2014 Holden Malibu CDX Review
Paul Murrell’s 2014 Holden Malibu CDX review with pricing, specs, ride and handling, safety, verdict and rating.
HOLDEN MUST HAVE A SUCCESSFUL MID-SIZE MODEL to compete in the lucrative fleet market. The Vectra couldn’t do it, and nor could the Epica. The Malibu looks like it might make more of a fist of the job. But it will need a lot of work before it comes close to being a replacement for the Commodore.
A strong showing in the fleet market is vital if Holden is to sell cars in the sort of numbers it needs to stay viable in the Australian market. As we said in our first drive, the Commodore is precluded (and won’t be available after 2017) from the buying lists of many companies and government departments because there isn’t a four-cylinder petrol model or a diesel option, and the Cruze is seen by many as being too small.
The Malibu is Holden’s great hope to capture fleet sales. The Holden Malibu is a GM world car, and while that may mean economies of scale, it inevitably also means compromises. When it was launched in the US wearing a Chevrolet bow tie, its reception was less than rapturous. A mid-life upgrade has done a little to raise the bar, but we have to make do with the model that the Americans didn’t embrace.
Styling is the first thing that will polarise opinion. Holden’s designers tell us that this class of car is bought by conservative buyers. We’ll be interested to see what they make of it. From the rear, there is a strong Camaro influence – hardly surprising since many of the design team (particularly those from Australia) had a large input into the Camaro design.
The rear, other than the almost Chris-Bangle-like layering of the boot, is the Malibu’s best angle. The CDX gets LED tail lights, while the CD makes do with less overt units. Moving to the side, there are strong Buick influences, again no bad thing. The side windows curve away towards the rear as the sill line rises, creating a forward-looking thrust. It works quite well, although the rear doors are long at the belt line, so you often find yourself bumping into them and you need to take care in tight parking spaces.It is up front that the design starts to show its compromises. The good news is the low 0.29Cd figure and high degrees of pedestrian safety. However, the aim of creating a family look with the Commodore and Cruze has resulted in a frontal design that doesn’t quite meld with the rear. It isn’t a deal-breaker, but nor is it a design you’ll lust after.
BEHIND THE WHEEL
Inside, there are more indications of the problems in creating one car to appeal to various different markets. The circular dials are fairly plain, living in deep rectangular cowls that borrow heavily from the Chevrolet Camaro. The central armrest sits too far back to be much use, even when slid to its forward-most position and we have previously mentioned the idiotic press-button manual gear change button on top of the gear lever which is also located too far back for comfort.
The centre fascia is framed by a swooping, cheap-looking plastic band that reaches high up in the dashboard (and reflects into the windscreen). The central face level vents really are face level, sitting as high as they do, and the side vents are operated by separate controls for vertical and horizontal adjustment. Moving down the centre stack, there’s the infotainment screen, switchgear for the sound system, climate control and various other buttons. These are uniformly dull in a flat grey plastic. The strakes on the dashboard and into the doors look certain to be dust and dirt traps.
ROOM & PRACTICALITY
Back seat space is at a premium and American reviewers were quick to complain. Actually, it’s probably no worse than its major competitors and headroom is very acceptable. A clever touch is the infotainment screen that opens when a large and ugly button below it is pressed to reveal a hidden storage space – perfect if you have to leave your phone, wallet or other valuables in the car. The dash sweeps across below the windscreen and has obviously been designed symmetrically to cope with left- or right-hand drive versions.Boot space is wide and long, if a little shallow and actually bigger overall than in the Commodore. Standard is a tyre sealant and air compressor kit, unless you specify the optional full-size spare wheel. Well, “full size” in the sense that it’s a 17-inch wheel wearing a Kumho tyre, even if you have bought the CDX which is fitted with 18-inch wheels and Bridgestone tyres. We have commented on this before and think it is an issue that needs to be addressed.
We have driven all the models and variants in the range, but for this test, we concentrated on the diesel-powered models.The diesel variants add a hefty $4000 to the price of the equivalent petrol-equipped cars. I asked Holden representatives why the disparity was so great and was unable to get a satisfactory answer. One possibility is that the diesel engine is sourced from Europe, unlike the petrol engines that come from Korea. It may be as simple as Holden trying to limit demand for the diesel version. On the other hand, we could also speculate about a political element to the decision: Holden has long resisted the diesel option for the Commodore and by pricing the diesel Malibu well above the petrol version, they may create an argument to government and overseas interests to justify staying with petrol power for the Commodore.
The 2.0-litre diesel engine is a fairly agricultural beast at idle, but like most diesels now on the market, its clattery characteristics are well masked on the move. It develops 117kW and 350Nm and good-but-hardly-remarkable economy of 6.4L/100km (CD) and 6.5L/100km in the CDX. CO2 emissions come in at 170g/km (CD) and 172g/km (CDX).The diesel Malibu models miss out on electrically assisted power steering, making do with hydraulic power assistance, another consequence of moving the steering wheel to the right hand side. Spring and damper tuning have been tuned for Australian conditions, and it has to be said the local team have done a good job. All models get four-wheel disc brakes, ventilated at the front, but the diesels get one-inch larger rear ventilated discs, possibly to cope with their additional 70kg weight.
RIDE & HANDLING
The Malibu surprises with its balance and road-holding, no doubt a result of local input and tuning. Grip is commendable and ride quality doesn’t disappoint. What really lets the overall standard down, however, is the too-light power assistance that requires constant small corrections at the wheel.The diesel variants are actually nicer to drive than the petrol versions, despite the ever-present rumble of the motor, even at speed. Straight line performance is better than the petrol models, the additional torque is welcome and there’s the bonus of much better fuel consumption figures. The six-speed automatic gearbox does its job unobtrusively although it can be caught out under hard acceleration, changing up a little abruptly, as if to complain at such unsympathetic treatment.
Perhaps surprisingly, there is very little improvement in quality or ambience between the base model CD and the more upmarket CDX, other than leather replacing the very utilitarian cloth upholstery and leather wrapping the steering wheel. The brochure tells us that the CDX also gets different textured plastics, matt-finish plastics, plastic carbon fibre and plastic brightwork, although it still fails to make it immediately obvious which model you’re in.
EQUIPMENT & PRICING
To succeed in the fleet market, and even more so in the private buyers’ market, the Holden Malibu has to present as a good value package, and it succeeds admirably. The cheapest diesel variant is $32,490 (plus ORC). The better-equipped CDX model is $35,990. These prices include six-speed automatic transmission.
The CD gets 17-inch alloy wheels, climate control, reversing camera, rear parking sensors, electric parking brake, “MyLink” infotainment system with Pandora and Stitcher apps, single CD tuner with USB and iPod connectivity and nine speakers, Bluetooth, steering wheel-mounted audio controls, keyless entry and starting, automatic headlamps, cruise control, trip computer and 60/40 split-fold rear seat. What all Malibu models currently lack is any form of navigation system, though Holden says that will be available soon…The CDX gets 18-inch alloys (but a 17-inch spare), leather trim on the seats, steering wheel and gear selector, dual-zone climate control, rain-sensing wipers, front fog lights, LED brake lights and eight-way adjustable heated front seats.
The Malibu, wearing its Chevrolet name tag, achieved five stars in Euro NCAP testing and the Holden also scored the full five ANCAP stars. Safety is well covered with six airbags, Isofix child safety seat anchorage, brake assist, breakaway brake pedal, stability control and traction control.