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Driven: Holden moves to Malibu, from $28,490
Holden re-enters the mid-size car fray with its Camry rivalling Malibu
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13 Jun 2013
By BARRY PARK
HOLDEN has ended almost five years in the mid-size car wilderness, launching another global model that should do more to win over the hearts and minds of buyers.
The Holden Malibu – a rebadged, re-nosed and re-suspended version of the Chevrolet Malibu that is sold in more than 100 other markets worldwide – sets a new value benchmark for the growing segment.
It also helps Holden fill a valuable void in its product line-up – giving it something it can sell to fleet markets as a substitute for an economical four-cylinder Commodore without needing to repeat its failed four-pot large car experiment of the 1980s.
Holden admits that, yes, some Commodore buyers will look at a Malibu before making a decision on whether downsizing will suit them.
However, Commodore buyers are interested in power, Holden says, and that’s something the two-engine, four-model Malibu line-up lacks in comparison.
It’s in big company, though. The segment it will sell in is dominated by Toyota’s locally made Camry, which has a 19-year best-selling stranglehold on the mid-size market.
It also goes toe-to-toe with the clever fuel-saving Mazda6, Ford’s slowly dating but still inspiring Mondeo, Hyundai’s design-driven i40, and even its European-sourced twin, the Opel Insignia.
The Malibu sold here looks different to the low-slung, muscle car-influenced sedan sold in other markets as it features a uniquely Australian nose to account for the Holden badge.
However, it still features that swept, high-booted look of an aerodynamically efficient car design of the US version.
“One of the criticisms in this segment is that the cars in it are a little bit bland and boring,” Holden executive director of sales and marketing Phil Brook said.
“Once when you want to take a step up in styling you’d have to pay quite a premium. Not in Malibu.”
The range kicks off with a 123kW/225Nm 2.4-litre petrol engine sending drive to the front wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission.
As part of the growing naming convention spreading across Holden’s small-car range, it is dubbed the CX.
Entry to the Malibu club costs just $28,490, significantly undercutting all its main rivals, including Camry.
The base CD sits on 17-inch alloy wheels clad in low-rolling resistance rubber, features class-competitive Bluetooth phone connection, cruise control, single-zone climate control and more.
A highlight, though, is a big dash-mounted seven-inch colour touchscreen that doubles as a rangefinder for the reversing camera.
It has all the same MyLink infotainment features as the other recent updates to the Barina, Cruze and Commodore that allow live internet streaming from a compatible smartphone.
The seats are cloth, but trimmed in leather-look vinyl.
The driver’s seat has electric height adjustment.
Pay $4000 more, and the engine changes to a more fuel-efficient 117kW/350Nm 2.0-litre turbo diesel powerplant with a transmission better suited to its narrow torque spread, complete with bigger brakes.
That $4000 is a heck of an ask, but Holden says diesel technology is expensive.
By comparison, a 1.6-litre turbo diesel for Hyundai’s 140 is a $2600 ask, it is $2800 in the Mazda6, and $1500 to step up from the equivalent petrol-engined Camry to its hybrid version.
Buying a diesel Mondeo is just as expensive as the Malibu compared with its petrol equivalent.
Stepping up to the $31,990 CDX – again, add $4000 for a diesel version – and you sit on more traditional 18-inch road rubber rather than the fuel-saving stuff.
All seats are leather-trimmed, and the front ones feature eight-way electric adjustment and heaters.
Fog-lights are fitted to the lower sides of the front air dams, the climate control steps up to dual-zone, the wipers will shut off when the rain stops falling – although you will need to switch between modes – and the tail-lights upgrade to LEDs.
The Malibu has an almost segment standard five-star ANCAP crash rating, but it is also much kinder to pedestrians unfortunate enough to step out in front of the car.
The Malibu features a big air gap between the bonnet and engine, providing a much softer impact zone for a pedestrian’s head.
Holden’s engineering team has re-tuned the Macpherson front-end and multilink rear suspension to local tastes.
Holden will target the Malibu mainly at fleet buyers, but expects it will also appeal to private buyers who make up 40 per cent of the market.
In particular, it wants those who are comfortable with the brand but looking to downsize.
“It (Malibu) is a bit of an insurance against people downsizing,” Mr Brook said.
The car-maker admits that it has also listened to fleet buyers who are looking for a more fuel-efficient car than Commodore, but don’t want to make too much sacrifice the size of the vehicle.
Holden is not quoting any expected sales targets for the Malibu, other than to say it will sell in “modest” volumes in the almost 70,000-strong mid-size segment.
*Excludes on-road costs.
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