• Dec 31st 2007 at 12:33PM
  • 117

click above for a high-res gallery of the 2008 Chevy Malibu LT
Once upon a time, General Motors' mid-sized models were the perennial top-selling passenger cars in America. Within my own lifetime, the Oldsmobile Cutlass topped the sales charts for years on end. But somewhere along the way, it all went pear-shaped for GM. Its cars went from being perpetual sales leaders into a perpetual sales decline. As GM's car sales tanked, the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord picked up the slack and are now considered the standard by which others in the class are measured.

The first signs of a real revival in the GM sedan lineup appeared in 2006 when the Saturn Aura debuted to decent reviews though somewhat lukewarm sales. Then, last January at the Detroit Auto Show, GM debuted two new production sedans, the Cadillac CTS and the car that just spent a week in the Autoblog Garage, the 2008 Chevrolet Malibu. The Malibu is here now, so let's find out what it's like to live with for a week.

All photos Copyright ©2007 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.

The Chevy Volt may represent the future of General Motors power-train technology, but before it can become a reality, GM needs a steady cash flow to fund development. That's the job of the Malibu. The last generation Malibu was bland with some slightly odd design details, while the one before that was just plain invisible. In this class, bland styling is not necessarily a bad thing as the Accord and Camry have clearly demonstrated over the past decade. However, the Japanese brands have backed up their innocuous looks with a reputation for impeccable build quality and levels of refinement that are considered well beyond their price point. That's something equivalent domestic models have been lacking until relatively recently.

When the latest edition of the Malibu debuted last year, it wore what is easily the best interpretation of Chevy's current corporate face with a large, horizontally-split grille. In addition to the bold-looking nose, virtually the whole car drew praise from onlookers at the 2007 Detroit Auto Show. The one possible weak spot was the back end that features taillights which still look like something of an after thought. The rest of the car is so good, however, that the back lights are easily forgotten. The car has handsome proportions with a long, sleek roof-line that draws some obvious inspiration from the Volkswagen Phaeton, among other cars.

The relative absence of surface detailing serves to point out how well Chevrolet got this basic look just right. The details that appear upon close inspection also show the thought that was put into the new Malibu. Even on this slightly above entry-level LT, nothing on the outside of the car looks cheap. The 225/50R17 tires and wheels aren't undersized, fill the wheel wells nicely and sit flush with the surrounding body. Those attractive five spoke wheels? They are actually plastic wheel covers on steel wheels. They may be less expensive than aluminum, but they sure don't look cheap. The turn signal repeaters on the front fenders also give a European touch. Even the little Chevy bow-tie molded into the rear signal lens is a subtle reminder that someone was paying attention.

My wife has never been a GM fan, but when she started seeing the Malibu in TV commercials, she couldn't believe it was a Chevrolet. For the first time in the 14 years we've been together, she actually wanted to check out a GM car. We think this type of reaction is happening all over the U.S. when people see the new Malibu for the first time.

The glass moon-roof on our test unit didn't get much use during the cold pre-Christmas weather around Ann Arbor, but when I tried it out, I noticed it opens up on the outside of the roof so that it doesn't detract from interior headroom.

Upon opening the doors of the Malibu, it was immediately clear that this car is a huge step forward for GM mid-sized cars. Compared to the Dodge Avenger and Caliber SRT-4 that we've reviewed in recent months, the doors felt solid and closed with a tighter seal than even the new Accord. The cloth covered seats in the 1LT model weren't quite as good as those in the new Accord, but are still very comfortable and supportive.

The interior of the Malibu is a revelation for a mainstream domestic car. Even on this low-end model, the quality of the materials was excellent. The appearance and feel of the plastics was of a higher quality than either the Toyota Highlander Hybrid or Jeep Grand Cherokee we've driven in recent months, both of which were more than twice the cost of the Malibu. The steering wheel rim was thick and covered in a rubberized plastic that offered a good grip and feel. The 2LT and LTZ trim levels have a leather-wrapped wheel, but even this one felt better than the skinny leather wheel in the new Highlander.

