Holden's small sedan and hatch, the Cruze, has been a little lost for sales since the Commodore's VF-led resurgence. Made in both Australia and Korea, the Cruze's popularity has suffered somewhat as big brother stole the limelight.
The Z Series release was meant to alleviate things with a bit of extra bling, particularly on the SRi, but little else to write home about.
We tested an automatic sedan a while ago and were impressed with the size, the chassis and the steering. The Cruze 1.6-litre turbo manual hatch was next on our list.
Kicking off at $26,890, the SRi-Z is impressive value among its peers. There's keyless entry and start, leather throughout the climate-controlled cabin, auto headlights, Bluetooth and USB, rear parking sensors and camera, Satnav and power windows all round.
The only option is $550 prestige paint which in our case was the terrifying Fantale orange, rendering the car still-visible on our retinas long after dark.
The Cruze hatchback is rather less successful than the sedan counterpart. It's all standard Cruze from the front to about halfway between B and C pillars. There the sedan's stylist seems to have either given up or thrown the pen to someone with less experience and it all went a bit timid.
The pleasing, Calibra-like (remember those?) arc of the sedan's roofline had to go for practical reasons but the tail now looks like it was grafted on from a mid-90s Corolla.
The SRi adds a curiously angled spoiler that looks a bit boy racer. Distractions come in the form of side skirts, deeper bumpers and a handsome set of 18-inch alloys and ill-advised, chintzy chrome on the door handles.
Inside is standard Cruze with some metallic finishing that unfortunately reflects light into your face should you venture out when the sun is high overhead. This isn't the only Holden afflicted with this problem, the Malibu and Commodore also suffer.
It's a good car for passengers - quiet, roomy and, in the SRi-Z, the seats are quite comfortable when covered in leather. Front passengers have stacks of head and elbow room and the driver's seat has an excellent range of adjustments.
Six airbags, ABS, traction and stability control, brake assist and pre-tensioned and load limited front seatbelts allow for a five star ANCAP rating.
The MyLink in the SRi includes satnav rather than the BYO phone-based BringGo of the Trax or Barina. It also suffers the indignity of the inferior interface common with the Commodore but, having said that, it's still one of the better systems around.
The screen is 7-inches but is set back in the Cruze's dash, so the edges are a bit difficult for fingers to hit without fouling the surrounding plastic.
The Cruze has six speakers scattered around the cabin. None of them seem to be particularly powerful but the sound is pretty good. MyLink also features voice recognition that hasn't been introduced to Australian accents as well as Siri Eyes Free functionality.
ENGINE / TRANSMISSION
The 1.6-litre turbo under the bonnet produces 132kW and 230Nm from its single intercooled turbocharger. There is absolutely nothing startling about this engine from a technical perspective, so one imagines it has a long, gremlin-free life ahead of it.
Holden claims 7.4L/100km for the combined cycle but this seemed a very distant possibility. A mix of driving yielded a best of 12.4L/100km. The figure barely budged in the week we had it. It also asks for 95RON unleaded.
To be fair, we didn't see figures anything like this on the automatic, so there may have been gremlins.
Our car had the six-speed manual transmission, driving the front wheels.
The bad stuff out of the way first - the accelerator pedal travel is way too long, the clutch has exactly no feel and is too light and long.
Despite being the sporty model, the SRi just isn't very fast in a straight line.
It doesn't feel as fluid as the automatic, the gears widely spaced with gearchanges kicking you out of the torque band when driving normally, which means you have put your foot down if you're wanting to press on in traffic. Enthusiastic acceleration out of corners also sees the inside tyre spinning away the power or the power being cut by the traction control.
But once you hit the open road, the widely-spaced gears and lack of grip become less of an issue. It's an incredibly quiet cruiser, the engine but a distant drone. It's the same at the lights, an idle so smooth and quiet you sometimes have to check if you've stalled.
If you like chucking your cars down the twisties - probably a decent likelihood if you've picked the SRi - there's some fun to be had.
Again, we'll get the bad news out of the way - this isn't a cut-price Golf GTI, not by a long shot. It is, however, a good, balanced chassis that when pushed does eventually dissolve into gentle understeer.
The Bridgestone RE040s let you know when it's coming and there's even a bit of participation from the rear end. The traction control is a mildly ham-fisted kill-joy and even when switched off seems to put in an appearance, sneaking in under the guise of an un-switchable stability control.