Lets be frank, the last two generations of the Chevrolet Malibu were underwhelming to say the least. That is actually probably being nice. Were they transportation? Sure, that does not mean that they would have been on my list of recommended cars. That is all changed with this latest generation Malibu. Chevrolet has taken this seriously and really wanted to show something with this car. They wanted to show they could really build a good car. This was one of the cars that started this new wave of good product. So how good is it really? Is this top of its class or back at the end of the line again? Lets find out.
The exterior of this car is terrific. I like the lines, the design, the greenhouse, the front, the rear, ok you are getting the picture. I personally really like it. I have heard some say the rear looks truncated and too short. I like it. The rear C-pillar is great. The A-pillars are not ridiculously oversized like some of the newer General Motors cars. The rear taillights on the LTZ model I had featured LED lighting and I personally think they are much better looking then the plain unit found on the lower trim models. The headlights have a great design to them and the dual port Chevrolet grille works well on the front end. The panel gaps are all ridiculously tight! I do wish the four-cylinder model would get dual exhaust like the V6, especially in LTZ trim. Overall the exterior is a win.
Like the exterior the interior is sharp looking. The particular Malibu I had was a loaded up LTZ model which featured a two-tone brown and cream color scheme. The leather seats looked great and were supportive. The fit and finish was terrific just like the exterior. The top of the dash has soft touch material (lesser trim models do not feature soft touch material). The wood is definitely fake. The upgraded Bose branded sound system sounded fine but not mind blowing. A USB port was on the head unit and connected to my iPhone quickly without an issue. The front seat backs are scooped out to increase rear seat leg/knee room. The automatic climate control is simple to use and the radio is the General Motors black tie unit. Overall the interior looked nice but I know the materials fall slightly in the lower trim models.
The Malibu I was in was equipped with a 2.4 liter inline four pumping out 169 hp and 160 ft-lb to the front wheels. This power is channeled through a six speed automatic transmission with no manual transmission as an option. I wanted to note the base trim Malibu (LS) is equipped with a four speed automatic transmission while all over trim levels have the six speed. The loaded Malibu LTZ I was in had paddle shifters. I have to ask the question (you know you are thinking it) of why? I have no real answer. The four-cylinder model has electric power steering instead of a hydraulic set up. I will say it never feels ridiculously over boosted at parking lot speeds and has decent on center feel on the highway. Mileage is rated at 22/33 MPG, which are decent ratings though no longer class leading. I came close on the city rating averaging 21.2 mpg but on the highway I could only eek out an average of 27.2 mpg. It is worth noting that my highway average was cruising at 75 mph, which leads me to believe that if I was cruising at 65 mph I would have come closer to the rated 33 mpg average.
Ok now for some gripes. First and foremost this car has a bad combination. I know you are thinking what could it be. It is simple; this is one of the heaviest and one of the least powerful cars out of its direct competitor set. This is not a great combination to have. This is most reflected in passing power on the highway. Also you cannot—in any trim level or options package—get dual climate control. The closest you will come to navigation is your iPhone or OnStar. While such things did not matter as much a few years ago when this generation Malibu made its debut, it matters now.
The original question was, is this car best in class or back at the end of the line again? After a week with the car I can whole-heartedly say it is a good car. With that said, it has flaws and that holds it back from being best in class. That is not to say it is back at the end of the line again. This is a good car. Quite possibly the Malibu is the tightest screwed together car Chevrolet produces. The panel gaps are insane, and the interior is good. The car is showing its age as the competition has upped the ante in the powertrain, technology and feature department. This Malibu is a good car, but the competition has stepped up their game and that is what keeps this car from being great.
I have seen the next generation Malibu that will be a 2012 model year vehicle. It should go on sale hopefully in the summer of 2011. It looks terrific. I do not know what powertrain will be used, but I can naturally assume some of my complaints with the current car will be remedied while keeping the quality I saw in this one.
Full Disclosure- The review vehicle was provided by General Motors