Surf’s up for the h

Holden turns the mid-size tide with well-sorted Mal­ibu

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Cover Story - PAUL GOVER CHIEF RE­PORTER paul.gover@cars­

SOME­ONE at Holden got the name wrong for the com­pany’s new­est, sur­pris­ingly im­pres­sive, mid-sized hope­ful.

It should have been called the Bondi, not the Mal­ibu.

The new­comer is far more Aus­tralian than Amer­i­can and is in­tended to surf the cur­rent wave of pro-Holden feel­ing that’s been gen­er­ated by the land­mark VF Com­modore and the classy up­date of the com­pact Cruze. Only the tail­lights, which could have been pinched from a Ca­maro coupe, and the lack­lus­tre fuel econ­omy give any pointer to a Mo­town con­nec­tion.

And the car comes from Korea. But let’s not hold that against it.

Mal­ibu prices start at a com­pet­i­tive $28,490 and there are petrol and diesel en­gines, plenty of tech­nol­ogy, a cabin that picks up the same class and com­fort as the VF and Cruze, and cushy sus­pen­sion set­tings that should work for the fam­ily-first buy­ers in the mid-sized heart­land.

But life will not be easy for the Mal­ibu, which has to find some breath­ing space in a class dom­i­nated by the Toy­ota Camry and in­clud­ing all from the Citroen C5 through to the Volk­swa­gen Pas­sat.

To put the Mal­ibu into con­text, we’ve brought along two bench­mark ri­vals— the Kia Op­tima and Mazda6— for our preview drive in Melbourne. It’s not a full-bore com­par­i­son but Cars­guide’s think­ing is that it sets up a pin­cer move­ment where the Kia will ap­ply the price pres­sure and the Mazda will crush it with class. Op­tima stick­ers start from $30,490 and even the nice new 6 is priced from $33,460, which means our Mal­ibu CDX petrol at $31,990 sits un­com­fort­ably tight be­tween them.

But the Mal­ibu is good and pushes back with the sort of hon­est com­fort and ac­ces­si­ble tech­nol­ogy that could ac­tu­ally make it a win­ner. It’s worth four stars, even in this tight lit­tle trio, and de­spite fuel econ­omy that barely bet­ters the lat­est Com­modore.

‘‘ It’s a dif­fer­ent kind of mid­sized car,’’ Holden head of sales and mar­ket­ing Phil Brook tells Cars­guide.

‘‘ It’s not bor­ing. It’s fun to drive, has great tech­nol­ogy, and looks pretty dif­fer­ent.’’

Back-track­ing a bit, or a lot, Holden has not had a good run with mid-sized cars. It’s never helped that the ele­phant in the show­room is called Com­modore but think back to the Apollo— a lightly worke­dover Camry— to the over­priced Euro­pean Vectra and to the dowdy Epica and you’ll see where we’re com­ing from.

This time around, Holden says it knew it had to get things right.

‘‘ There is no com­par­i­son be­tween this car and what we’ve had in the past,’’ Brook says. ‘‘ We’re start­ing fresh. It’s a new name and a new prod­uct. But it was al­ways go­ing to be a Holden, so our re­quire­ments were up-front.’’

Those re­quire­ments start with a Holden style of nose, a fam­ily con­nec­tion to the Com­modore through the cabin, engine tun­ing for solid re­sponse and sus­pen­sion that com­bines quiet­ness with the abil­ity to ab­sorb nasty Aussie as­phalt acne.

There’s also the value story that be­gins with the base price but also in­cludes a stan­dard rear cam­era, rear park­ing radar, elec­tric park­ing brake with au­to­matic re­lease, al­loy wheels, 7-inch colour touch screen to con­trol the MyLink in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem, cruise con­trol, trip com­puter and more. It’s a lot of kit for the cash— right up in the Kia class, as you would ex­pect.

Slid­ing up to the CDX adds leather trim, dual-zone auto air­con, au­to­matic wipers, big­ger al­loy wheels and power heated front seats. And, for some rea­son, LED brake lights.

‘‘ We’ve tried to take away all the rea­sons for peo­ple not to buy,’’ says Brook.

The de­sign work on the Mal­ibu is at best re­strained. It’ll never stand out in traf­fic; it looks best from the front— un­like the US ver­sion, which has just had an early nose job— and the square lamps at the back give it a point of dif­fer­ence.

The front seats are roomy and the dash looks good, al­though the qual­ity steps down a peg from the Com­modore. The boot is roomy with a full­size spare that’s only rated to 80km/h be­cause it’s not the same size as the rub­ber wrap­ping the al­loys.

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