Why does my Holden Cruze rev too high on the freeway?


I recently bought a 2014 Holden Cruze Equipe 1.8-litre manual and then found out the problems that have plagued it later that night after bring it home. But anyway, apart from all that, I did quite like the car. The major annoyance with my Holden Cruze Equipe is the high gear ratio. Travelling at 110km/h and the 5th gear RPMs are sitting just over 3000, which makes the car sound like it's...screaming (is one way to put it). It's like it really needs a 6th gear in order for the RPMs to be at "normal" range. I have taken it to my dealer's service dept and they say that there is nothing they can do to lower the gear ratio. Is this true?

Thank you, Joanne

Holden Cruze: one of the worst cars on Australian Roads. Riddled with engineering compromise

Holden Cruze: one of the worst cars on Australian Roads. Riddled with engineering compromise


This deficiency in your Holden Cruze Equipe just sounds to me like some kind of expedient, cheap and nasty engineering gloss-over for inherent powertrain deficiency. As in: 'It's a bit gutless, so let's drop the gearing.' First, however, let's just check your facts to make sure the transmission's not stuck in too low a gear for some reason. Having just downloaded the powertrain specs relating to your model, mathematically:

  • You're driving on the freeway in your Holden Cruze at 110 km/h. That's 30.6 m/s (metres per second) or 1833 m/min (metres per minute)
  • Tyres on your Cruze are 205/60R16. Rolling diameter = 0.6 x 205 x 2 + 16 x 25.4 = 652.4 mm = 0.6524 m
  • Rolling circumference  of those tyres is pi x 0.6524 = 2.050 m
  • So the rotation of the tyres at 110 km/h = 1833 m/min divided by 2.050 metres/revolution = 894 rpm
  • The final drive ratio on your Cruze is 3.94:1, so the rotation of the gearbox output shaft = 894 x 3.94 = 3523rpm (at a road speed of 110km/h)
  • Fifth gear in your Cruze is 0.886:1, so the engine rotation at 110 km/h = 3523 x 0.886 = 3121 rpm
1.8-litre Holden Cruze Equipe has atrociously short gearing

1.8-litre Holden Cruze Equipe has atrociously short gearing

Unfortunately this means your observation about the gearing is correct. The gearing is atrociously high. It's the way Holden designed it (badly - as in, deficiently).

Obvious question: What the hell were they thinking? The engine on that Holden Cruze of yours is revving its tits off at 110km/h. This will sound and feel very unrefined indeed, and it certainly won't be fuel efficient.

This is the sort of gearing usually reserved for outrageously impractical (but fun) cars like the RenaultSport Clio. The sort of car you wouldn't drive on a freeway unless there was a gun at your head. 


Three comparative cars that out-point the Cruze on every day of the week ending in 'Y'. 

Hyundai i30

2015 Hyundai i30 Active b.jpg

Hyundai's i30 out-points the Holden Cruze as a mainstream consumer proposition - there's never been an i30 safety recall (Holden Cruze has had 8 safety recalls since January 1, 2010). Hyundai i30 out-points the Cruze dynamically, has a better warranty and, anecdotally, it's more reliable. And it's better value. And it's a better seller - 67 per cent better.

Toyota Corolla

2015 Toyota Corolla.jpg

The market's top-selling car, across all categories, narrowly ahead of Mazda3. Toyota wrote the book on knowing what Australian car buyers want - and it's certainly true with Corolla. Corolla out-sells Cruze by well over two for one - they're exactly the same price, and both companies are closing their Australian factories. It can be only one reason: It's a better car.


2015 Mazda3 b.jpg

Mazda3 took the market by storm in 2014 and was a real step forward from its already very popular predecessor. The Mazda3 is offered in a great range and featurese sensational driving dynamics as well as strong technology in the SKYACTIVE suite of fuel-saving goodies built into every car. (Pity about i-Stop, but you can't have everything...)


