The Kia at first looks more impressive but the Holden scores with materials that look and feel more classy and seats with much more shape and padding. Against the Mazda, the Malibu is close but still behind.
Move into the mechanical package and the Malibu is convention and predictable. The engines are 2.4-litre petrol and 2.0-litre turbo diesel, both with a six-speed auto with what’s called Active Select if you want to choose your own gears. Suspension is fully independent.
‘‘ The car is smooth and drives well,’’ claims Brook. ‘‘ We’ve done a lot of local work on ride and handling.’’
Safety is handled by six airbags, ESP and stability control, with Isofix child seat mounts— a big deal for Holden, since they’ve just been fitted to the back bench of the Commodore.
It’s tipped to get a five-star tick in ANCAP testing.
All the talk and technical stuff sounds good, but it’s the drive that really matters with the Malibu. I can still remember, sadly with great clarity, the mediocrity of the Epica. Medium cars have got a lot better since then.
The first impression is good, because— cue the three bears — the Malibu slots comfortably between the Cruze and Commodore that I’ve driven over the past month.
The design work is good and from the same family tree, the suspension is plush but still has good grip, and the performance . . . well, it’s noV8 SS but it’s all right.
Then I slide into the Optima and expect to feel more cosseted and more rewarded. But I’mnot. The Kia has plenty of kit and a five-year warranty. To me, it looks better than the Malibu but I would take the Holden home every time.
The Optima feels a bit cheaper and a bit harsher in the drivetrain and suspension. Even with a Platinum bonus pack it’s not as comfortable.
Then it’s time for the Mazda6, which pushes the Malibu down a notch. Not by much, even though the Japanese mid-sizer is closer in many ways to the Commodore.
The 6 has a touch more class and refinement, looking more like a prestige car than a taxi without the roof light. But against the Mazda6, almost anything would run second, even the Opel Insignia and Skoda Octavia, which have done well in drives.
The arrival of the Mazda6 and the Malibu, and even the latest Camry and Subaru Liberty and coming Honda Accord, requires a reassessment of the pecking order for mid-sized motoring.
For now, the Malibu deserves four stars out of five against the Mazda6’s 4.5 and the Optima’s 3.5.
The new Holden completes a stand-out range of locally focused family cars. Its place is not merely alongside or behind the Commodore. For us, Holden has the best fourdoor line-up in its history, which says a lot (or perhaps not enough, depending on your perspective).
The surprise packet. Finally, a mid-sized Holden that’s better than mediocre.
Surprise packet: The Malibu has handy tech touches and ample cabin comforts