The Underrated American: Chevrolet Malibu
Not long before this issue of Automobile Magazine went to press, the CEOs of General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler testified at congressional bailout hearings, where they were excoriated for their respective firms' alleged unwillingness and inability to build safe, attractive, fuel-efficient cars that can compete with Japanese products. Clearly, Senator Richard Shelby (R-Alabama) and his esteemed but ill-informed colleagues on the Hill were not aware of the latest Chevy Malibu, a family sedan that is more enjoyable to drive than the Toyota Camry, better looking than the Honda Accord, and available with two different powertrains that deliver more than 30 mpg on the highway - a 2.4-liter four-cylinder mated to a six-speed automatic, and a gasoline/electric hybrid. Did we mention that the most important safety advance of the past twenty years, stability control, is newly standard on the Malibu but still optional on the Camry?
But there's no need to assemble a laundry list of the Malibu's strengths versus its many competitors. Just drive one, and you'll see why we've named it an Automobile Magazine All-Star for two years in a row, and why it's a family car that neither its maker nor its owners need apologize for. How did that happen? Because when GM set out to build a new generation of mass-market American sedans on its global Epsilon platform (the company prefers to call it an "architecture"), the development process started with the Pontiac G6, which is OK, advanced to the Saturn Aura, which is very good, and culminated with the Malibu, which debuted to acclaim for the 2008 model year. The additional time, quite frankly, gave GM additional opportunities to fuss over the details. The result is a sedan with crisp handling, communicative steering, a properly tuned ride, and an overall feeling of quality - especially in the handsome interior - that so often has escaped American sedans in the past. American car buyers have noticed. Perhaps America's leaders will do so, too.
Base price range: $22,275-$27,550
Engines: 2.4L I-4, 169 hp, 160 lb-ft; 2.4L I-4 electric/hybrid, 164 hp, 159 lb-ft; 3.6L V-6, 252 hp, 251 lb-ft