Below: EPSILOM II platform:- GM/Holden Malibu, SAAB 9 5,
SAAB 9 5
Below left: Epica, Below right Malibu
For many moons Holden lacked a midsized sedan so Holden filled it with an old Daewoo called Epica. GM, Holden’s big daddy, purchased the failing Daewoo after Daewoo’s CEO dipped his hand in the till then disappeared. They thought it would be a great place to build cars cheaply, and they succeeded, the cars built there are cheap, and they feel it. The mercifully short-lived Epica failed. Interestingly the Viva, also a Daewoo with new badges, failed in a similar fashion. After a couple of years with nothing in the void, Holden introduced Malibu, GM’s world car. In the pictures, it slightly resembled the Epica in some angles so it was with great anticipation, and not only a little trepidation, that we awaited its arrival.
The Malibu is built on a platform shared by many distinguished fellows such as the sensational SAAB 9-5 and the orgasmic Opel Insignia, commanding Cadillac XTS to name but a few. The SAAB was a fabulous drive and the Insignia was so easy to live with, so what would the Malibu hold for us? Would it be the same engaging drive with the same innovative interiors and impeccable road manners?
To demonstrate my point, I’ve included the SAAB and Insignia to demonstrate what we could have had, but don’t as neither are now available. SAAB went belly up and Opel stayed in Australia for a mere year before pulling up stumps after a marketing disaster.
OUTSIDE:- The bland front end looks chunky. The GM/Holden language doesn’t seem to translate well to this platform. There are lines defining the headlights, grille, fog lights and lower intake but it’s the shape of the headlights themselves that look a little awkward. Somehow it reminds me of the Epica. Insignia is also chunky, but in a regal stylish way and is smooth and refined with it. The SAAB is simply sexy and gorgeous, like a slinky lounge performer in a smoky club singing a smooth ballad.
The rear end is a different story. From the ¾ and straight on view, the rump is sexy with the unique shape of the tail light lending a certain verisimilitude to the nomenclature. Its butch yet relaxed and just a little bit sexy, like someone you’d expect to be sunning themselves on a beach, in Malibu. Remember, Malibu is an affluent area so to call a car that name, it must have gravitas or it’s going to look a bit silly. From the rear, the Malibu is as successful as the other two.
From the side is where it all falls apart for me. The Malibu looks far too much like the Epica it replaces. I don’t mean they look the same, but rather what the Epica would have looked like had it gone another generational evolution. It’s something you notice particularly in the flesh. The wheels look far too small making the body look large and cumbersome and the back door has an unattractive kink in the waist line. It is meant to look like the line is following along the C pillar and across the top edge of the boot but since the C pillar is smooth, the line is lost. It could have made the hind quarter look muscular like the Camaro but instead looks awkward. It must be said that if you squint you can see shade of Insignia in the way the tail lights and boot lid appear in the side view. For me, the front looks massive and heavy with a huge overhang and a bulbous proboscis. When viewed next to the Commodore, the nose of the Malibu looks large and anything but streamline.
By contrast the SAAB overhang looks tiny and the Opel’s slope fools the eye into making the front end look smaller. The huge wheels on both make the body look sporty, especially on the SAAB. It’s important to remember the shape (within reason) and size of the wheels cost a car maker very little to get right in terms of manufacture, and SAAB and Opel got it right.
The Malibu is the antithesis of the clean beautiful SAAB interior and the neat-as-a-pin German Opel.
The Malibu interior feels like a bucket of cheap plastic exploded in the microwave. There are waves and curves and lines of hard plastic as far as the eye can see. There is a line of blue LEDs running along either side of the dash between two other lines of plastic. The light is in fact reflected onto a chromed plastic ridge from above. It’s a clever affect if you’re into boy-racer lighting effects. Below that the dash bulges out above the glove box. The steering wheel feels thick and soft but the covering feels well below par. The door facings too are almost entirely plastic even in the top model.
The foot-well makes a driver feel cramped but the poor interior fit sees the carpet bulge 4 or 5 cms into the space making it feel even smaller. A gentle push reveals nothing behind the bulge. How could that get through quality control?
