HOLDEN MALIBU REVIEW
What’s Hot: Value for money, solid list of standard features, torquey diesel
What’s Not: Interior a let-down, soggy performance from petrol engine,
X-Factor: The mid-sizer between Cruze and Commodore that Holden has been missing.
Vehicle style: Medium sedan
Price: $28,490 (Malibu CD petrol) to $35,990 (Malibu CDX diesel)
Engine/trans: 2.4 litre petrol inline-four, 2.0 litre turbodiesel inline four
Power/torque: 123kW/225Nm (petrol), 117kW/350Nm (diesel)
Fuel consumption l/100km, listed: 8.0 (petrol), 6.4 (diesel)
Fuel consumption l/100km, tested: 9.3 (petrol), 7.4 (diesel)
Holden’s Malibu mid-sizer is, by Holden’s own admission, aimed more to fleets than private buyers.
With four-cylinder engines, a large-ish cabin, and a compelling price point, it’s definitely fleet-friendly (especially to corporate fleets with four-cylinder policies that exclude the Commodore).
But is it worth your coin as a private buyer?
Our first experience with the Malibu was mixed. Though fairly quiet on the road and easy to drive, its interior is a let-down and the petrol’s powertrain/drivetrain package leaves much to be desired.
More importantly though, it doesn’t come close to the all-round finesse and finish of neither the Commodore, nor its key rivals.
The cabin’s design is more adventurous than your average GM product, but it looks sub-par and is poorly finished.
Hard plastics dominate, and the dashboard alignment near the bottom of the A-pillars is out of whack.
There’s some soft-touch surfaces on the armrests and instrument binnacle, but it’s not enough to lift the cabin ambience. In sharp contrast to the quality feel of the VF Commodore, this is an unappealing interior.
There are some nice concessions to practicality though.
There are small pockets on the side of the centre console for mobile phones as well a lidded compartment above the driver’s right knee, and rolling shutters cover the cupholders when not in use.
The door bins are generously sized and all four can accept a 1-litre water bottle.
Another nifty feature is the hinged screen in the centre console, which lifts up to reveal a deep cubby hole for concealing valuables. It feels a bit rickety though - another quality complaint.
Standard equipment on the base model CD is good.
For your $28,490 you get a push-button starter, rear parking sensors, reversing camera, Bluetooth phone and audio integration, climate control, cruise control, a seven-inch LCD touchscreen display and Holden’s MyLink infotainment system.
The CDX adds leather upholstery, heated and power-adjustable front seats, a leather-upholstered steering wheel, rain-sensing wipers, dual-zone climate control and foglamps. In both models, it’s a competitive feature set.
But there are certain ergonomic issues to contend with.
The button for the electronic parking brake is hidden by the gearshifter when the car is in ‘Park’, and manual shifts can only be actuated by a small rocker switch atop the shifter itself - and only when the shifter is pulled all the way back, forcing your left arm into an unnatural and uncomfortable position.
Front seat comfort is good, however rear legroom is average and there’s a shortage of rear headroom for taller adults. The part-cloth, part-vinyl upholstery in the base CD isn’t terribly nice, nor is the CD’s urethane steering wheel.
There’s no face-level air outlets for backseaters either, which is an issue in a hot climate like Australia’s.
ON THE ROAD
We sampled the CDX petrol first and, on the open highway, were not surprised to find it's an able cruiser. The engine is quiet and there’s not much wind noise or road roar on the CDX’s 18-inch rolling stock.
The suspension is also comfortable, easily soaking up larger bumps and breaks in the tarmac.
The problems start to appear once you stray from major roads. On twisting, steep backroads the Malibu’s petrol engine simply doesn’t have enough oomph to sustain momentum, and the gearbox has a tough time settling on a ratio that works best.
With a kerb weight approaching 1.6 tonnes, there is not enough muscle in the 123kW and 225Nm 2.4 litre four under the bonnet.
The diesel Malibu solves this issue with its far more generous 350Nm of torque, and it’s a much more relaxed performer when confronted with a steep incline.
The diesel is also quite refined, with barely any clatter making its way past the firewall.
But regardless of which engine you get, the Malibu is far from an exciting car to drive.
The hydraulic power steering in the diesel is light and lacks feel, and although the electrically-assisted rack on petrol models has good on-centre feel and decent weighting, it’s not terribly communicative.
The diesel also surprised us with its fussy ride over minor road imperfections. Despite the CD model we drove being on fatter-tyred 17-inch wheels, it felt more sensitive to bumps than the CDX petrol we drove.
We’ll chalk it down to the different front suspension tune necessitated by the heavier diesel engine.
FIRST DRIVE VERDICT
The Malibu has value on its side, but unfortunately not much else.
When competitors like the Mazda6, Toyota Camry and even the venerable Honda Accord Euro are so much better to drive and live with, it’s really only the Malibu’s sub- $28,490 starting price and value-for-money equation that keeps it relevant.
We’ll be putting it through a more exhaustive test soon, but our initial impression of the car leads us to suggest that if you’re after a Holden sedan larger than the Cruze, you’re better off with a Commodore.
You won’t need to pinch your pennies much, either. At $34,990, a Commodore Evoke is precisely $1000 less than a Malibu CDX diesel.
Pricing (excludes on-road costs)
- Malibu CD Petrol - $28,490
- Malibu CD Diesel - $32,490
- Malibu CDX Petrol - $31,990
- Malibu CDX Diesel - $35,990