2008 Chevrolet Malibu Expert Review
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.
click above image to view a new high-res gallery of the 2008 Chevy Malibu
Autoblog gets numerous comments saying that the domestic automakers could easily sell more products if only they would make them good enough to buy. We agree. With the introduction of the 2008 Chevy Malibu, it could very well be time for us all to put up or shut up.
GM knows the midsize sedan segment is dominated by the Toyota Camry and has taken direct aim at that very car with the new Malibu. The car's measurements come close to the Camry in almost every category, including length, interior space, trunk size and engine displacement. Where they differ is in design. The Camry provides the automotive appliance for those who don't really want a car, but need to go places. The Malibu brings style to the game at a competitive price.
GM invited us to spend some time with the new Malibu in Memphis, Tenn. this past weekend, and we put the car down some of the roughest streets of the city and the twistiest back roads we could find in northwest Mississippi.
To start the day, we chose a top-of-the-line LTZ model with the 3.6L V6 and 6-speed transmission from a lineup of about a dozen Malibus parked in front of the Gibson Guitar factory in downtown Memphis. A couple of passersby stopped to ask what was going on, commenting on how good the new model looked. Apparently, it really is hard to ignore.
Continued after the jump.
General Motors provided the vehicles for testing. Autoblog does not accept travel or lodging from automakers when attending media events.
Live Photos Copyright ©2007 Chris Tutor / Weblogs, Inc.
With its lines that mimic more expensive cars, the Malibu is sure to continue getting attention. The night before our drive, we were briefed on the new Malibu's "dramatic rear," long hood and short deck, as well as the Corvette-inspired inboard hood. In fact, the design manager for the Malibu redo said the Corvette provided many of the car's cues, including the circular, dual-lamp taillights, the aforementioned hood and the dual, chrome exhausts.
But after opening the door to the new Malibu, it's easy to see where GM really spent some coin. This car has one of the best mid-size interiors to come out of Detroit... ever. The seats are comfortable but supportive and covered in either seemingly high-quality earthtone fabric or leather. All visible plastics are textured, including the A-pillar cover, and every little storage hole is rubber-lined. Starting at the driver's shoulder, a line of either aluminum or faux wood separates the two-tone interior trim, and continues over the chrome-ringed instrument cluster, above the console, tops the glove box and ends on the front passenger's left. It's a unifying element that was obviously intentional, not an afterthought. "One complete, awesome design," we were told at the presentation.
Rear-seat passengers will quickly notice the adequate leg room provided by the front seats' scalloped backs. There's also an optional 110-volt, AC plug back there, a unique and much appreciated touch.
Early morning Memphis traffic was light as we found our way to the Interstate where, for some reason, we found ourselves zipping past car after lane-hogging slow car. The white numbers on the dark blue speedometer showed that maybe they were going fast enough, but we were doing well over the speed limit. Blame it on the Malibu's sound insulation. Its double-paned side glass includes a layer of sound-deadening laminate, while the upholstered trunk keeps noise from sneaking in back there and extra attention was given to the firewall insulation.
The extra padding may be to blame for some of the car's weight gain (about 240 pounds) since last year, but it truly pays off with greatly reduced road and wind noise. Later in the day, a brief ticket-tempting stint with a colleague at the wheel (honest, it wasn't me!) was as quiet as most cars in this price-range operating at law-abiding speeds.
The Malibu's handling was not inspired by the Corvette, but then, the Camry's isn't inspired by the upcoming LF-A. The new Chevy handles itself well, taking curves flat enough and accelerating quick enough to be competitive. The V6 exhibits more torque steer than we like, and easily overcame the car's standard traction control on full-pedal launches.
But we'd still pick the 252-hp V6 over the 169-hp 4-cylinder. The V6 with the 6-speed transmission was ready for some fun when requested, and simply did its job the rest of the drive. Currently, 4-cylinder models get paired only with GM's 4-speed transmission, but as production of the 6-speed increases, customers should be able to order that option soon. We were allowed a short drive in a 4-cylinder, 6-speed prototype, and saw somewhat smoother shifts and maybe a bit less engine noise, but the drive wasn't long enough to make a recommendation.
