The cars we loved.
America loves its Chevy Cruze and so does the rest of the world. In Europe and Australia, sold as Vauxhall or Holden, it’s been a hot seller also. Gearheads take issue with the Cruze because it offers something for almost everyone except the enthusiast. If a manual transmission is your only ideal of being sporty, the Cruze still offers self-shifting, but many have hoped for an all-out performance model, like the old Z24 and SS of the recent GM compact car past.
In Australia, one longtime Holden tuner, Walkinshaw Performance, has taken the initiative to market a special version of the Holden Cruze. In a departure from its usual hopping up of the large Australian Commodore sedans, the Cruze is the tuner’s first small car project in Australia. In the UK it offers tuned versions of the Vauxhall VXR Astra and Corsa. Starting with the “not-available in America” 5 door hatch, they added a number of performance enhancements that add about $20k to the price of a 1.4-liter turbocharged Cruze.
While $20k for the full package is a lot for just 103 more horsepower, the Walkinshaw package addresses some standard Cruze failings while magnifying others. That much power through the front wheels of a Cruze might sound like an invitation to torque steer, but the Walkinsaw people have managed to tame it to civility. The engine’s turbocharger and fuel injector were increased but turbo lag was magnified where before it was almost unnoticeable in the small stock turbo. What 241 hp in a Cruze gets you is a 6.6 second dash to 60 mph (take that Ford Focus ST).
The looks may not be to everyone’s taste. The all-white paint scheme covers Holden logos and badges and reminds one of early 80s European performance cars like the Escort Turbo. A subtle body kit improves aerodynamics while 18 inch wheels on uprated Toyo rubber add impact and increased grip. The suspension has also been upgraded with a Bilstein package that allows for flat cornering, but increases the transmission of road imperfections. The smooth compliant ride that the Cruze is known for is traded for stiffness and near go-cart handling, all that a gearhead could want.
As steering goes, the Walkinshaw people left the Cruze’s electric steering alone. Unfortunately the enhancements to the suspension are said to have only highlighted the bland steering feel. The interior is perhaps where the Walkinshaw people have applied the most tasteful touches. The improved leather seats have a neat textured pattern with embossed Walkinshaw logos in the front seat headrest area. The feel is upscale, while sporty. The standard Cruze already has one of the best compact car interiors in its class, so the Walkinshaw treatment is a parallel enhancement.
Walkinshaw will offer the Cruze as a complete $50k (about $44,500 USD) package or as one of six kits or parts packages that can be purchased modularly. It’s likely that the wheel and suspension package will be popular, but the $1,195 ECU upgrade promises to deliver a quick, cheap power upgrade by up to 10 percent (around 15 to 20 hp on most cars). The Cruze is already the biggest selling Holden in Australia, so it’s conceivable that many will opt for one of the Walkinshaw packages over going with one of the Cruze’s many competitors that range from the cheaper Hyundai Veloster to the more expensive VW Scorocco R and Subaur WRX.
Walkinshaw’s small nimble size means that it can easily adapt to car trends as they happen. Holden will be producing a near hot version of the Cruze in 2014 called the SRi-V, although it is not expected to be any faster than the Walkinshaw car because it will have only 138hp. Hopefully all this Down Under tuning will inspire Chevrolet to get a Cruze SS into showrooms sooner than later. For now Walkinshaw could probably sell its lower end kits in the US and they might be popular if Cruze sales here are any indication. As for the five door hatch styling available everywhere except in the States, GM may be considering a roll out with the next Cruze re-style. We can only hope Chevrolet is watching their Australian counterparts and their tuner friends very closely.