Chevrolet has more dealership outlets in the United States than any other automaker, yet in some regards, General Motors largest retail division feels like a stranger in its own country; at least where mid-size sedans are concerned.
For over a decade, the mid-size Toyota Camry and Honda Accord have held the coveted title as best-selling car in America. Six years ago, Nissan redesigned the mid-size Altima with an eye-catching exterior that put it on the radar screen of mid-size shoppers. These in-roads by the big three Asian automakers pushed Chevrolet's attempts to gain mid-size market share into the background. That could change with the introduction of the completely redesigned 2008 Chevrolet Malibu. Chevrolet has identified three top needs of mid-size buyers: Exterior styling, value and dependability; all of which the new 2008 Malibu addresses.
The Malibu name has been used by Chevrolet off and on for several decades. It's a catchy, pleasant, easy- to-remember name; problem is previous attempts have been easy to forget. This 2008 should clear things up.
The 2008 models began arriving in early November of 2007 with a sleeker exterior and an interior light-years ahead of previous Malibus. All 2008 models are front-wheel-drive with automatic transmission (with shifters found between the front bucket seats) and four doors standard; the versatile but slow-selling Malibu Maxx hatchback available in the previous generation has been dropped. Added this year is a gas-electric hybrid edition, generating two miles more per gallon than non-hybrid four-cylinder Malibus.
General Motors describes the type of hybrid system available in the 2008 Malibu as a 'mild' hybrid. This differs notably than what's found, in say, the Toyota Prius, the best-selling gas-electric hybrid. General Motor's 'mild' concept, also found in the Saturn Vue SUV, utilizes a regenerative braking process and a small electric motor active at very low speeds working in tandem with the four-cylinder engine. It's a simpler system than Toyota's and less expensive. The GM system adds only $1,800 to the bottom line. Pricing starts at $22,790 (including destination charge) for a decently-equipped Malibu hybrid, the lowest-priced gas-electric hybrid in America. The trade off is the smaller four-door Prius generates better fuel economy. Malibu does not offer a flex-fuel E-85 capability yet as does it's slightly larger, mid-size Chevy Impala counterpart.
The 2008 Malibu has a 112-inch wheelbase (distance between front and rear axles) that's six-inches longer than 2007, adding to enhanced balance and handling. The profile looks longer (measuring three-inches longer), with a less bubble-like cabin that's now elongated. The hood is narrower and rear-end more pronounced. Rear doors are longer. Chrome surrounds the window, license plate and fog lights up front. Conservatively elegant best describes it. An updated bi-level diminutive honeycomb front grille features a center horizontal bar with center Chevy bow-tie icon. Dual exhausts come with six-cylinder models while four-cylinder have single exhausts.
Four trim levels are available: entry LS, LT, LTZ and the LT hybrid. Two powertrains are sold: a 2.4-liter double overhead cam four-cylinder engine cranking out 169 horsepower (22 mpg city and 30 mpg highway) and a double overhead cam V-6 generating 252 horses. (17 mpg city and 26 mpg highway). The V-6 comes standard in LTZ while the LS is available solely with the four-cylinder. LT comes with the choice of either gas engine. All models, including the hybrid, use regular, unleaded 87-octane fuel. The tank holds 16.3 gallons of fuel.
A segment first for Malibu debuting in the second-quarter of 2008 in four-cylinder engines is an available six-speed automatic transmission. While fuel-saving six-speed automatic transmissions have been available in many V-6 offerings (including the 2008 V-6 Malibu), this technology is now entering the four-cylinder engine segment. Currently, a four-speed automatic transmission comes with four-cylinder engines.
While the exterior is updated, it's the interior that may sell the masses on the 2008 Malibu. For a vehicle staring just a tad under $20,000, it feels like a more expensive car when positioned behind the wheel. Two-tone interior combinations are available in all trims. An all-ebony interior is also available LT editions for those seeking a monotone look. The bi-level dashboard design morphs gently into the side doors. Seats are also two-tone save for the all-ebony option. Storage areas include a small pull-out drawer on the far left side of the dashboard and a flip-door in the lower center dash where a decade earlier an ash tray and lighter might be located. This area includes a power outlet and has the size to hold a cell phone.
Chevy offers several different configuration possibilities in the center console area between the front bucket seats. Two-level storage is available to the rear of the compartment with dual beverage holders in the front area, covered, when needed, by a sliding top. However, the tray dividing the larger storage portion in back can be removed as can a divider separating the rear from the front beverage area, revealing a larger container capable of stowing a mid-size purse away from prying eyes.
Three different seating materials are available depending on the trim level selected, cloth, suede or leather. Sound insulation has been improved inside thanks to 40 percent thicker laminated side glass windows and composite wheel liners. Driving functions are logically placed and easy to operate. Ventilation controls, found towards the bottom of the center console, include circular dials for fan speed and direction and buttons for temperature settings. The instrument panel contains three deep-set, independent analog gauges. At night, the dash and instrument panel illuminate with light-blue backlighting. The only thing missing are ceiling handles above the doors.
Leg room in back is average. Front seat backs are scooped out, providing riders an inch or two more knee room in back. Two adults fit most comfortably in back, three would be pushing the envelope.
The entry LS starts at 19,995, LT checks in at $20,955 and LTZ starts at $26,995. All pricing includes a $650 destination charge. All include head-curtain side air bags, seat-mounted front-seat thorax air bags, anti-lock brakes, traction control, OnStar in-vehicle communication system and XM Satellite radio.
On the road, Malibu pulls you around curves at moderate speeds with precise steering. It's not a sports car suspension, but it does ride comfortably with barely a bounce.
General Motors assembles Malibu at its Fairfax Assembly Facility near Kansas City, MO. Malibu is covered by General Motors five-year, 100,000-mile (whichever comes first) powertrain warranty which is fully transferable to the next owner, adding to resale value. It's one of the better warranties available.
Malibu, always easy to remember because of its name, is now easy to remember because of its style inside and out.