I've driven my family's 2009 Saturn Aura - more or less the same vehicle as the Malibu - equipped with the same four-cylinder/six-speed combo as this Chevy. I wasn't all that impressed with the Saturn, so I wasn't expecting to be pleasantly surprised by the Malibu.
The secret, you see, lies beyond those four doors. Whereas the Saturn has an interior that may try to look European, it feels like a low-end Pontiac G6 - another sibling in the GM midsize family. Gaps are wide, rough textures are rampant; it's not a very inviting place in which to travel.
The Malibu, however, is a total knock-out inside. Granted, our Aura is a lower-end model and this Chevy was the full-kilt LTZ, but even accounting for the disparity, this interior is fairly phenomenal. The dual-cowl dashboard is a nice retro touch, but the way the faux wood (a nice fake maple, if I'm not mistaken) wraps from door-to-dash at the crest of the two-tone section is magnificent. Someone was paying attention to textures here - not only are those on the dashboard actually somewhat soft to the touch, but there's a beautiful modern grain to the mocha-colored seat inserts, too.
Looking beyond its jaw-dropping innards, this Malibu is also interesting for its underpinnings. Yes, we like the Epsilon platform just fine, thanks (although it does wallow a bit in the twisty bits), but here we're more focused on the powertrain. The 2009 model year marks the first availability of the four-cylinder/six-speed combination.
Though previous four-cylinder Malibus were able to achieve fairly impressive fuel economy (30 mpg highway), they were often mated to antiquated four-speed automatics that dated from the dark ages of Hydra-Matic.
That's changed with the new six-speed. Though shifts can still be somewhat hard, the extra two gears allows the four-cylinder to work within its comfort zone to get the larger Malibu up and running without breaking a sweat. It's still a little slow to react to a quick stomp on the throttle, but if you're really jonesin' for some quick acceleration, may I suggest trying the shift paddles?