One of the first things we looked for in the Malibu was the alignment of the trim on the door panels and dashboard. Every Saturn Aura we've looked at had a misalignment between the door and dash trim, a point we've made sure to mention to GM. A rep indicated that the company was aware of this issue and working to address it before Malibu production started. At least on this example, they succeeded. The interior has plenty of storage including wide pockets in the doors, a deep bin under the center armrest and a compartment in the center of the dash top. The backs of the front seats are also scooped out to provide extra legroom for rear seat passengers, and the back seat is nicely cushioned and comfortable. It folds down 60/40, but the thick padding prevents the seat back from folding completely flat.

The latest Accord has grown quite a bit and the extra two inches of width it has over the Malibu can easily be felt in the back seat if you add a third passenger. The rear compartment of the Malibu is great for two passengers but a tight squeeze for a trio.

Another place where the Malibu has a distinct advantage over the latest Accord is interior sound levels. The Chevy is exceptionally quiet, especially for a car with a base price just shy of $20,000. Even the 2.4L EcoTec four-cylinder was well muted.

Other nice touches in the Malibu include pale green ambient lighting behind the door handles and next to the dome light switches. The lighting was just enough to allow occupants to find the handles in the dark without fumbling around. The trunk lid also has four bar link hinges that don't intrude on space the way the goose-necks do on the Accord. It's small touches like these that convey to the buyer that bean counters didn't build this car.

The aforementioned 2.4L EcoTec four-cylinder engine had plenty of power for moving the 3,400-pound Malibu, although the four-speed automatic transmission was partly to blame for the 21 mpg test average. Most of our time in the new Chevy was spent driving around town while Christmas shopping, which meant we logged a lower than normal percentage of highway miles during the week before Christmas. Mileage should be improved next spring when the four-speed will be supplanted by GM's new six-speed unit as the company ramps up production of the new transmission.

The electrically-assisted steering was nicely weighted and provided decent feedback. The brake pedal feel was excellent and the four-corner disc brakes responded well to inputs while being easy to modulate. The Ann Arbor area got a fairly healthy mid-December dumping of snow, which provided good opportunities to test the traction and stability control. Thankfully, both systems worked smoothly and consistently, particularly the stability control. It just kept the car going where the steering wheel was pointed. The back end stayed put with the ESC warning light flashing quietly on occasion, but there was no additional feedback through the steering wheel or extra alarms. The suspension was well sprung and damped, absorbing bumps and frost heaves without ever feeling floaty or harsh.

Overall, the Malibu is easily the best mid-size car from General Motors in my lifetime and probably yours, and it's one of the best cars available in its class today. Even the entry level model doesn't look or feel like a Hertz or Avis special. The ebony interior is perhaps a bit too monochromatic, although those who have small kids with dirty hands might prefer it over the lighter two-tone gray interior treatment. The 1LT model GM provided us prices out at $22,230 including the sun-roof. Moving up to the 2LT model starting at $23,135 nets you a leather-covered steering wheel and shifter, seat warmers, aluminum wheels and other standard amenities. With all that equipment, the 2LT Malibu is a real bargain and a truly viable competitor to the Camry and Accord.

