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Chevrolet Malibu aces crash tests

Safe mid-sizer: The Chevrolet Malibu - set to get Holden badges in about a year - scored the maximum five stars in the latest batch of Euro NCAP tests.

Euro five-star safety rating for Malibu sets stage for Holden mid-size contender

Holden logo24 Nov 2011

HOLDEN’S upcoming Camry fighter, the Malibu, appears set to add to the lion brand’s armoury of five-star safety cars after the Chevrolet equivalent was awarded top marks in independent European crash tests announced overnight.

The petrol-electric range-extender hybrid Volt – destined for Holden showrooms within a year or so – also has been awarded five stars by European New Car Assessment Program (Euro NCAP) engineers, who forwent a crash test and simply applied the same rating as the closely related Opel/Vauxhall Ampera that was tested earlier this year.

The Euro NCAP results are likely to be transferred to Holden-badged Australian models by Australasian NCAP, as long as the vehicles are identical in significant safety specifications to the cars that have just gone on sale in Europe.

While the American-made Volt is set to hit the Australian market in late 2012, it is likely to beat the Korean-sourced Malibu into local showrooms, as Holden has confirmed that the Malibu launch might slide out to early 2013.

The performance of the mid-sized Malibu sedan is no huge surprise, as it is built on the same European-developed Epsilon II platform as the well-regarded Opel/Vauxhall Insignia and Saab 9-5.

13 center imageLeft: Chevrolet Malibu ENCAP side pole test. Below: Chevrolet Volt/ Opel Ampera and Holden Epica frontal crash tests.

The Malibu, which replaces the unloved Epica in the Holden line-up, scored an excellent 94 per cent rating for adult protection – second only to Mercedes-Benz B-class in the latest round of tests involving 15 vehicles.

Child protection was also rated highly, at 83 per cent, although some other vehicles scored up to 90 per cent.

The Malibu tested by ENCAP was left-hand-drive and powered by a 2.4-litre four-cylinder petrol engine.

Holden is yet to confirm the engine line-up for Australia, but the Aussie version is most likely to feature GM’s all-new 2.5-litre direct-injection four-cylinder engine to take the fight up to Toyota’s market-leading Camry, which is set for replacement next month.

The outgoing Epica carries a four-star rating from ANCAP, which crashed the original in 2007, with lower leg protection for the driver being rated as ‘weak’.

The car was upgraded in 2008 with ESC and side curtain airbags, with the latter raising the airbag count to six.

In its report on the Malibu crash tests, ENCAP said the Chevrolet scored maximum points for driver protection, with all body areas well protected.

Maximum points were also awarded in the side barrier test, while protection of the driver’s abdomen in the more severe pole crash test was found to be marginal.

The Malibu lost some ground in the pedestrian protection rating, with ENCAP critical of the leading edge of the bonnet and head-strike protection for adult pedestrians.

The car was equipped with six airbags, which is two fewer than the eight on offer in the plug-in Volt.

Curiously, all the side and curtain airbags of the original Opel Ampera test car went off in the European front offset crash test – a rare event in such tests, which usually trigger only the driver and passenger front airbags (the Subaru XV also detonated all side airbags in the latest tests).

The US, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) named the Volt its top safety pick in April, while the official National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) awarded the car a five-star rating.

Another electrified car destined for the Australian market, the all-electric Nissan Leaf, also was awarded five stars.

While the Volt will carry a lot of status for Holden when it arrives to a big song and dance just before Christmas 2012, it is the Malibu that is more immediately critical for GM’s Australian brand.

Made by GM Korea, the vehicle will be Holden’s best chance yet to knock another Toyota model off its perch, just as the locally-made Cruze has landed a blow to Toyota’s long-running small car leader, the Corolla.

The current Toyota Camry was elevated from four stars to five in May this year when a passenger seatbelt reminder and improved driver knee protection were added to get it across the line.

The new seventh-generation model gets dual front, side and curtain airbags, and is expected to ace the ANCAP test for a five-star result.

The Malibu and Volt should join the Barina, Commodore, Caprice, Holden Ute and Cruze in the five-star safety stable at Holden, with only the four-star Barina Spark and Captiva and three-star Colorado ute slipping down the rankings.

An all-new Colorado is due in the first half of next year, and it is expected to land a rating of at least four stars.

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