GM's worldwide Cruze
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Holden's new sedan is a little bit country, and a little bit Rock 'n' Roll
Nashville is the country music capital of North America and although the vehicle of choice, as y'all know, is a pickup, it is also the ideal location for the reveal of Holden's new medium sedan.
While it's called the Chevrolet Cruze in North America, when it arrives Downunder in quarter two this year, it will be badged the Holden Astra sedan.
So that makes it ... a little bit country, and a little bit rock'n'roll.
Tempting as it is to fill the review with country music titles, I know your Suspicious Minds will think I'm Crazy but the Cruze/Astra is Always On My Mind.
Actually, the Cruze/Astra sedan is on Holden's mind as it undergoes its re-invention with the closure of its Australian factory and introduces products from GM and Opel into its line-up.
By 2020 the company will have 24 all-new models, including last year's Spark, 2017's Trax, Astra sedan and hatchback, large Acadia SUV and Equinox five-seater.
Chevrolet's sedan replaces the Australian-built Cruze, with only 126,000 produced at the Adelaide plant over the past five years.
Since it went on sale in 2008, Chevrolet has sold more than 4 million Cruze cars around the globe. It's a popular model in Europe and North America while our own domestic market has seen a slump in medium (and large) sedans in recent years.
The latest generation model will be built off the same global platform as the Astra hatch but, while North America's Cruze will be built in Ohio, the Australasian Astra sedan will be manufactured in Korea.
But at the Nashville reveal, Chevrolet's parent company, General Motors, was quick to point out to Australasian media that our driving needs will be accommodated.
Lowell Paddock is GM's vice-president of planning and programme management, covering the Asia-Pacific area and is based in Singapore. It has been his job to oversee the new vehicles heading our way.
"We have learned how to adapt the Cruze for the international market, as it's sold around the world," Paddock told the media at the start of our day-long drive programme around Nashville."
Paddock said existing Cruze customers were surveyed about their needs and adjustments they felt were needed in this third-generation sedan.
For the Cruze's programme engineering manager, Seth Valentine, it was a matter of "how to take it to the next level".
The Detroit-based manager said the new sedan had to be "more nimble, fun to drive and the chassis has to be stiffer".
To aid that, the vehicle is 115kg lighter than the previous model and comes will an all-new 1.4-litre, four cylinder turbo petrol engine paired with a six-speed automatic transmission.
The engine produces 110kW of power and 240Nm of torque with fuel efficiency figure of 6.7L/100km.
The Astra sedan will have steering and suspension set-ups for the Australasian market, and roads.
Specifications and pricing will be announced closer to the late May-early June launch in New Zealand but in the US, the Cruze comes in four models - L, LS, LT and Premier.
It comes with two versions of GM's MyLink infotainment system with 7 and 8in screens plus Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Safety-wise, the Cruze sedan has 10 airbags but Australasia may get only six. On top-spec models there is lane departure assist, blind spot monitoring, forward collision alert and rear cross-traffic alert.
For Paddock, safety is an important factor when it comes to the GM products.
"We divide that into what is passive safety and what is active safety, whether it is object avoidance on the left we have now in many of our products, when you pull out of the lane, the car senses if there is something in the lane," he said.
"But active and passive safety in your market is focused on, it is something that customers take it as given now, they expect it everything they drive.
"The amount of safety features in the past five years is unprecedented in terms of active and passive features in the vehicle."
Paddock said safety has to be priority for the brand. "If we have more scale and more vehicles with the same features, that brings the cost down across the board. I think it is just a given that we have to constantly rebalance our products to provide very competitive, if not market leading, safety features in our cars."
The chassis showed its worth when taking in a tight-turning, long right-hand corner at speed on a great loop in Williamson County.
Stopping for lunch break at Country Boy cafe in the picturesque town of Leiper's Fork, Williamson County, the Cruze had competition for attention from across the road where Billy Ray Cyrus was filming scenes for his sit-com, Still the King.
Though Cyrus is desperate for a comeback with his show, when the Cruze/Astra arrives in New Zealand it will prove to be a solid player for Holden, rather than a one-hit wonder.
Sorry Billy Ray.
Holden on for a big year
GM Equinox at the Detroit motor show. Picture / Liz Dobson
It's going to be a busy year for Holden New Zealand as its all-new line up increases, and the Commodore factory closes its doors on October 20.
The company will have 24 new products by 2020, with the Spark already here, the Opel Insignia replacing the Commodore (but keeping the Commodore badge), plus three more SUVs adding to its line-up, and the revitalised Astra brand.
The Spark was the first vehicle built on an all-new platform post-GFC and was named Driven's compact car of the year 2016.
It will also join the all-new Trax small SUV next month February, with the Astra hatch and sedan soon after that.
By late 2017, the Acadia seven-seater large SUV will go on sale in New Zealand, followed by the Equinox five-seater.
The Equinox was revealed at last week's North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
Holden NZ's corporate affairs general manager, Ed Finn, told Driven at Detroit that the company was excited to have the Equinox join its line-up.
Though the Astra hatch is being marketed as "sports performance and sports premium" vehicle, said Finn, the sedan will be more "comfort orientated".
"It will fulfil a particular customer demand in our market while the Astra hatch is the greater volume vehicle," he said.