All photos Copyright ©2007 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 7 Years Ago
      chevy malibu, huh, garbage.
      • 7 Years Ago
      I own a 2006 Malibu, LS model, with 39,000 miles. I did a lot of research before buying this car and it is the best equipped base model out there. Automatic transmission, Power windows, locks, mirrors and cruise control are all included. The base seat even has a power lift. The little four cylinder pumps out 144 HP and on two trips from NY to Montana we got as high as 37 MPG. It consistently gives 35 MPG on a trip. I never climbed a hill that it
      wouldn't run as fast as we wanted to go and we've been all over the western states and over the high mountain passes. I'm 65 and I like this car the best of anything I ever owned. The only exception would be my 1959 Ford Fairlane 500. That was a hell of a car for the day.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Why oh WHY couldn't I have waited another year to buy the new Malibu? I test drove it a couple of times already and can't believe how much more I like it than my 2007 Hyundai Sonata. Geez, what was I thinking? The Malibu rides better, is quieter, has better seats, WAY better dashboard design, (love the cool blue gauges and ambient lighting!), better sounding stereo, XM radio... I mean the list goes on and on. Damn, I'm gonna lose SO much money when I trade in my Sonata for this car!
      • 7 Years Ago
      a lot of people have made a big deal about the taillights but they are no worse than what is found on Malibu competitors. The rear of the new Accord is as bland as you can get. I also dont see anything noteworthy about the Camry's rear end. The Malibu's rear is OK, but its not unattractive.
        • 7 Years Ago
        I actually like the tail lights (to my surprise)..They sorta remind me of the last gen. Mitsubishi Diamante. Not sure if that's good or bad, but it's lends a little "upscale" to the Malibu.
        • 7 Years Ago
        I'm still waiting to see one in person before I decide how I feel on the rear, but in photos it definitely looks a bit awkward. However, like sheth said, it's no worse than the Accord or Camry. And I can see the Diamante/Quattroporte comparisons.. a good thing IMO.

        And the Camry rear end.. it's so ungainly. Then again, so is its front.
        • 7 Years Ago
        I like how the rear quarter panels come into the taillights. They meet the lights well, kinda of like the Maserati Quattroporte.

        But the actual taillights are a bit underwhelming. They're okay, but on a car with so much attention to styling as this car, they come off as a weak point.
        • 7 Years Ago
        I didn't really mean to imply that the tail-lights were bad, only that in the context of the rest of the car, they are probably the weakest styling point.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Finally GM locked all the bean counters in a shed!!! This car is excellent. I had the honor of driving an LT with the V6 and it was a smoothe car that handled great and gave no credence to the air outside at 65 MPH. The car was quiet and peaceful as well as comfortable. This care also has style to boot. This car kicks the rivals ass. It does everything good if not better than the others. Drive it. Go. Now.
      • 7 Years Ago
      for starters, the avalon is too expensive considering their lexus still builds cars. i got a magnum rt and as powerful as it is, interior styling SUX. the malibu is one good looking car but there aint no way you can praise the interior quality. its just another american car designed beautifully and built crappily (cheap materials) while i would buy another magnum or a deville or a lucerne, i will not be caught dead in a malibu. try again gm, good idea and cheap parts dont cut it.

      for all you anti foreign car fan boys, if the interior of your car looks like cheap plastic for making bowls and buckets, its not because the car only cost 20,000. its because someone in detriot is too lazy to put more effort into making it after they have come up with an exceptional design concept
        • 7 Years Ago
        I agree, the Malibu is cheap on material quality
        • 7 Years Ago
        I have an Aura and since the Malibu's interior is even better I am sure its not cheap. All of the upper dash panels and door panels on the Aura are soft touch and the Malibu appears to be the same. The leather is also top notch. The hard plastics are on the lower part of the dash below the silver (or fake wood on some car) trim that bisects the dashboard. In my experience Hondas are full of hard plastics but perhaps the new Accord is different. Stop hating on the Malibiu and get a clue. The idea that "all" American cars are built to the exact same standards and have the same material quality is a joke. The base Malibu has better materials than a $37k 300C. GM has been using soft plastics and vinyls for a long time even if the press and ignorant import lovers havent noticed. I had an Alero and the dash was soft touch and had nice graining. Only a few pieces were hard and none of the plastics were shiny and cheap looking.
      • 7 Years Ago
      dont get me wrong because i think the malibu is a hot DESIGN. it is until you step into the cockpit. its nice if you have been driving an eagle talon or a pontiac sunfire. compared to my old 03 camry, build quality dont stand a chance even though the malibu's design is 10x better. too bad we cant drive designs, we can only drive the final product.

      while i will readily trade my magnum rt for a magnum srt8 which is just a little bit better, the interior still SUX. the foreig car makers use plastic as well.

      it just seems like the american car makers hve no clue what the terms TEXTURING and AESTHETICS mean. if i want to be inside a box, i can do that in my work humvee.

