Football, meat pies, kangaroos and Holden cars: Australian values aren't what they used to be. We pretend to carry on the post-war values of mateship, but have become as adept as an American in corporate backstabbing.
The family-first philosophy has evaporated in historically high divorce rates and an endless roll call of single parents. We were once bronze Anzacs but no shun the sun, turned against our national emblem by eating it or cursing the damage it caused to the front of our country cars, and once played football with the kids until they preferred a life indoors with their computer screen.
We once drove Holden cars (now considered too big), ate meat pies (dieticians say have too much fat) and admired Skippy on TV. Backtrack a bit. While most habits of our past are now fragments of our memory, Holden isn't doing too bad.
The Cruze - a Korean-born sedan and hatch with German engineering and significant Australian input - is Australian made, value for money, fun to drive (depending on the engine) and roomy enough for the family. So when we refer to Holden, perhaps we'll mean Cruze not Commodore.
It has overtones of Daewoo and Korea but Cruze is essentially a global car that's made in Australia injected with local engineering and design. Critically, it's well priced, reasonably well built (there's a subtle sense that fittings may break) and well suited to how we now live. But equally as important is which engine you choose.
Tested here is the SRi with the turbocharged 1.4-litre engine and $2300 option of the automatic gearbox. All up it's $28,290 - within $1500 of its main rivals - and you wouldn't need any options. DESIGN: Holden came up with the hatchback design and it's a well-penned, practical alternative to the sedan. It retains the sporty flavour of the car without stepping up to a wagon (soon also coming as a Cruze).
The Cruze's look is, however, colour dependent. It was a Carsguide 2011 Car of the Year finalist and the sample car arrived in beige. Awful. Blue, red, whatever, just not beige. Cabin treatment is very good with cloth trim extending from the door panels to the dashboard to add some flair and a place to dry your wet hands.
But though the cabin seats up to five adults (four in a practical sense), it feels a bit like a dark cavern. The problem is thick roof pillars that diminish the view and make for poor driver visibility. Unless you gauge parking on the sound of crunching metal, the extended tail needs park sensors.
The SRi gets the Austrian-built 1.4 turbocharged petrol engine. It's streets ahead of the optional, Korean-built 1.8-litre petrol in performance and economy. There's a six-speed manual but you're better off with the six-speed auto which uses a clutch engagement to lock up quicker than a conventional auto.
It's not a dual-clutch box but shares advantages like better fuel economy and sharper, quicker upchanges. Buy the 1.4 and Holden will give you a multi-link rear suspension while the 1.8 and diesel buyers get a ``tres ordinaire'' beam axle. The multi-link is better at keeping the rear wheels on the road, making for more precise handling and a more compliant ride. Cruze also gets electric-assist steering.
Cruze gets a five-star crash rating plus six airbags and the latest suite of electronic aids. It needs rear park sensors or a rear camera as standard. It has a full-size spare wheel - one of only a couple in its class - which makes it a shoe-in for country buyers.
It's a comfortable cabin and a driver's seat you quickly get used to. But it's not perfect when you find your left foot flaying thanks to a lack of a footrest and the electric assist steering delivers a dull spot of centre and then presents a rather blurred interpretation of what the road surface is like.
But its engine is lively and willing, will rush to the red line and enjoys a prod. The auto transmission has everything going for it though tends to operate in sympathy with the steering system, being a bit hesitant off the mark (which can get scary) and indecisive if the accelerator pedal is jumped on.
There's a lot of electronic smoothing done in this car to make it suit general owners who don't want - and need - a trigger-happy family car, and I understand that. Those owners will find the Cruze - and particularly this SRi model - to be very comfortable and quiet-riding. Tyre noise, always a bugbear of European cars, is well muted. But it's a pain to park because the A, B and C pillars are way too big and you can't see the nose or tail.
A nice surprise. The 1.4 turbo should be the only petrol engine choice. The SRi as it stands is a very competent package and the price makes it extremely competitive.
HOLDEN CRUZE HATCH SRi
Warranty: 3 years/100,000km roadside assist
Service interval: 15,000km or 12 months
Safety Equipment: six airbags, ABS, EBD, EBA, TC.
Crash rating: 5 stars
Engine: 103kW/200Nm 1.4-litre 4-cyl turbo-petrol
Body: 5-door, 5 seats
Dimensions: 4542mm (L); 1797m (W); 1477mm (H); 2685mm (WB)
Transmission: 6-spd automatic; front-wheel drive
Economy: 6.9 l/100km; 91RON; 164g/km CO2