ROAD TEST: Holden Cruze CDX diesel

Good news for everyone out there who looked at the top-spec Cruze CDX, admired the leather interior, high level of specification and chrome bits, but thought “Hmm… I just wish it was a bit noisier…”
Well now it is, because Holden has made the CDX available with the 2-litre common-rail diesel engine, previously only available in CD guise.
As you may have gathered, this does add a bit of added noise to proceedings, but the oil-burner also brings added mid-range heft of 320Nm of torque that improves the one thing that the Cruze is already quite good at, that is, umm, cruising. Sorry about that…
The extra mid-range torque that the diesel brings makes the CDX a fantastic open road cruiser, as you waft along relaxing on the comfortable, nicely positioned leather seats and enjoying the truly excellent iPod integration on the surprisingly good stereo.
Which is just as well, because try to do anything other than that and things suddenly become far less enjoyable.
The combination of a slow-witted automatic transmission and a soggy, undisciplined chassis make punting the CDX along a winding road with anything approaching enthusiasm simply unpleasant. Wallowly understeer and and a blatant unwillingness to shift down except under severe provocation quickly extinguish and ideas of having fun in the Cruise.
The engine comes in for some of the blame here too, because while it has a nice fat chunk of torque available at 2000rpm, the is not very much of anything below that. And by the time it passes peak power at 4000rpm (110kW) it starts to run out of breath quickly, meaning you have a relatively slender 2000rpm range to play in…
Around town it is better, but still the frustrating transmission and lack of meaningful thrust below 2000rpm combine to annoy, especially the “wait for it” approach to standing starts. Once you get used to the idea that you probably won’t make that gap and accept that the Cruze needs time to gather its thoughts around town, it all comes together a bit better and the it does prove to be an almost ideal size around town. Big enough to be comfortable, but small enough to be extremely maneuverable describes it best.
At $36,990 the Cruze does come well loaded with toys and trinkets like the aforementioned brilliant 6 CD stereo, 17-inch alloys, leather, heated seats, fog lamps, extra exterior chrome and rear parking sensors in addition to the already decent basic CD spec.
Whether the diesel is actually worth the extra $4,500 Holden ask for it over the petrol CDX is questionable though, especially when you consider that one of the main reasons for considering diesel these days –  the extra drivability that big diesel torque brings – is largely wasted in the Cruze thanks to the frustrating transmission and sloppy chassis.
While it’s okay around town and utterly out of its depth on a winding road, the Cruze is definitely at its best when it is doing just that.

This article first appeared in New Zealand Company Vehicle magazine.

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