      • 7 Years Ago
      Not exactly on the topic of this car, but my sister in law was in the market for a new full size SUV and had almost settled on the Lexus LX570. After driving my '07 Tahoe LTZ, she was blown away and thought it was every bit as luxurious for about 2/3s the money. She ended up buying a Yukon SLT with the same equipment for about $50k with 0% financing.

      My wife has a Lexus RX330 that looks nice but is a mechanical turd. With all of the times this thing has been in the shop, I have had a chance to drive most of the other Lexus' (Lexi?) through the loaner car program and am not impressed.

      Go GM!
        • 7 Years Ago
        Sorry to hear about your RX330 problems. My friend's daughter was given a 2000 RX300 with just over 100k miles and now she has to put in a new transmission to the tune of $5,500. OUCH!!! I was surprised it needed a new tranny with just over 100k on it, seeing this vehicle was pampered.

        The new Tahoe/Yukon vehicles are really nice. Great looking interior/exterior and the build quality seems to be excellent. I hope you and your sister's SUV's give you years of trouble free service.
      • 7 Years Ago
      It looks better than the out going one thats for sure. I like the dark interior. And OMG there is no tacky fake wood!!! its amazing! And look! no shiny plastic! Sorry Armor all lovers. You lose! I'll echo the rear end styling. Needs maybe a larger license plate opening like the Impala from a few years ago and different tail lights. Something to break up the bland rear. The front 3/4 of the car is a knock out.
      harvey m. kane
      • 7 Years Ago
      I think what really counts are the following:

      1. Will it suffer from numerous recalls?

      2. What will it be worth in 3 to 4 years?

      3. Will it sell?

      I have an 04 Accord EX V6. I came in with no down payment and am now in a position where the car is worth $5,000 after payoff. This is hard to beat.

      Will the Chevy do the same?

      • 7 Years Ago
      I agree with above; this really does look like a nice car. However, I think adjectives as described in the review (like the "bold" nose) are a bit exaggerated. Maybe it's because I've been looking at too many actual bold designs on autoblog and I'm jaded. The Malibu is nice, but still polite.
      • 7 Years Ago
      I am seriously considering the 2008 Malibu in the 2LT/Engine Option configuration for our next car. I have sat in and fully inspected a 1LT and loved it, although I did not have time to drive it.

      I have driven the Accord EX-L 5 Speed Manual with its 190hp engine - and it drives very well - but let's face facts: The 2008 Accord Sedan is just plain ugly, especially from behind. And I won't buy ugly for the alleged other benefits of owning a Honda.

      So then there is Camry, and while I do not like the goose-neck trunk hinges at all - I prefer the Malibu's trunk hinge configuration - the Malibu still loses to Camry.

      Why? The back seat.

      Here are my questions for Chevrolet:
      1. Why is there no center arm-rest in the Malibu like there is in almost every other car in this class?
      2. Are there reading lights in the back or not on the 2LT? (the web implies "no" and the brochure says "yes").

      In contrast, the 4cyl Camry XLE has a great center arm rest with the cupholders in it, not next to the floor like the Malibu. There is also a nice retractable lid over them when not in use - unlike the Accord's which are just "open" when the arm rest is down. Also, the sleek aircraft-like rear reading lights in the Camry are great: no interference with the driver at night, and just the right amount of light that can be aimed (BTW: No 2008 Accord sedan has rear reading lights - a major oversight). Finally, the back seats in the Camry XLE recline, and there are AC ducts in the back of the console for the rear passengers. Sweet!

      All I would have to have to get me to decide firmly on the Malibu would be a center arm rest with cupholders and some decent reading lights in the 2LT trim level. The reclining seats and the AC ducts are not necessary.

      Does anyone think that a center arm rest with cupholders and decent reading lights on the Malibu 2LT might come in the rumored mid-year refinements? I am not buying until May, so there's still time to steer me away from the Camry... Any thoughts?
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