A third powertrain option is the hybrid Malibu. The same Ecotec 4-cylinder gets a nickel metal hydride battery pack, regenerative braking, and engine shutoff to achieve an estimated 24 city and 32 highway mpg. The hybrid option only costs $1,800 over the 4-cylinder model, yet is only marginally more fuel efficient with the plain 4 getting 22/30 mpg. We drove the hybrid a short way, and thought it wasn't that much different than its slightly-less-green counterpart. Even as a mild hybrid at less than $22,000, it should have plenty of buyers who at least want to look more green than their neighbors.
The base 4-cylinder, 4-speed LS stickers at $19,995 and the LTZ comes in at just over $26,000. GM says choosing every option will put a Malibu just over $28,000.
So, are we gushing about this car? Yes, and we're as surprised as you. My last GM-made car was 13 years ago, and was awful. I swore I'd never step foot inside another GM showroom. This car could very well change my mind about that. It's got the looks, the character and the interior to challenge Camry's reign, and it's about time. If the Malibu can be built to the same quality standards as Toyotas "supposedly" are, GM is back.
Terry Rhadigan, Chevrolet's director of communications, tells us that Chevrolet dealers have already spoken for 2008 Malibu production through 2007. This tells us that high demand is at least expected for this car. He wouldn't say how many cars that actually is, or how many the company expect to sell. "We'll let the market decide how many we build," he said. Speaking of dealers, we asked Rhadigan if GM was doing anything special to address customer/dealer relations issues. He told us it's an "ongoing thing," and said, "We'd be better off with fewer, more high-quality dealers." Sounds like they at least acknowledge there's a problem.
Rhadigan also addressed concerns that the Malibu would again be a rental fleet favorite. He said Chevrolet hoped to cut Malibu fleet sales in half. And he said Chevrolet would encourage rental fleet buyers to buy nicely-equipped Malibus instead of stripped-down models. The goal being to use a rental as a missionary opportunity to showcase the new car's attributes.
Don't expect an SS or Maxx model anytime soon, unfortunately. We believe it when GM tells us the hatchback version is dead, but despite being told by two different GM sources that the SS isn't planned, we still have reason to hope.
While we only put about 180 miles on some new Malibus during the six hours we had with them, we can say that mid-size shoppers need to do themselves a favor and at least take one for a drive. It's the best Chevy in years, and as Car and Driver said, "Camry beware..."
General Motors provided the vehicles for testing. Autoblog does not accept travel or lodging from automakers when attending media events.
Live Photos Copyright ©2007 Chris Tutor / Weblogs, Inc.
New Car Test Drive
All-new for 2008.
The Chevrolet Malibu nameplate has been around for a long, long time, in all kinds of shapes and sizes. Once a big car, the Malibu has in recent years been Chevrolet's bread-and-butter sedan, fitting in the lineup just below the larger Impala, which is itself a downsized version of the old full-size Impala.
Today the Malibu competes directly against the other midsize sedans on the market, among them the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima, and Ford Fusion.
The 2008 Chevrolet Malibu is an all-new model. This edition of the Malibu shares its underpinnings with the other GM cars mounted on the Epsilon front-drive platform, including the new Saab 9-3, the new Saturn Aura, the Pontiac G6, the European-market Cadillac BLS, and the German Opel Vectra. That's a fine group of cars to be associated with and the Malibu is expected to be the biggest seller among them.
Chevrolet says it has modified the platform with some extra strength and extra steel in the central tunnel area and the bodysides to help quiet the car and improve its crash performance. More quiet was added with composite inner fenders, thicker glass, and sprayed-on sound insulation throughout the body cavities. Still more quiet was engineered into the induction system, to make the engine sound powerful but quiet at full-throttle and during downshifts. It's a bigger car inside than the previous model, but it's smaller on the outside, although the design makes it look even longer than the outgoing car.
The Malibu will be sold on its obvious exterior glamour, its initial pricing, and its good fuel economy, with EPA ratings of 22/30 mpg for the base 4-cylinder and 4-speed automatic, 17/26 mpg for the V6 engine and 6-speed automatic, and 24/32 mpg for the so-called mild Hybrid. All models are four-door sedans with front-wheel drive.
We found the Malibu to be a smooth, comfortable sedan with plenty of power and responsive. It strikes a nice balance between well-controlled handling and a smooth ride. Overall, the new Malibu feels smooth and refined and pleasant to drive.
The cabin is nicely designed, attractive, and everything is easy to operate, and the seats are comfortable.
