General Motors hopes its redesigned 2008 Chevrolet Malibu
sedan will make a big splash in the mid-size car market, long dominated by the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord.
The front-wheel-drive Malibu looks more modern and has greater road presence. It's more than 3 inches longer overall and its wheelbase -- distance between axles -- is 8 inches longer for a smoother ride and roomier interior. Wheels are yanked to the car's far corners for a more purposeful appearance, greater interior space and better handling.
The flowing, sculptural body has precise fits that contribute to a feeling of quality. There's good attention to detail. For instance, look closely and you'll see Chevy's bow tie emblem inside the housing of the nifty retro twin taillights.
This much-improved Chevy is the first Malibu to seriously challenge top Japanese rivals in the large mid-size sedan market. But Chevy must convince potential Malibu customers to try out the car because many Japanese car buyers haven't set foot in a Chevy showroom for years. Many did when the first Malibu arrived as the "Chevelle Malibu" for the 1964 model year, but that seems like a million years ago with all the industry changes that have taken place.
There are a variety of Malibu models to meet needs of various motorists, including a hybrid version. Prices are competitive, especially with V-6 versions. Most Camry and Accord buyers have opted for a four-cylinder engine because V-6 versions traditionally have been pricey.
The base Malibu LS lists at $19,345, while the 1LT version costs $20,345 and the 2LT is $21,985. The top-line LTZ stickers at $26,345. And the Hybrid costs $22,140.
All models have a good number of safety items, including front-side and head-curtain side air bags for all outboard occupants, anti-lock disc brakes and all-speed traction control. Electronic stability control is standard on LT, LTZ and Hybrid models.
Comfort and convenience items include air conditioning, cruise control, tilt/telescopic wheel, split folding rear seat and power windows, mirrors and locks with remote keyless entry.
Option packages include such items as power-adjustable pedals, deluxe audio system and uplevel interiors, including snazzy two-tone ones in a number of color combinations. Cloth, suede and leather upholstery are offered.
Likely to be appreciated by some in the upcoming winter is a remote starting feature standard on the 2LT and LTZ models and available for the 1LT
A 2.4-liter four-cylinder with 169 horsepower is standard for the LS, 1LT and 2LT. It's decent, and holds prices down. But a more potent dual-overhead-camshaft 3.6-liter V6 with 252 horsepower is standard for the LTZ. You can get the V-6 for the 2LT in a $2,060 option package.
That package includes "ultrabright" aluminum wheels, a manual shift feature for the automatic transmission, dual chrome exhaust tips and hydraulic power steering. (A carryover $1,260 pushrod 3.5-liter V-6 with 201 horsepower is available for fleet customers.)
All that package's items are standard on the LTZ, which also has large 18-inch wheels, low-profile 50-series tires and upscale features such as automatic climate control and power and heated front seats.
The four-cylinder engine works with a rather dated four-speed automatic transmission, while the V-6 shoots power through a responsive six-speed automatic. The six-speed will be made available for the four-cylinder later in the model year when the LTZ becomes available with that engine -- probably because Chevy anticipates high fuel prices aren't going away. That would make the Malibu the first car to have a four-cylinder/six-speed automatic combo in the mid-size segment.
As for the hybrid, it's probably not the gasoline/electric hybrid most people have in mind because they're mainly accustomed to hybrids that run on either gasoline or electric power, or a combination of both.
Rather, the Malibu Hybrid four-cylinder engine, which is a version of the standard Malibu four-cylinder, just shuts off at a stop to save fuel. Regenerative braking feeds power to the battery when the car is being stopped to provide enough battery juice for consistent starts after stopping.
The standard Malibu four-cylinder delivers an estimated 22 mpg in the city and 30 on highways, while the Hybrid provides 24 city and 32 highway -- hardly a startling difference.
The V-6 delivers an estimated 17 mpg city and 26 highway.
While the four-cylinder provides adequate performance, the smoother V-6 is the way to go for quick merging and passing.
The test LTZ I drove had fast, nicely weighted hydraulic power steering, which some might prefer to the overly light electric power steering for Malibu four-cylinder models. All Malibus have a very rigid structure and all-independent suspension for good ride and handling. The sporty LTZ has a ride that is slightly firmer, but compliant. The brake pedal has a good feel, and stopping distances are short.
Large door handles and openings make it easy to get in and out of the quiet, finely crafted interior, which has a very spacious rear-seat area. Front seats are supportive, and the large audio and climate controls can be easily used. Backlit gauges are easy to read even in bright sunlight. And the ignition switch is on the dashboard, so a driver need not grope to find it on the steering column.
The glove compartment won't hold much more than the owner's manual. But there's a fairly deep covered front console storage bin, besides a shallow covered bin atop the dashboard.
Front doors have fairly good-sized storage pockets and beverage holders, but rear door pockets are too slim to be very useful. Rear windows lower all the way, but cupholders are at the back of the front console near floor level.
The large trunk has a rather high opening, but a plastic covering at the opening's lip prevents cargo from being scratched when loaded. You can flip the rear seatbacks forward for more cargo space, but they don't sit entirely flat and the pass-through area between the trunk and rear seat is only moderately large.
The trunk lid goes up smoothly on twin hydraulic struts and has a convenient pull-down strap, while the hood raises on a single strut.
Most Malibus probably will be low- to mid-range models ordered with the four-cylinder engine, but I'd opt for the sexy LTZ V-6 model with a special interior. 2008 CHEVROLET MALIBU
Roomy. Rugged construction. Good roadability. Handsome. Fast with V-6. DISLIKES:
Rather high trunk opening. Folded seatbacks don't sit flat. Low rear cupholders.