With the dark clouds of Ford’s folding and Volkswagen’s safety issues hovering over the Australian automobile industry, it has been left to Holden to make a break with the launch of the Malibu, a sunny mid-size sedan. Named after the famous California surfing beach - the car is already sold as the Chevrolet Malibu outside Australasia - the Holden Malibu.

Pricing

In Australian showrooms later this month, the Malibu comes in two trim levels, CD and CDX.  Prices for the highly specified pair will start at a competitive $28,490 for the CD petrol model, the range topping out at $35,990 for the premium CDX diesel, slotting in snugly between the recently upgraded Cruze compact and brand new Commodore large sedan.

Technology

Like the Commodore, the Malibu comes stacked with standard features including seven-inch colour touch screen with Holden’s MyLink app-based infotainment system, plus reversing camera, rear park assist, sensor key technology and push button start.

The entry level Malibu CD rolls on 17-inch alloy wheels and includes steering wheel audio controls, Bluetooth, cruise control, automatic headlamps, power height adjustable seats and electric park brake.

Malibu CDX moves up to 18-inch wheels and is dressed up with leather covered seats, the front heated, with eight-way power adjustment, leather wrapped steering wheel, rain sensing wipers (which got a solid workout on launch in Victoria) and dual zone climate control.

On the outside, the CDX also picks up front fog lamps, chrome highlights and LED rear lights. The range is available in seven colours, including prestige paint at a $550 premium.

Styling

Coming out of the Chevrolet design centre in the United States, the Malibu had extensive input from Down Under, with Aussie Mike Simcoe, General Motors International Operations Executive Director Design, overseeing the operation. Two Holden designers were involved in the exterior and interior look of the Malibu, which is based on Chevrolets of the past, including the Camaro, also a product of the Holden design team.

Malibu Exterior Design manager, Justin Thompson, led work on the new VF Commodore and says it shares design highlights with the new locally-made large car. “The rear of the Malibu was the first iteration of VF styling as we began to work on the VE replacement,” he said. The interior styling, including sporty Camaro inspired gauges, was the work of a team led by Yan Huang from Holden, while working in the States. She is currently interior design manager for GM’s global advanced vehicles.

Engines

The Malibu comes with either a 2.4-litre DOHC petrol engine with 123 kilowatts and 225 Newton metres (8.0L/100Km) or 2.0-litre common-rail turbo-diesel with 117 kilowatts and 350 Newton metres 6.4L/100Km. Both mated to a six-speed automatic transmission with ‘Active Select’ manual mode.

Driving

Importantly, the Malibu rides and handles like an Aussie car thanks to engineering input from Holden vehicle dynamics engineers based at the Lang Lang proving ground. Team leader Michael Barber says, as a global vehicle sold in predominantly left-hand drive markets, Malibu was originally specified with LHD tyres, which fitted to a right-hand drive car can lead to its pulling hard left.

This led to the development of a specific right-hand drive 17-inch tyre for the CD, while the CDX uses the 18-inch performance tyre already on the VF SV6 and SS Commodore. The team also came up with a suspension set-up with unique damper tuning ideal for Australian road conditions, both of which came up to scratch during an extensive launch drive in extremely wet conditions.

A diesel CDX did exhibit a lightness in the steering, a petrol equivalent not so. The diesel took some time to get into its stride off the mark unlike the corresponding 2.4 petrol which nimbly sprinted from standstill. Road and engine noise were kept at bay from the passenger cabin in both cases, occupants held in well sculpted, comfortable, leather clad seats. Instruments and gauges were well positioned and the touch screen image was as clear as a bell.

Generous shoulder space and head room ensured there was no hint of claustrophobia, while rear seat leg room could come up short with taller occupants up front. Soft interior surfaces give the feeling of prestige, there’s ample storage for personal items and cup holders, the largest to take a one-litre container, cropping up all over the place.