Holden's new 'Bu' is a mixture

ROB MAETZIG
Last updated 13:03 28/11/2013

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Aaaaw - after years of giving some pretty interesting and often local names to its medium-sized sedans, Holden has finally succumbed to international pressure from The General and named its latest model after an American city.

Who will forget some of the monikers of the past? Torana, said to be Aboriginal for "To fly". Sunbird. Camira, a play on the Aboriginal word for "Wind". And more recently Epica, which, while not strictly local, was at least better than the Korean name for the sedan which was Tosca, said to be an acronym for "Tomorrow's Standard Car".

And now we've got Malibu, named after the affluent beach city in Los Angeles County that is nicknamed The 'Bu by the surf culture people who live there.

It's actually not a bad name, one that General Motors has used over the past 50 years for various vehicles sold in the US. Now it's being used all over the world - because the new Malibu is a global car, sold by GM either as a Chevrolet or Holden in almost 100 countries in six continents.

The car Holden sells in New Zealand is built in South Korea, powered by a petrol engine built in Korea or a turbocharged diesel sourced from Germany, has automatic transmissions from Korea and Japan, and has the MyLink infotainment system from the US.

So has there been any Australasian input at all into the development of this new vehicle?

There sure has. The entire Malibu project was overseen by GM's executive director of international operations Mike Simcoe, who is an Aussie, and two of Holden's own design staff had major influence on the vehicle's design while they were on international assignment in the US.

One of these staff, Justin Thompson, was also exterior lead designer for the more recent VF Commodore development project, and as a result the two vehicles share some design similarities.

In fact the rear end of the Malibu was actually the first iteration of the VF's rear styling, and the frontal design treatments are also similar.

What all this means is that despite its Korean sourcing and the fact much of its componentry is the result of digging into the figurative GM parts bin, from the perspective of looks, the new Malibu can easily take its place between the smaller Cruze and the larger Commodore in the Holden lineup.

There's been Aussie input into the way the Malibu rides, handles and performs, too. A GM-Holden's engineering team developed a unique suspension tune for road conditions in New Zealand and Australia, and it also calibrated the automatic transmission for the petrol Malibu.

So while the new Holden Malibu can't be described as an Aussie car, thanks to that development work, it does suit local motoring conditions. And, importantly considering it is being sold in a market segment that is very much fleet-oriented, it is being offered in New Zealand with retail prices that are extremely competitive.

We've just been driving the top petrol model, the CDX, which is on sale here for $45,990, which I think just about makes it the least expensive fully-loaded medium-sized sedan around.

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What you get for the price is a conservative-looking sedan that to me eyes doesn't match it with the likes of Mazda6, Kia Optima and Hyundai i45 in terms of exterior appearances. Don't get me wrong - it's still a good-looking medium-sized sedan, but it simply isn't the best looker of the fleet.

Same applies to the interior. It's comfortable and functional, but not memorable. However, where the Malibu does stand out is in specification it offers.

Every Malibu has such features as nine-speaker premium audio system, reversing camera, automatic park brake, climate control air conditioning and a seven-inch touch-screen that can be used to display all the infotainment features that are part of Holden's fantastic MyLink system.

In addition the CDX gets leather upholstery, eight-way electric adjustability of the front seats which are also heated, and 18-inch alloy wheels.

All of this, plus what seem to be some very good sound-deadening measures, contributes to be nice driving environment in the Malibu. Ride and handling are also good - certainly a lot better than the unfortunate Epica this model replaces - and it is obvious the suspension refettling done by the Holden engineers has worked.

Malibu is not the best-handling medium-large sedan on the market. But it feels good all the same, with an electric power steering system that is surprisingly good, and a spacious and well-specified cabin to present a car that ticks most of the boxes for the customer base it is aiming for - the fleet buyers.

Performance is good, too. The model we road tested was powered by a 2.4-litre four cylinder EcoTec petrol engine that develops 123 kilowatts of power and 225 newton metres of torque.

General feeling with the engine was that while it could do with just a few more horsepower to carry the vehicle's 1600 kg weight, it combined well with the car's six-speed automatic transmission.

So overall, while this Holden probably doesn't offer the level of dynamic capability to live up to its sexy American name, and it trails some of the opposition in this regard, where it is very good is in its build quality, roominess, and level of specification for the price.

- Taranaki Daily News

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