The centre console is well laid out but again the plastic feels hard and lacks the quality of other examples on the same platform. In fact the cabin doesn’t feel as good as the Cruze which sits below the Malibu in Holden’s line-up. One saving grace in an otherwise ho-hum cabin is MY LINK, Holden’s infotainment system. The quality of the sound is also good for a car of this price and I like the configurable home screen.
While we are talking about the centre console, I should mention the electric parking brake which is controlled by a small lever on the left of the gear selector. It is frequently out of sight depending on how your seat is set. Once put into drive, the button is behind the gear stick. It’s not a total disaster as the Malibu will release the brake if you forget. Wouldn’t you think someone would have noticed?
The Small LCD between the speedo and tacho usually displays several menus but only vehicle info is available in this model. The console is framed by shiny hard plastic with a metalised finish, which always looks cheap.
There is nothing much more to say about the interior design.
The drive in not in the least engaging.
Interestingly Holden’s website has compared Malibu to Camry, i40 and Mondeo all of which are vastly superior especially on the road. The Mondeo is handsome and sharp and the Camry, although conservative in styling and road manners, feel well built and solid. Mondeo handles well even in the base model and the cabin feels like it was designed this century. The engine is snappy and the steering precise with suspension the both dampens and handles bumps, whereas the Malibu does not.
The steering is vague and remote with absolutely no feeling whatever. The handling is soft and wafty that feels remote and distant yet clunks uncomfortably over bumps. The handling becomes worse as the road surface deteriorates. The smooth quiet ride becomes rough and unrefined and in corners the stance is quite jittery.
The engine isn’t terribly smooth either. It feels old fashioned and crude with a distinct buzz as it’s pushed hard. Its 123kw/225Nm is not sufficient to haul a car of this size and could desperately use the 132kw unit from Cruze. Whilst smooth and quiet at low speeds, there is nothing in reserve once on the move. The gearbox never seems to be in the right gear and there is no sports mode. However there is a manual mode accessed by pulling the lever all the way back but gear selection via the rocker switch on top the gear lever is hard to use. James Bond’s ejector seat button it isn’t.
The fuel consumption wasn’t all that brilliant at 14.9 L/100k around town and
I wanted to tell you about the highway cycle. I wanted to say that despite the cheap feel and the dowdy exterior, she was OK on the open road and would be great for a cheap long distance vehicle, but it isn’t and I can’t. I have never done this before, but after 20 minutes on the open road I shelved the idea of a run to the NSW Southern Highlands and diverted to Picton instead. I just couldn’t go any further. Do you remember the old American movies where the driver was moving the wheel left and right to simulate motion? Well, that’s what you find yourself doing in the Malibu. You have to constantly correct but with no road feel you have no idea what the car is doing underneath. You can’t feel the road through the seat of your pants either because you’re isolated, until it comes to bumps. Even a small bump elicits a loud clunking noise and an uncomfortable jolt. The usually soft spongy suspension soaks up straight-line imperfections with great aplomb and only becomes cranky when asked to negotiate bends, even gentle ones, if there are bumps or undulations encountered.
In one final comparison, the SAAB which sold for $95,000 was sexy and although expensive, worth every zack. The V6 was powerful and the brilliant auto snappy and intelligent. The Opel was closer to the price of Malibu, but the top model at $49,000 was much better value. It drove beautifully and had a classy well designed interior, though not quite the match of the sensational SAAB. Either would be a pleasure to own. In fact the SAAB would make an excellent 2nd hand buy.
The drive and interior would point a savvy buyer down to the Cruze which seems well designed and refined by comparison, or up to Commodore, the best locally made car ever.
The Honda Euro, Toyota Camry, Ford Mondeo, Kia Optima and all vastly superior for similar. The equipment level in no way compensates for the frumpy exterior, the poorly fitted and designed interior, or the soggy drive. GM foisted Viva and Epica onto Holden and both failed. My prediction is the Malibu will not be a success and slow sales seem to confirm this. It reminds me of the Epica it replaced..
Would I buy one? No, Thumbs down.
Price: from $28,490 CD petrol to $35,990 CDX diesel
Engine/trans: 2.4 litre petrol inline-four, 2.0 litre turbodiesel inline four
Power/torque: 123kW/225Nm (petrol), 117kW/350Nm (diesel)
Econ l/100km, listed: 8.0 (petrol)
Econ l/100km, tested: 14.9 (petrol)