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2008 Chevrolet Malibu Review

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Moving Upmarket and Upscale
By Steve Purdy
Detroit Bureau

Reviewers have not been coy about praising the new Malibu. Camry, Accord and the other mid-size sedan contenders are overdue for some serious competition from GM, particularly mainstream Chevy. We got a hint of what was coming two years ago when we found the Saturn Aura to be a top notch entry in the category. Then at the 2007 North American International Auto Show this new Malibu, built on the same new platform of Aura, was revealed to an unusually positive reception. In November of ’07 Malibu burst upon the market to positive reviews.

These last few decades have been a struggle for GM. With market share slowly eroding, content mostly a half step behind the Japanese competition and styling often uninspired. The General had a tough comeback to pursue. GM is not back to a position of dominance - perhaps never will be - but the new Malibu is an impressive comeback product.

It just won the Detroit Free Press Car of the Year honors and is a finalist in the prestigious North American Car of the Year awards to be presented next week at the North American International Auto Show (watch this space for updates), the most important car show in the US and one of the most important in the world. I’m expecting to see more awards for the Malibu in the upcoming months.

We got our first hint of the front-wheel drive Malibu’s competence and class visually as they parked it in my driveway on a cold winter day. Obviously a Chevy from stem to stern, it adopts styling queues that suggest an international ambiance. The generous rear flank and steeply raked rear window resemble the shape of the larger VWs. The roofline and pillars sport a German flare as well. Front styling looks like the handsome newest iteration of Impala. Large wheels and tires, dual exhaust and stylish details put Malibu on par with the best in the mid-size sedan class.

The basic LS model comes with a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine, 4-speed Hydramatic transmission, traction control, tire pressure monitoring system, six airbags (dual frontal air, head curtain side-impact and front seat-mounted thorax protection), OnStar Generation 7 with one year of service including turn-by-turn navigation, front safety belt pretensioners, unremarkable but nice fabric seats, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, 16-inch wheels, XM satellite radio, and two-tone trim. All that for $19,995.

Our test car is the 1LT version which adds Stabilitrac stability control with panic brake assistance, 17-inch chrome trim wheels, dual chrome exhaust outlets and drive shift control to the basic car for just another $300. Only one option package enhances this one - the Power Convenience Package for $515 which includes power 6-way driver seat, remote start and power adjustable pedals. With the $650 destination charge we’re looking at about $21,500.

Now, let me tell you how much I like this new Malibu. A lot!

Sliding inside for a drive to town wasn’t easy until I moved the power seat downward. I’m a big guy and could barely duck enough to get in with the seat up high. Once in I spent a few minutes just admiring the style and structure, materials and workmanship. All first rate for this class of automobile. Deeply scooped trim on the dash loops away from driver and passenger hinting at the shape of an old Corvette interior. All it needs is a grab bar on the passenger side. A handy covered storage bin awaits trinkets or change on top of the dash. The center stack of metal has a quality look and feel. The instrument pod is shaded by a small, shapely brow. Turquoise rings surround the gauges. Attention to detail is impressive. Later, coming home in the dark I was even more impressed by the touches of ambient lighting in the doors and on the dash.

Malibu is mighty roomy inside as well. Big rear doors, lots of room in the back seat area and a huge trunk (15.1 cubic-feet) make this one seem way bigger than its predecessor. I was hauling some stuff in the trunk and some of it slid forward bumping up against the back seat. I had to literally crawl half way in to reach it. The rear seat backs release reasonably well (not best in class, though) for limited pass-through of long cargo.

Performance was better than expected as well. I drove the Malibu for a couple of days before I checked the sticker for details or looked under the hood. I just assumed from its performance that it had a V6. I was wrong. This is the basic 2.4-liter DOHC in-line 4 with just 169 horsepower mated to a 4-speed automatic transmission. It was not wheezy even when pushed. Acceleration is plenty adequate for most purposes. And fuel mileage is rated at 22-city and 30-highway by the EPA. During our week of mixed driving – about 50/50, city/highway – we averaged 26.1. That, of course, is on regular fuel.

Handling is good as well. Fully independent suspension, conventional in design, along with a longer wheel base than the old Malibu made for no complaints on the bumps, pot holes or hard corners. Standard (on the 1LT) 17-inch all-weather tires on shinny alloy wheels both looked good and kept us planted firmly on the road surface, even on a couple of snowy, wet days.

In terms of safety, the Malibu competes well with Six airbags, tire pressure monitoring system, OnStar with one year of service including crash notification, traction control, chassis dynamic controls, and five-star NHTSA frontal crash test rating.

So far GM is having a hard time keeping up with demand. To augment the main assembly in the Kansas City plant a new line is being added at the Orion plant north of Detroit.

Like all GM products the Malibu’s drivetrain is warranted for 5-years/100,000-miles. The rest of the car is covered for 3-years/36,000-miles.

Beyond the LT model are the performance LTZ and a fresh new Hybrid. We’ll hope to test those in the near future. All of the Malibu models are well worth a good hard look if you’re in that market. Lots of options, including way cool two-tone leather seating, will allow you to put together a package to suit your needs.

Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved.