The mid-sized Cruze has been a quiet success story for Holden, selling strongly in both sedan and hatch guise as rising fuel prices force the once Commodore-centric company to look to new models.
This year, a wagon - designated the Cruze Sportwagon - has joined the line-up. It is powered by a 1.8-litre petrol engine and features a six-speed automatic gearbox. The two versions on offer are the fleet-focused CD ($33,400) and the more upmarket CDX ($36,000), with the latter being supplied for appraisal.
The Sportwagon is as neatly styled as its tidy-looking saloon and hatchback siblings, and gets roof rails as standard. The CDX features front fog lamps too, and sits easily on 17-inch alloy wheels.
Inside, the neat dash and centre console are near-identical to the rest of the Cruze range, with metallic highlighting giving an extra lift to the CDX.
Cruise control, climate air conditioning, Bluetooth connectivity, a six-speaker audio system, auto headlights, a trip computer, rear parking sensors, and heated power mirrors are all standard, with the key controls for several of these items placed on the multifunction steering wheel.
Signs of the car being built to a budget can be found in the extensive use of hard-touch plastic trim surfaces. On the other hand, the CDX boasts leather seat trim and the comfortable, supportive front buckets are heated.
Handy storage cubbies abound in the cabin. The second row of seats provides reasonable accommodation for up to three, and a 60:40 split-folding arrangement makes the most of the car's wagon configuration.
With the back seats raised, carrying capacity is a decent 500 litres. This extends to almost 1500 litres with both sides of the backrest folded down.
Those who habitually heft large items in and out of a car boot will particularly appreciate the very low load lip. This, and the accompanying low boot floor, has been made possible by the use of a simple torsion beam rear suspension set-up.
The downside of the torsion set-up is that it robs the Sportwagon of some of the dynamic agility that is a hallmark of the wider Cruze range. Even so, the Sportwagon shows reasonable handling balance and rides respectably well, even when lightly laden.
A pressing issue, however, is Holden's choice of engine for the car. The 1.8-petrol motor the Sportwagon uses in New Zealand is a design first seen on the Holden Astra in the final years of last century. It is only modestly powerful (103kW/176Nm) and when worked hard (which it needs to be when the car is well laden) is raucous, breathless, and not particularly economical.
The crying shame here is that just across the Tasman Sea, the Sportwagon is available with the 103kW/200Nm 1.4-turbo petrol and 120kW/360Nm 2.0-litre turbo diesel motors that we see in sedan and hatch Cruzes here.
To realise the Sportwagon's potential, the vehicle needs to be offered with one of those engines here too.
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