There was nary a Hawaiian shirt or long board in sight and the weather was decidedly wintry at the launch in Melbourne on Wednesday of Holden’s new contender in the mid-size sedan category, the all-new Malibu.
Despite its evocative name, which conjures images of peeling tubes, blistering sand and the heady aroma of suntan lotion, the bleak winter weather was actually more in keeping with the South Korean region where our version of GM’s new global mid-size sedan is manufactured, than the affluent Californian beach after which it is named.
Like the superseded Holden Epica the new Malibu, enters a crowded sub-$60k medium car market in which more affordable rivals such as the Toyota Camry and Ford Mondeo are its ultimate mark.
There’s a clear connection between the front-end treatments of Holden’s VF Commodore and the Malibu, while the rear pays homage both to the taillight treatment of GM’s Camaro, and the elevated boot lid of BMW’s influential 5 and 7 Series’.
Inside, the Camaro influence continues with sporty looking hooded instrument binnacles and obvious attempt to lift the interior ambience with an attractive mix of materials and textures. The model line-up has been kept deliberately simple, with two spec levels, CD and CDX and two engines, a 123kW/225Nm 2.4-litre four-cylinder petrol; and an 117kW/350Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel.
Prices start with the CD petrol at $28,490, rising to $31,990 for the petrol CDX, moving on to $32,490 for the CD diesel, and topping out at $35,990 for the CDX diesel.
Holden’s app-enabled MyLink infotainment system is standard on all models, accessed via a seven-inch touch screen. The system also includes a reversing camera and rear park assist, while keyless ignition is standard. The base CD also gets 17-inch alloy wheels, steering wheel audio controls, Bluetooth, cruise control, auto headlamps, power height adjusted seats and electric park brake. To this, the CDX adds 18-inch alloys, heated and electrically adjustable leather-appointed front seats, leather steering wheel, rain sensing wipers and dual-zone climate control.
Out on the road the Malibu is a fairly benign drive. It does nothing to offend but fails to get the pulse racing. The petrol engine is decently quiet and nicely refined. It’ll spin smoothly to its 6500rpm cut-out when required but, frankly, there’s little point revving it this hard.
The standard six-speed auto shifts smoothly but the car’s size and weight means it needs to work overtime in undulating terrain, with the result that the drive train can feel a tad busy.
The turbo-diesel is the better bet for open road touring, its stronger torque giving it the more convincing mid-range overtaking and cruising capabilities. On the flip side, it’s a tad gruff, especially under full throttle.
Ride quality is decently comfortable but notably better on smooth freeway than niggly back roads, where the diesel in particular felt somewhat stiff legged and irritable.
The steering, electrically assisted in the petrol, hydraulically assisted in the diesel, is largely unremarkable; accurate enough to maintain a cornering line but never threatening to deliver feedback.
Chassis grip levels weren’t seriously investigated on a wet and wild drive loop but at regular road speeds and a bit beyond the Malibu felt decently composed.
Suffice to say, the Malibu isn’t the car to unleash on your favourite ribbon of tarmac. It’s an attractively styled, well-priced and well-appointed appliance that effectively plugs the gap between Cruze and Commodore in Holden’s sedan lineup.
Think of it as the General’s Camry and you won’t be far from the mark.