In short, we think the Chevy Malibu stands up well when held against the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord gold standards. Choosing among them largely comes down to nitpicking, splitting hairs and personal preference. Camry and Accord may have an edge on resale value, but they're also likely to come with higher price tags. In any case, we don't see the gap between this Chevrolet and the imports that we used to see.
The 2008 Chevrolet Malibu range includes the LS ($19,995), 1LT ($20,995) 2LT ($22,635), and LTZ ($26,995), plus the Hybrid ($22,790). All prices are MSRP and include a $650 destination and delivery charge; prices can change at any time without notice.
The Malibu LS comes with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine and four-speed automatic transmission. The base model also comes with electric power steering, to saved drag on the engine, while the V6-powered models come with hydraulic power steering.
LT models come with the 3.6-liter V6 engine and six-speed automatic transmission along with StabiliTrak yaw control, 17-inch wheels and tires, dual exhausts and manual shift control.
LTZ adds 18-inch alloy wheels and tires, fog lights and clean-lens LED taillamps, and comes with a long list of standard equipment items, plus and a higher-capacity six-speed automatic. The LTZ will also be available with the four-cylinder engine and a six-speed automatic.
The Hybrid comes in an LT-level of trim with special 16-inch low-rolling-resistance tires.
Options include a power sunroof, remote starting, power adjustable pedals, upgraded interiors, and an upgraded eight-speaker, 210-watt entertainment system.
The safety package is comprehensive, with front, side and curtain airbags, ABS, traction control, tire pressure monitoring. StabiliTrak electronic stability control comes standard on LT, LTZ, and Hybrid models and includes Brake Assist.
Chevrolet has followed an industry-wide trend with the Malibu, stretching the wheelbase a full six inches compared to the previous model, to get more interior room for the occupants and a smoother, quieter ride, with an overall length that's only three inches longer, which means the all-new body has the preferred wheels-at-the-corners look.
The Malibu looks masculine, brawny, yet clean and crisp. In our opinion, this is one of the best overall designs that GM design boss Ed Welburn has supervised since he's had the top design job.
The new body design is bold, long and sleek, with an especially appealing roofline that looks like it belongs on a luxury car. The bodysides are completely clean and uncluttered, and the twin round taillamps pay homage to the Corvette. The dual-port grille is a contemporary Chevrolet design cue. We think it works better on the Silverado, but it gives the Malibu a distinctive look, and distinction is the goal of the midsize sedan designer. Look closely and you'll see tiny bowtie emblems imbedded in the headlights, one of several small surprise-and-delight features the designers included in the hope owners will discover them one pleasant day while washing the car.
Malibu rides on the Epsilon platform, with MacPherson strut front suspension and multi-link rear suspension with front and rear stabilizer bars of varying diameters, depending on model.
The four-cylinder models will likely represent 70 percent of sales. The mid-level LT trim levels are expected to be the most popular, say GM executives, though the entry level LS-2 is also expected to be popular. Naturally, our favorite is the LTZ, perched at the top of the line.
The 2008 Chevy Malibu cabin is beautifully done, with tight fits, no gaps, and everything within easy reach and easy to operate. The instruments are very easy on the eyes.
The most noticeable interior feature of the new Chevrolet Malibu other than the new roominess front and rear is the dual-cowl dashboard and instrument panel layout inspired by vintage Corvettes. This design is brought into the 21st century with wood and metallic trim and a very pleasing blue-on-white instrumentation graphic treatment that's flooded with blue light at night.
Less noticeable are thoughtful features such as the ambient lighting. A feature associated with expensive luxury cars recently popularized by Mercedes and BMW, ambient lighting helps the driver and front passenger find secondary controls and items around the center console. A cubby on top of the dash is convenient for wallets and such, a useful feature Subaru has used for years.
Cloth, suede and leather interior options are available. The standard interiors are single color, but several new two-tone interior combinations are available, including a dramatic black-and-saddle leather combination that's very attractive.
We found the leather seats in the LTZ quite comfortable. Piping in a contrasting tone dresses them up. The front bucket seats are somewhere between sumptuous and luscious in the way they look and the way they sit, very comfortable and supportive.
The stretch in wheelbase affords each occupant plenty of room, and there is ample headroom and legroom in the rear compartment for six-foot-plus passengers. The backs of the front seats are dished out to add knee room. The rear seatbacks flip down to provide a pass-through to the trunk.