Your Holden Cruze seem to have all the compromise of the sporty car's powertrain, with none of the fun-factor. (Because the Cruze is about as sporty and engaging as a tin of tuna.)

The simple answer is : there’s really nothing you can do. Typically there are a few fixes for this. You could change the tyres - but fitting the largest standard size for the Cruze will drop the revs only by about 100rpm at 110km/h. (And you'd need to buy new wheels.) This will also increase the gearing in first gear (making it harder to effect a hill start). It will also make the speedo inaccurate.

Changing the final drive ratio will achieve the same thing - and be very expensive to boot. There is a 2.64 final drive ratio available in the 2.0 diesel auto. That would drop the highway revs to about 2000rpm, but also make 1st gear 30 per cent taller, so around-town driveability would suffer. And I don’t know if it’s mechanically compatible with the 1.8. There are also 3.2 and 3.5 final drive ratios available for Cruze, both of which would also drop the revs at 110km/h. If you do any of this stuff, the speedo would no longer be accurate, either.

The six-speed manual in the 1.6 has a taller sixth gear as well - it would drop the revs to 2620rpm at 110km/h. I don’t know if this gearbox is compatible with your car. But I do know that sourcing it and fitting it would be more expensive than selling your Cruze and simply buying a used one with the right powetrain to start with.

It sounds to me like a combination of engineering shortcuts based around this problem:

  • 1.8-litre engine: too gutless
  • Quick fix: drop the gearing to make it perform a little better around town
  • No budget to incorporate the six-speed gearbox in this model and meet the intended price point

Putting a five-speed manual gearbox in a modern car is a joke. Mazda3, Hyundai i30, Toyota Corolla - all six speeds, across the range. The Hyundai i30 1.8 makes the same peak power and torque as the Cruze, but the car weighs slightly less (about 50kg) and it also comes standard with a six-speed manual. The base-model Hyundai i30 Active is revving at 2610rpm at 110km/h - that's about 500rpm less (because they engineered it properly).

None of the possible ways to fix this problem in your Cruze Equipe are practical. They're all hideously expensive.

Holden is a notorious once-over-lightly operation since the early 2000s, and the GFC just cemented this mentality. The only way this sort of ridiculous gearing gets approved is when beancounters and not engineers are running the R&D department. The Cruze is a terrible car - one of the worst on Australian roads - and this is just another sad exhibit in the tsunami of evidence to that effect. 

Basically I think you’re stuck with this problem. Did you not drive it on the highway as part of the test drive before you bought it? Surely if highway driving was something you were going to do a lot of, you would have driven the car on the highway before buying it?

If you ever test drive another car in the lead-up to purchase, make sure you drive it in as many of the likely operating conditions you'll subject it to as possible. My video on how to test drive like a pro (right) contains a bunch of other valuable test-driving tips, which many car buyers overlook.


Hi John, thank you very much for your email. About 95% of the driving I do is relatively short distance city driving, and only a few times a year, long distance. I clearly made an assumption that after having my 2007 Holden Astra 1.8L manual for seven years and it being a dream, that Holden wouldn't make such a stuff up now. I did go for a test drive, but didn't think to take it up the highway. I can honestly say that I didn't do anything of what I should have done when buying a new car, and only found your youtube channel after buying the car. :(

My parents say that I will need to put up with it, pay it off as quick as possible and then get a new car. The car is only about six months old. I would lose too much money to try trade it in now. I certainly don't think I'll be going back to Holden after this.

Thanks for your help. Regards, Joanne


I'm very sorry you're in this position Joanne. Holden's cheap shortcuts are certainly turning a great many buyers away. You are stuck with that awful lemon for a couple of years at least. Holden's behaviour - the corner-cutting compromises that have caused record recalls and tremendous management instability is finally coming around to bite them in the backside ... but unfortunately there is collateral damage as a result of their second-rate engineering operations. And you are part of that damage.