General Motors' newest cars - the Saturn Aura, Cadillac CTS and now the Chevrolet Malibu - are evidence of a sea change taking place at the General's house.
The 2008 Malibu is kin to the Saturn Aura, and it drives much the same. It sits confidently on the road, has handsome styling, and its performance is on par with the top cars in this segment such as the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry.
The front-wheel-drive Malibu is built alongside the Aura at GM's Fairfax plant in Kansas City, Kan. There are two engines from which to choose: a 2.4-liter, four-cylinder with169 horsepower and a 3.6-liter V-6 with 252 horsepower. A hybrid will also be available. There are LS, LT and LTZ trim levels. Starting prices are ,345 for the LS and ,345 for the LTZ.
The test car was a well-equipped LTZ with a sticker price of ,995.
The Malibu's grille reflects the global face of Chevrolet, while the rest of the body's styling is clean and uncluttered, with elegantly simple lines and tight panel gaps. The profile is especially nice with the LTZ's 18-inch alloy wheels.
The 112.3-inch wheelbase is 6 inches longer than the current Malibu's, while overall length is up only 3 inches. The longer wheelbase results in a large cabin and room for five people.
The front seats were covered in a handsome combination of two-tone leather.
Like the Aura, the Malibu looks, feels and drives solidly. The steering feels artificially heavy, but the overall ride quality is smooth and tight without being harsh. The lack of noise can be attributed to the use of spray-on sound deadener, laminated steel, composite wheel liners and laminated "quiet glass."
The 252-horsepower, 3.6-liter V-6 is smooth and strong. Its power is abundant across a wide range of rpm, and it never feels overworked even under full throttle. A six-speed automatic has a manual-shift function that can be operated with paddles on the steering wheel.
The LTZ also has buttons on the steering wheel for operating the cruise control and audio system. Sound quality is nice, and the radio has a jack for an MP3 player.
Inside, Chevrolet designers gave the interior the same attention to detail as they did the exterior with an ergonomic design that has nice texture surfaces. The instrument panel is a dual-cockpit design. Three gauges, trimmed with chrome, sit in a large pod. Blue backlighting is easy on the eyes at night, and tiny blue LEDs shine on the center console and light up the door handles at night.
A storage compartment atop the dash is good for sunglasses or maps, while the center console is deep enough to hold large items.
The LTZ test car had an interesting strip of thin woodgrain trim that ran across the doors, onto the dash and around the top of the center stack. While it didn't look like real wood, it was a handsome accent that was cleverly executed.
An available rear power center provides a household-style 110-volt AC power outlet.
The back of the split-folding seat is covered with a hard surface for wear protection. The opening between the trunk and cabin is not overly generous, but it is still wide enough for many large objects. The trunk has a lot of space.
Side airbags and side-curtain airbags are standard along with anti-lock brakes, traction control and tire-pressure monitoring. The brake assistance feature provides full braking power when a panic-braking event is detected.
The LT and LTZ models come with GM's electronic stability control.
Price: The test car's base price was ,345. The sticker price was ,995.
Warranty: Three years or 36,000 miles with a five-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty.
Point: The Malibu takes a giant step forward, both in terms of design and build quality. The cabin is attractive and comfortable, the LTZ's 3.6-liter V-6 produces plenty of power, and the handling is confident.
Counterpoint: The power steering feels artificially heavy, and the pass-through from the trunk to the back seat will not accommodate wide items.
Standard Equipment (partial list)
169 horsepower 2.4 liter 4 cylinder Engine
4-speed automatic transmission
P215/60R16 all-season tires
Steel wheels with wheel covers
4 wheel disc brakes with ABS
Dual front side-mounted airbags
Front and rear head airbags
Tire pressure monitoring
2-way power driver seat
Split-folding rear seatback
Remote power door locks
Tilt and telescopic steering wheel
AM/FM in-dash single CD player with CD MP3 Playback stereo with 6 speakers
XM satellite radio
OnStar w/Turn-by-Turn Navigation telecommunications service
The LT adds... (partial list)
P225/50R17 tires on chrome steel wheels
Front and rear floor mats
The LT2 adds... (partial list)
P225/50R17 tires on Alloy wheels
6-way power driver seat
Heated front seats
Universal remote transmitter for garage door
The LTZ adds... (partial list)
252 horsepower V6 engine
6-speed shiftable automatic transmission
P225/50R18 tires on alloy wheels
8-way power driver seat
6-way power passenger seat
Remote engine start
Automatic climate control air conditioning
AM/FM in-dash 6 CD player with CD MP3 Playback stereo with 8 speakers
Major Available Options (Partial List, depends on model, some options are only available as part of a package, see your Chevrolet dealer for details)
252 horsepower V6 engine w 6-speed automatic transmission (LT2 only)
Power Glass Sunroof
Rear Power Package
Premium audio package with 6 disc changer
For more information on the Chevrolet Malibu, visit chevrolet.com
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