2008 Chevrolet Malibu LT Review


PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2008 Chevrolet Malibu LT
DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS

2008 Chevrolet Malibu LT

With rising fuel costs and less demand for SUVs, American automakers have a new focus on sedans. Chevrolet is no exception, and its entry in the all-important middle-class mid-size category is the Malibu.

If the name is familiar, it graces a completely new vehicle for 2008. Compared to the previous model, the new Malibu is a bit larger, for increased comfort, but is still solidly in the middle of mid-sized. Where the 2004-2007 version started to acknowledge that imports were the dominant players in the class, the 2008 Malibu accepts that, and is meant to compete with and beat them on its own merits.

That means new styling and much-improved fit and finish inside and out. Legacy powerplants are gone, no more iron pushrod engines. Power comes from either the 2.4-liter 169-horsepower Ecotec four-cylinder or the 3.5-liter, 252-horse V6, both contemporary twincam aluminum alloy units with variable cam phasing. The Ecotec four is also used, in a slightly-different state of tune, in a hybrid version. The four is matched to a four-speed automatic transmission, but the V6 comes with a six-speed automatic, complete with steering wheel-mounted shift paddles. And the fully-independent suspension is tuned not for the tastes of yesterday's Caprice buyer but for the tastes and driving enjoyment of today's import buyer - meaning today's midsize sedan buyer.

Basic trim levels are LS, LT, and LTZ. All come with remote keyless entry, front seat-side and full-length head curtain air bags, the latest version of the OnStar telematics system (free for one year), now with remote diagnostics, and a three month free trial of XM satellite radio. All have four-wheel antilock discs and traction control. LT and LTZ models get the StabiliTrak electronic stability control system as well. There are actually two LT models, LT1 and LT2, with LT2 getting fancier exterior and interior trim, more standard convenience features, and a greater choice of options.

And it was an LT2 with a comprehensive suite of options that has been my transportation for the past week. If the previous-generation Malibu announced Chevy's intention to compete with the best in the class, this one is serious competition. It is as good on the road as any car in the class, and better than most. It can compete not merely on features for the price, but on the driving experience.

APPEARANCE: Chevy calls it "the global face of Chevrolet" and it has previously graced the latest Chevy trucks and the Camaro and Volt concept cars. Take one trapezoidal grille, trim with chrome, and split horizontally in the middle with a wide, body-colored bar incorporating the famous bowtie logo. Flank it with large, bright headlights and then wrap the vehicle in a well-delineated combination of curves and angles. Panel gaps are noticeably tight, and flush-mounted glass for the windshield and backlight further adds to its looks and aerodynamic efficiency. A large passenger cabin promises interior space. Chrome is judiciously used to brighten the grille trim and the side windows - and it takes a very careful look to see that the rear part of the window trim is not one piece. The rear is truncated with a beveled edge, and features distinctive taillights with four round elements.

COMFORT: Inside as well, fit and finish is first-rate, with tight, even panel gaps. The "twin cockpit" design is emphasized by trim on the top of the instrument panel, and shows some affinity to the Corvette. It looks good, and multiple materials and textures add interest. Comfort and convenience are paramount. All models have a tilt-adjustable steering wheel and driver's seat cushion height adjustment. In the LT2, the driver gets power adjustment of all cushion parameters, plus power pedal adjustment. Both front seats are heated, and leather covers the steering wheel rim and shifter knob. The "ultralux" LT2 seats have suede-like centers and leatherette bolsters, and provide a high level of support. Cabin storage includes a covered dash-top compartment in addition to the usual door pocket, split-level console box, and small glove box. Both the "Premium Audio Package" AM/FM/XM/6CD/auxiliary MP3 audio system and climate control system have simple, easy-to-use controls. Rear seat passengers get plenty of room, especially head- and leg-room. Two adults fit easily; a third in the center will be, as usual in cars, a little tight. The rear seatback is split 60/40 for cargo duty, but the trunk is large enough that that should be a rarity.

SAFETY: The 2008 Malibu's unibody structure incorporates a reinforced safety cage around the passenger cabin. A full complement of airbags - front, front-seat side, and side curtain - is standard in all models, as are daytime running lights and four-wheel antilock disc brakes. The OnStar "Safe and Sound" telematics can notify the proper authorities for help in the event of an accident. LT and LTZ models have the StabiliTrak stability control system.

RIDE AND HANDLING: A solid structure and fully-independent MacPherson strut front, multilink rear suspension tuned in the European manner give the new Malibu very good road manners. Driving pleasure is further helped by its quiet interior, courtesy of thick glass, good door seals, a rigid, non-flexing structure, and good use of sound-deadening materials and design. The suspension deals with poor road surfaces very well, and spring and shock rates are correctly-matched so response is quick, with no aftereffect. It can be driven in a spirited manner or used as a sedate commuter.

PERFORMANCE: The LT's optional 3.5-liter V6 is well worth its cost. With 252 horsepower (at 6300 rpm) and 251 lb-ft of torque (at 3200 rpm), and matched to a six-speed automatic with "tapshift" manual-shift controls on the steering wheel arms it adds the power and refinement that the car deserves. It's far ahead of anything previously found under a Malibu hood. And the six-speed transmission helps fuel economy and performance, with EPA ratings of 17 mpg city, 24 highway, and 20 during my week.

CONCLUSIONS: The new Chevrolet Malibu is a worthy competitor in the midsize sedan class.

SPECIFICATIONS

2008 Chevrolet Malibu LT

Base Price			$ 21,985
Price As Tested			$ 25,975
Engine Type			dual overhead cam 24-valve aluminum
				 alloy V6 with variable cam phasing
Engine Size			3.5 liters / 217 cu. in.
Horsepower			252 @ 6300 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			251 @ 3200 rpm
Transmission			6-speed automatic
Wheelbase / Length		112.3 in. / 191.8 in.
Curb Weight			3649 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		14.5
Fuel Capacity			16.3 gal.
Fuel Requirement		89-octane regular unleaded gasoline
Tires				P225/50 TR 18 Goodyear Eagle LS
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / solid disc, ABS standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent MacPherson strut /
				  independent multilink
Drivetrain			transverse front engine,
				 front-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		17 / 26 / 20
0 to 60 mph				6.5  sec

OPTIONS AND CHARGES
HFV6 engine package - includes:
  3.6-liter dohc engine, 18" alloy wheels, 6-speed
  automatic transmission with tapshift control
  paddles, dual chrome exhaust tips, hydraulic
  power-assisted steering			$ 2,060
Premium audio package - includes:
  premium AM/FM/6CDsound system			$    550
Rear power package - includes:
  rear 110VAC power center, manual
  rear window sunshade				$    250
Premium mat package - includes:
  premium carpeted front and rear floor mats, 
  trunk mat, cargo net				$    185
Red Jewel clearcoat paint			$    295
Destination charge				$    650

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Complete specifications on these and other vehicles are available at the New Car Buyers Guide!

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