Malibu a medium effort from Holden

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The Holden Malibu comes just in the sedan, with styling excitement tempered to a nicely 'Holdenised' nose and a hint of California cool. Photos supplied

All sorts of cars were mentioned during the Holden Malibu's launch: the Hyundai i45, Mazda6, Ford Mondeo and, of course, the Toyota Camry.

All sorts, that is, except for the car this new sedan replaces. It seems the Epica, a best-we-can-do rehash of a Daewoo inherited when General Motors bought the Korean domestic, is Holden's Edsel; a car they simply want to forget ever happened.

Still, look at the Malibu and you see the same concept; a medium sedan.

And what you see - a sedan - is all you'll get. This is primarily a car for middle America, so no hatch or wagon, with styling excitement tempered to a nicely ''Holdenised'' nose and a hint of California cool with Camaro-like tail lights.

Driving-wise? You might know that the Malibu, having been bagged for fundamental flaws when released to Americans a year ago, was re-engineered; a radical move.

The Melbourne engineers reckon their changes equal, if not better, Chevrolet's, with superior cornering and ride. In order to achieve more resolution in grip and handling, Holden also uses Australian-market tyres.

First impression from a day in Victoria is that, while still a less communicative car than the Cruze and Commodore, the Malibu drives tidily.

The biggest difference is in steering feel: due to right-hand-drive packing difficulties, the diesel loses the petrol's electric motor-driven power steering in favour of hydraulics, and with it there's less deftness.

Dynamically, it's not Mondeo, but thankfully, there's no Epica-esque sloppiness. The diesel especially rolls along nicely, thanks to the wider torque curve, though it is not the most refined oiler going. Both engines seem a little compromised by a six-speed auto that slurs upwards well enough, but is reluctant to easily downchange.

The Malibu's ace appeal is the cabin. A shell that is almost as long as the Commodore's (though not as wide) allows similarly commodious convenience. It lays on a treat for legroom front and rear and the doors swing out wide for easy access.

The boot is spacious at 545 litres, cabin storage is good and the cabin layout looks smart and is intuitive. Seat design could be better; the CD's cloth-covered seats are more comfortable than the CDX's leather ones, but both fall short of being body-hugging.

Equipment is generous, including Holden's MyLink system, which features a 17.5cm touchscreen with embedded apps, such as Pandora internet radio, Bluetooth connectivity and a reverse camera. They also have rear-park assist, keyless entry and push-button start, cruise control and auto headlights.

The base CD has climate-control air conditioning, while the CDX adds power-adjustable and heated front seats, dual-zone air conditioning, rain-sensing wipers and front foglamps. From a safety perspective, there are six airbags, stability and traction control and ISOFIX child restraints.

Holden NZ is picking the Malibu will generate 700 sales for the remainder of the year in a sector set to command 7700, not enough to beat the big guns but a big improvement on the Epica's performance.


Malibu a medium effort from Holden
At a Glance


Prices: $42,900 to $48,400

Engines: 2.4-litre four-cylinder petrol, maximum power 123kW@5800rpm, maximum torque 225Nm@4600rpm; 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel, max power 117kW@5800rpm, max torque 350Nm @1750rpm

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Brakes and stability systems: Disc brakes, ABS, EBD, ESC, TCS

Wheels, tyres: 225/55 R17 to 245/45 R18

Fuel and economy: 6.4 (CD diesel) to 8.0 (2.4-litre) litres per 100km, capacity 73 litres

Dimensions: Length 4865mm, width 1855mm, height 1465mm