New car review: Holden Malibu
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2013 Holden Malibu
Holden doesn't have a great track record when it comes to mid-sized sedans.
The Vectra was the right car at the wrong time. It's European roots made it a great drive, but it never got the traction it deserved as the Commodore was still the king for family-car buyers.
The Epica that eventually replaced it was the opposite; the wrong car at the right time. It arrived at the beginning of the exodus that has plagued large car sales over the last decade, but it was spectacularly underwhelming against the might of the Toyota Camry and its rivals.
And now, literally weeks after the showroom arrival of the high-tech, cheaper VF Commodore, the big question is; is the Malibu finally the right car at the right time?
The answer to that depends on what you're looking for in a car. If you're after a lot of kit for little coin, then the Malibu presents a pretty impressive case with a generous list of standard equipment.
But it doesn't set any benchmarks when it comes to performance, economy, dynamics, presentation or packaging. Nor is it anywhere near the worst in its class for any of those criteria.
The 2.0-litre turbo diesel is the pick of the two engines on offer with its 350Nm of torque and unique six-speed automatic working more harmoniously together to create a more relaxed driving experience. The engine has an obvious diesel note to it at all speeds, but it is only really obtrusive at high revs.
The conventional hydraulic power steering on the diesel is surprisingly lighter than the electric system on the 2.4-litre petrol four cylinder and, as a result, feels less responsive during the bends yet easier to use in parking situations.
The naturally-aspirated petrol engine revs smoothly but feels sluggish in comparison to the diesel and needs to work its gearbox harder to maintain momentum. And that means it is a real challenge for it to match the claimed 8.0L/100km fuel consumption figure in real-world driving conditions.
The Malibu's large footprint - with wide tracks between each wheel and a generous 2737mm wheelbase - provides decent levels of grip and stability and the locally tuned suspension settings dispel any notion that the Malibu is a typical American car. The ride comfort is hardly what you'd call floaty, yet it is reasonably comfortable. But it's also not as polished and refined as some of its rivals.
Luckily the front seats are reasonably comfortable and there's plenty of adjustment to ensure drivers can find the optimum position. There's good all-round vision from behind the wheel and the large wing mirrors are much better than the smaller units on the Commodore.
The cockpit design tries to blend square American muscle car cues - like its retro Camaro-inspired instrument gauges - with the round-edged centre console and the double concave that symmetrically splits the dash. And while it looks funky at night with its blue ambient lighting, the harsh light of day exposes its Korean production roots and hard plastics.
In the end, the Malibu treads an affordable yet inoffensive path down the middle of the mid-sized road. What it does do well though is provide an answer for those who have questioned Holden for not producing a four-cylinder or diesel-powered Commodore.