We drove the top spec Malibu recently and it must be said that it felt a little flat. The diesel promises economy, and it’s just as well. The CD cabin lacks the leather of the top model so feels somewhat less comfortable and cosy. The leather dressed the cheap plastics of the interior but I hadn’t realised how disappointing the cabin would be without that dressing. There is still the keyless entry/start/stop and there are still many appointments in an attempt to compensate for the interior. It isn’t enough to tempt more than a modest stampede of a mere 224 buyers last month. It’s not Holden’s lowest volume seller though. The electric Volt sold just 4, no that’s not a typo, and the Colorado 7 SUV sold 93.
I mention this because Australia is among the most brand saturated markets in the world. A savvy buyer with shekels to spend is going to demand value for money. He will also want good looks, a comfy place to sit, and loads of stuff thrown in. Safety features have become ubiquitous, so it’s what you can see, feel, and touch that will make the final decision for you. For the same money you can have Honda’s superb, but slightly aging Accord Euro, Fords hugely under-rated Mondeo, or Mazda’s odd looking 6, to name but a few. Buyers will stand these offerings side by side and they will judge, and they will not be kind, after all it is their hard won cash at stake. A buyer doing this will compare smoothness and economy of the engine, the quality and looks of the exterior, the feel and build of the interior with the list of that which is standard for the price.
Malibu’s 2.0L diesel puts out modest 117KW which, while adequate, won’t set the world on fire. Our combined fuel figure of 7L/100k wasn’t much more than the claimed consumptions figures which was a refreshing change. The power plant feels willing and able but then most modern diesels do. It’s a noisy little blighter though and sounds quite rattly and harsh in an industrial kind of way. Behind the wheel, the auto changes into 2nd almost immediately, robbing the engine of revs and power. It’s incredibly annoying in city traffic and the only way to hold the change is to use manual mode as there is no “sports” option. The change button sits on top of the gear selector but sit in such a way as to be uncomfortable to use.
The CD diesel has the same vague feeling-less steering as the CDX, the same ride, and the same dullness to the drive. It’s not something you can put your finger on but sampling any of the other cars I mentioned would out it all into perspective. And a buyer looking at the Malibu will be doing exactly that.
Let’s talk about the cabin for a moment, but only a moment. The quality of the plastic, and there is an awful lot of it, is the same as the CDX we drove and reviewed (full story here) a few weeks ago. Apart from there being a lot of it, it feel cheap and the design of the cabin feels a little old fashioned but not in a “retro” kind of way. If feels frantic and “bitsy” with poor build and fit not helping the poor design. The main difference is the fabric (instead of leather) seating as we mentioned, so would you pay $36,414 for it? Remember the Honda Euro with it drop-dead gorgeous looks starts at $29,990 and runs to $46,658.
I have a theory which is this:
Malubu was developed by Americans, who are not known for handling or interiors, built by Koreans who are not known for lively steering or an engaging drive, and looks and feels far too close to the Epica which it replaced.
The CD starts at $29,990 drive away for the petrol version or $36,414 for the diesel. (CDX $36,467-$40,597) but I’m afraid there is much better around for a similar price. If you want real luxury and brilliant handling with a list of features longer than your arm you’d find an extra 10 grand for the Mondeo Titanium.
The Malibu drive is disappointing, the looks not my cup of tea, and the cabin is bathed in cheap plastic. I’d go for the Cruze if I had to have a Holden and couldn’t afford the superb VF Commodore.
Pleasing or pointless? Let’s just say it’s not pleasing! Time will tell if we are right or not.