The new cabin includes a dashtop storage bin, door cubbies, and seatback pockets, standard ambient lighting for the overhead console and door-pull pockets. We've never cared for the look of rolled-up sliding covers on center consoles due to their ability to attract crumbs.
Overall, the Malibu interior is attractive and comfortable. The quality of the interior materials is good. It doesn't bowl you over but nor does it reek of cheap plastic. We think it compares well to the cabin of the all-new 2008 Honda Accord. The quality of the hard plastic on the lower dash in the Chevrolet isn't as nice as the material in the Honda, and the material on the steering wheel hub is a little nicer on the Honda, but it's still nothing to behold. The Chevrolet has an attractive leather shift boot on cars with leather interiors is not found in the Accord.
Every Malibu comes with XM satellite radio and the latest version of OnStar with Turn-by-Turn navigation. However, there's no GPS navigation system nor is there a back-up camera. Chevrolet says people prefer to use their portable GPS units and relatively few want to pay for an OEM navigation system, but we're a little skeptical of this.
Big knobs and buttons and an elegant design make operating audio and climate functions easy. In fact, we found it easier and less confusing to make adjustments in the Malibu than in a comparably equipped (non-navi) Honda Accord; the Honda seems less intuitive and convenient. Unlike the Honda, the Chevrolet has the audio controls at the top, better because people tend to fiddle with their stereos more than their temperature controls.
Climate controls in the Malibu are very easy to operate utilizing big knobs for fan and vent modes and simple, clearly labeled buttons. Honda splits the climate controls up, forcing the driver to examine them more closely before pressing a button. In short, the Malibu audio and climate controls are, in our opinion, better than the controls on the Accord. Window switches are conveniently mounted on the doors. Redundant controls on the steering wheel are available.
Remote starting is available. This lets the driver start the car by pressing a button on the key fob from the comfort of the house on.
We drove all three versions of the new Malibu, the four-cylinder four-speed automatic, the hybrid, and the V6 with the six-speed automatic. Most of our time was spent in the V6, however.
The 2LT we drove was very pleasant, indeed. Acceleration was good, if not sparkling, with only a little over 250 horsepower from the V6 engine. Some cars in this class have 20-25 more horsepower than this engine offers, but we never felt there was a lack of power here.
The new six-speed automatic was quick to shift, up and down, smooth, lurch-free and quiet. The engine, which has nine different sound attenuators in the air intake system, never sounded anything but powerful and smooth.
In fact, everything about the car we drove was quiet and smooth. The suspension soaked up rough Mississippi cotton-farm roads with aplomb, and kept the car straight and flat without a lot of pitching and body roll.
The steering was reasonably quick and precise, but without much real road feel, although better than previous models of this same car.
With the V6 engine, the driveline exhibited torque-steer at full throttle. Stand on the gas when turning at low speed and you'll feel a tug on the steering wheel.
Braking action and performance was on par with anything else in the class of vehicles and trustworthy in panic situations.
The hybrid is considered a mild hybrid and uses a belt-alternator-starter, or BAS system, to stop and start the engine when needed. It shuts down completely at stoplights, and can add 3-4 kilowatts or about seven horsepower to the gasoline engine's output when needed.
The LS comes with an Ecotec 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine and the old four-speed overdrive automatic transmission, an economical alternative that promises cheap insurance and low operating costs. The base model also comes with electric power steering, to saved drag on the engine, while the V6-powered models come with hydraulic power steering.
The all-new Chevrolet Malibu has all the size, room, features and conveniences a middle-of-the-market sedan needs to be competitive, and the fits and finishes inside and out are world-class. They have indeed built a car we can't ignore. We think the new Chevy Malibu stands up well to the best in its class, including the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Jim McCraw filed this report after test driving Malibu models around Memphis and down into Mississippi; with Mitch McCullough reporting on the Malibu LTZ from Los Angeles.
Chevrolet Malibu LS, Malibu 1LT, Malibu 2LT, Malibu LT, Malibu Hybrid.
Kansas City, Kansas.
Options As Tested
3.6-liter V6 engine ($2060), metallic paint ($295); power sunroof ($800); rear accessory power outlets ($250).
Chevrolet Malibu 2LT sedan ($26,090).
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