Surf’s up for the h
Holden turns the mid-size tide with well-sorted Malibu
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.