AS encounters go, my first meeting with the Holden Cruze was only remarkable because it was so unremarkable.
The car was fresh off the line and ready to launch itself on the Australian public, the car manufacturer's much-awaited answer to the glut of small cars cutting swathes through its bottom line.
I drove the 1.8-litre petrol offering and was left wondering what the fuss was about. Sure, the inclusions and space was generous and fuel economy acceptable but the drive itself was wanting.
My colleague, who tested the 2.0-litre diesel, was rather more impressed with the performance of that engine.
That was almost two years ago. And it seems Holden has put the time to good use because the Series II Cruze CDX parked in our drive last week put paid to the notion that first impressions can't be changed. It was memorable for all the right reasons.
Thanks to a rather generous investment from the Federal and State Governments, the Cruze is now being manufactured at Holden's Elizabeth plant in South Australia.
It was a bold move to save jobs and the industry itself, one which means that Holden is the only manufacturer of a small car on Australian soil.
The Cruze is the largest car in its class which has been a major selling point since it was launched. Seats are supportive and easily adjusted with the driver and front passenger enjoying some room between them, a luxury not often possible in a lot of small cars.
The longer wheelbase ensures more leg room for rear passengers and their seating reclines slightly too for a comfier ride. At 455 litres, the boot space is unbelievable for a small car and you can gain even more with the 60-40 back seat split.
However, the small low-rimmed opening makes it difficult to load bulky items like prams and large suitcases. Instrumentation is both funky and practical but although a lot of attention has been paid to styling, the plastics remain harder than they need to be.
On the road
We were impressed with the Cruze's drive performance. The 2.0-litre turbo diesel in our test car was as quiet as a mouse.
The extra insulation between the cabin and engine means you have to really strain to hear any clatter at all.
The Series II has improved power and torque from lower revs and this certainly translates into a better drive.
The Cruze is nimble-footed in the city, negotiating corners and those tricky narrow roundabouts with efficiency. It hardly raises a puff up steep hills and the six-speed auto transmission is ever so smooth on the open road. There is some turbo lag but really not enough to dull performance.
For a more engaging experience take advantage of the Active Select which allows you to load up the revs in each gear ratio giving you a better indication of what the Cruze is capable of.
What do you get?
The original run-out was generous in its inclusions and Holden has pretty much kept to the same package.
Safety is five-star with six airbags, stability control, traction control, anti-lock brakes with brake assist and electronic brake-force distribution and lap-sash seatbelts.
The Cruze is also equipped with 17-inch alloys, cruise control, heated seats and side mirrors, auto-on headlights, parking sensors, and iPod connectivity. Reverse cameras and Bluetooth kits are an optional extra and bizarrely, so is a spare tyre.
The Cruze has space for one but comes instead with a tyre sealant and air compressor kit.
Competition includes the Ford Focus ($23,490), Honda Civic ($29,990), Hyundai i30 ( $23,190), Kia Cerato ($23,790), Mazda3 ($26,360) and Toyota Corolla ($26,990).
On the big side of small and with the diesel delivering on the road, it is unsurprising that the Cruze has popped up on the radar of young families, practical singles and retirees looking to downsize. It has been popular choice since first released but the fact the Series II is being built in Australia and will now be fine-tuned to our conditions will further work in its favour. There are a few niggly things like the power output being too close to the handbrake and the lack of a spare and Bluetooth – common fare with competitors – but the Cruze nevertheless offers a great option.
The downside of the Cruze's space factor is that it is one of the heaviest cars in its class.
Holden claim improvements in economy with the Series II and our car returned close to the promised 6.7 litres per 100km.
With its unmistakeable grille and chiselled lines, the Cruze has managed to distance itself from that staid look associated with family sedans.
Holden has also updated bumper sand lights to add to the appeal.
The new Series II edition is proof Holden has listened well to driver feedback since the Cruzes hit the road almost two years ago. Improved drive performance and better emissions and fuel figures means that space is not the only selling point of this small car.
Model: Holden Cruze CDX Diesel.
Details: Five-door front-wheel drive compact sedan.
Transmission: Six-speed manual or six-speed automatic.
Engine: 2.0-litre DOHC common-rail turbo-diesel generating maximum power of 120kW at 3800rpm and peak torque of 360Nm at 1750rpm.
Consumption: 6.7 litres/100km (auto) combined average; 5.6l/100km (manual).
Bottom line: $28,490.
Update your news preferences and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.