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Used Holden Cruze review: 2002-2006

Small off-road vehicles are sometimes treated as toys by kids.

The Holden Cruze from 2002 until 2006 shouldn't be confused with the Cruze introduced in 2009. The two are such completely different vehicles that it’s hard to imagine why Holden should have reused the same name for the current model as the older one.

The Holden Cruze being examined in this week’s Used Car Checkout was built by Suzuki in Japan. However a great deal of the design was Australian. Even more fascinatingly much of the body shape was penned by the same team that designed the third generation Monaro.

Cruze began its life as a chunky little concept SUV based on the Suzuki Ignis. The interior styling of the Cruze is as adventurous and appealing as the exterior, with Tonka Toy style controls highlighted by bright alloy-style inserts. Under the skin is virtually all Suzuki, though the final suspension turning and component selection also involved some Australian input.

The latter resulted in greater ground clearance and a wider track to suit it to Australian conditions, both on road and off. Handling is surprisingly good for an SUV of this type and the Cruze can hold on pretty well, both on sealed and unsealed roads.

But always keep in mind that it’s a 4WD not a car. It has a higher centre of gravity and so there is a greater likelihood of it rolling over in extreme conditions, than do hatchbacks in similar price groups. Seating in the Holden Cruze is fine for four adults. Three children can be carried in the back seat if the one in the centre is on the smallish side. Having said that, most owners regard the Cruze as a two-seater. 

Boot space is compromised to make room for passengers. One big suitcase just about fills it so you will soon get used to folding down the 50/50 backrest if you have a lot to carry. This little Holden fun car is powered by a 1.5-litre engine. There's not a huge amount of torque and the grunt is developed higher in the rev range than is ideal for a 4WD.

So the Cruze will struggle at times in harsh climbs. In fact, even hill climbing on sealed roads with a load on board may tax it at times. The five-speed manual is better than the four-speed automatic, though the latter isn't as bad as you might expect given that Cruze doesn’t have a lot of weight to haul. On the beach the lightweight Holden Cruze is in its element, skimming over sand that the big 4WDs sink into.

Cruze isn't too bad in the bush, or even on rock shelves. Good clearance angles front and rear and a compact body can take you a long way in rough off-road conditions. But don’t drive it too hard as the relatively light construction means it can be broken more readily than purpose-built 4WD vehicles. There's good under bonnet and under car space so a good amateur mechanic can do a lot of their own routine servicing. 

Safety related items should be left to the professionals and we highly recommend you have a repair manual at your elbow before lifting those spanners for the first time. It almost goes without saying that there are Holden dealers all over Australia. However, not all carry spare parts for the Cruze, that’s because 4WDs aren't as common in the bush as in the suburbs (silly, isn’t it!).

Holden operates an efficient parts delivery network and you’re not likely to be waiting for more than a couple of working days before parts arrive at your dealer in the remote outback. Parts prices and servicing costs are reasonable, though not always as low as for locally-made Holdens. Insurance generally sits towards the bottom end of the scale, though, for some reason, there's a fair bit of difference at times between one company and another. So shop around rather than opting for the first insurer suggested by the sales person. 

Just make sure you are comparing like with like before coming up with your decision. Holden Cruze didn’t enjoy the success anticipated for it, partly because most buyers in the 4WD class were looking for medium to large vehicles during that period. The final shipment arrived here in June 2006, but some may not have been sold new for several months afterwards. Be wary of any advertised as 2007 models – it's the build-plate date that counts, not the year of first registration.

What to look for

Salt water can cause serious rust, rust that can cause the body to be written off in a short time if repairs aren't carried out promptly. If you suspect a Holden Cruze has been beach cruising check for signs of white salt, underneath as well as on the visible parts of the body. Lift the floor mats and have a good look at the floor for signs of dampness and/or rust. 

Check over the complete body inside and out as well as underneath and be suspicious of any damage caused by off-road use. In particular look for dents at the lower corners of the bumper, in the door sills and underneath the engine and transmission. Make sure that the engine starts easily, runs relatively smoothly, and that the transmission works quietly and shifts gears with no fuss. 

Tyres with severe wear, particularly if that wear is uneven, can also indicate a harsh off-road driving. If a Holden Cruze pulls to one side or locks one of the wheels under heavy braking, it could mean expensive problems in the braking system. Go for a professional inspection if there’s the slightest doubt about the condition because repairs to small off-roaders can cost more than those for hatches in the same price bracket.

Car buying tip

Small off-road vehicles are sometimes treated as toys by kids who haven’t yet learned the lessons of mechanical sympathy...


Year Price From Price To
2006 $2,600 $4,840
2005 $2,300 $4,400
2004 $2,000 $5,060
2003 $2,400 $4,400
2002 $2,200 $4,070

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(base) 1.5L, ULP, 4 SP AUTO $2,200 – 3,850 2002 Holden Cruze 2002 (base) Pricing and Specs
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