Happy medium

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Cover Story -

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).

VER­DICT

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

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