirrors and windows, remote central locking, CD player and trip computer.
ON THE LOT
Let’s make no bones about it, the Cruze is a fad model and fads tend not to perform well once the market works them out.
There is no way round it; the Cruze’s resale values are not good. That’s not so good for the seller, but great for the buyer so barter like hell if you’re buying.
Pay $6500 to $10,000.
IN THE SHOP
Needs a thorough going over before you hand over your hard earned cash. Mechanically the Cruze is fairly sound with its Suzuki engine and gearbox, but it must be well serviced.
Check for a service record to confirm the usual oil and filter changes.
Carefully look all over, particularly underneath for damage from being driven off road. Don’t bother with any car that’s been on the wrong side of the blacktop.
IN A CRASH
Dual frontal airbags and seat belt pretensioners make for decent crash protection, but the small, flimsy body demands care before committing to the Cruze.
The active safety issue is also questionable. The handling isn’t as good as it could be, making ABS and EBD a must.
AT THE PUMP
Lightweight with a small engine, the Cruze is set up to save fuel. Expect to get 8 to 9 L/100 km.
• cute looks
• high driving position a bonus
• disappointing dynamics
• lack of offroad capability
• fuel miser
• don’t try to fit three in the rear
• Toyota RAV4 – 2000-2003 – $12,000-$23,000
• Holden Frontera – 1999-2004 – $8,500-$24,000
• Subaru Forester – 2002-2005 – $15,000-$25,000
THE BOTTOM LINE
It might look like it will go bush, but don’t dare try it or you risk getting really bushed.