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Car reviews - Holden - Malibu - CD

Our Opinion

We like
Low price, bootspace, equipment levels, practicality, respectable dynamics, rear camera
Room for improvement
Some road noise, twitchy steering at speed, unyielding ride, raucous 2.4 engine at speed, awful tip-shift on gear knob

Gallery

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Holden logo9 Oct 2013

Price and equipment

HOLDEN’S medium car history is littered with the corpses of often long-forgotten contenders.

With all this dodgy past efforts in mind, Holden has done two things right with the new Malibu – a US design based on German Opel engineering and built in South Korea – by tuning it in Australia for local consumption.

It’s also been priced with more than a modicum of sharpness: $28,490 for the healthily equipped CD 2.5-litre tested here.

The base car includes a six-speed automatic transmission, seven-inch colour touchscreen, GM’s MyLink “app-enabled infotainment system”, a reverse camera, rear parking sensors, keyless entry and start, 17-inch alloys, steering wheel-mounted audio controls, Bluetooth telephone and audio, cruise control, auto on/off headlights, powered height adjustable seats and an electric park brake.

Will the Malibu – at last – find true medium-sedan longevity for Holden? Let’s assess its chances.

Interior

An overwhelming sense of déjà vu is what the Malibu offers the moment you pull open the hefty door, for it is a very typical medium-class interior.

Get closer though and you’ll find a couple of flourishes of individuality – namely the square dial housings that mirror the tail-light design (good), as well as an awful gear-lever tip-shift function (bad).

But overall, as you take in the sea of hard stylised plastics, the feeling is one of sturdy functionality over aesthetics.

That, though, should be enough for most of the no-nonsense fleet buyers the Malibu is aimed at.

For instance, the seats are wide and comfy, if not exactly sumptuous, while the entire front area roomier than what you would find in a Ford Falcon (except width wise, of course).

This reflects the basic front-drive/east-west Epsilon II platform hard points from the (now discontinued in Australia) Opel Insignia.

Indeed, there’s a global GM ambience to the whole she-bang, like a grown-up Cruze.

A myriad of buttons and controls set neatly within the console are a triumph of size and clarity, with a large touchscreen designed to assist usability, aided by a massive reversing camera. Holden includes one in every Malibu sold, and that’s a good thing: rear shoulder vision is ordinary.

The designers have helpfully stuffed the cabin with places to put things in, so the company car possessor that will invariably be behind the wheel will have nothing to complain about. You can even lose stuff in a hidden cubby behind the central screen.

But the lack of face-level rear-seat air vents is an oversight. The front ones blow hard enough though. And road noise intrusion might be an issue for those who’d rather not hear what the road surface might be made of.

Finally, the large (545-litre) boot is long and wide, with a large aperture and a split/folding rear backrest further helping those who need to load it up.

On the flipside, the floor is quite shallow due to a full-sized spare wheel residing underneath. In the CD as tested, it’s steel.

Engine and transmission

At the other end of the Malibu, somewhere almost lost beneath that vast strut-supported bonnet is GM’s tried and true 2.4-litre in-line four-cylinder petrol engine.

You might describe it as a smooth and willing performer, offering enough take-off acceleration for most peoples’ needs, especially considering how seamless the six-speed auto operates with it.

But we’d add that it becomes noisy under acceleration and increasingly coarse under duress, so the ageing engine feels outclassed by most rival engines such as the latest 2.5L unit in the Camry.

Are we being too critical towards what is obviously a value-focussed entrant right at the bottom end of the segment it inhabits? Perhaps, but rival smaller-capacity turbo four-pots feel far livelier and more refined in comparison, especially on the open road.

Fuel consumption isn’t sparkling, either (we averaged an indicated 9.9L/100km), bringing into question the wisdom of overlooking the far-smoother and gutsier Evoke V6 that Holden makes, which is virtually as economical.

Furthermore, the thumb-operated toggle tip-shift facility on the auto lever knob is worse even than a similar item found on the current Ford Focus Powershift – it is unnaturally awkward to use and slow to react (though it will hold on to any chosen gear when in ‘M’ for manual mode.

Ride and handling

The good news is that Holden has fettled with the Malibu’s soft US underpinnings to make it a sharper handler.

And, indeed, the mid-sizer is an eager steer, tipping instantly into turns in a way that its quite heavy-handed design doesn’t at all allude to, to make the Holden a lively cornerer.

But is this what medium sedan customers seek?OK when going slow, we reckon the Malibu’s steering feels too nervous at higher speed, since it requires the driver to be on the ready to over-correct an input you end up with an unrelaxed cruiser, especially in the wet or on gravel/unmade roads.

If the wheel was brimming full of feedback and feel then that wouldn’t be such an issue for a driver seeking a sporty sedan, but the steering also manages to feel a bit remote and artificial, so there’s no joy there to behold either.

Plus, another issue is a firm ride. The suspension seems to lack any real form of suppleness on anything other than smooth roads, pitching the car on its springs and making it feel a tad wallowy.

We can think if a slew of rivals with a better steering/handling/ride balance – Ford Mondeo, VW Passat, Mazda6, Honda Accord Euro, Nissan Altima, Opel Insignia – so why settle for the somewhat anxious Malibu?But the model that really shames it dynamically is the Australian-built and engineered VF Commodore.

Safety and servicing

The Malibu includes Holden’s capped price servicing scheme, valid for up to four standard scheduled visits, for the first three years or 60,000km. The petrol model costs $185 per service.

The warranty period is for three years or 100,000km, while the car earns a solid five-star ANCAP crash-test result.

Towing capacity, by the way, is rated between 750kg (unbraked trailer) and 1200kg (braked).

Verdict

Holden’s medium-car fumblings have provided observers years of entertainment, but rarely for the right reason. Only the race-winning Toranas, technologically advanced Camira, and Euro-chic Vectra proved worthy of the brand.

The rest are largely forgettable, and so would be the Malibu, except that the base CD buys an exceptional amount of perfectly capable medium-sized car for the money, and the fact that one of this car’s replacements will most probably be the 2020s successor to the Commodore.

Buy one if a low price is paramount, or otherwise save up for Holden’s impressive VF Evoke, or choose the competition (listed below) instead.

Rivals

Mazda GJ Mazda6 Sport (from $33,460 plus on-roads).

Class-best Japanese sedan aces the lot for driveability, efficiency, and design, while providing reliability and durability second-to-none this side of a Camry. High pricing aside, it’s a win-win scenario.

Ford Mondeo LX (from $31,490 plus on-roads).

Still competitive even in its final year, the ageing Euro still sets the standard for dynamics, in a roomy and practical hatchback format. But the 2.3-litre engine, though smooth, is no powerhouse.

Toyota Camry Altise (from $30,490 plus on-roads).

Even if you love driving, vanilla hasn’t tasted this good in years, for the Camry provides faithful handling, a comfy ride, roomy cabin, and ample performance. You could do much worse than this.

Specs

MAKE/MODEL: Holden EM Malibu CD
ENGINE: 2384cc 4-cyl petrol
LAYOUT: FWD, transverse
POWER: 123kW @ 5800rpm
TORQUE: 225Nm @ 4600rpm
TRANSMISSION: 6-spd automatic
0-100km: N/A
TOP SPEED: N/A
FUEL: 8.0L/100km
CO2: 192g/km
L/W/H/W’BASE: 4865/1855/1465/2737mm
WEIGHT: 1583kg
SUSPENSION f/r: Struts/Multi-link
STEERING: Electric rack and pinion
BRAKES f/r: Discs/discs
PRICE: From $28,490 plus on-roads

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