The Malibu’s only major shortcoming, as I see it, is the lack of a navigation system. Chevy likes to point out that its OnStar service provides turn-by-turn directions, and that’s true. But the competition, Ford in particular, has done an excellent job branding its uplevel electronics as more than simply GPS. In cars like the Fusion and the Nissan Altima, attractive LCD screens do more than display maps — they’re lifestyle centers. Although the Malibu does have all the necessary features, including Bluetooth connectivity, satellite radio, and a USB input, it lacks the glossy telematics to tie all these capabilities together.
If you can do without a fancy color screen, though, the Malibu remains one of the better cars in this segment. Its tasteful yet distinctive styling is still fresh three years after launch, and the interior is similarly attractive and well finished. The Malibu also might be the best-driving of the mid-size, front-wheel-drive set. Mind you, it’s no sport sedan — and doesn’t need to be one — but discerning drivers will appreciate that GM engineers paid attention to dynamic details that most competitors ignore. The steering wheel feels like it’s actually connected to something, the brake pedal is firm and progressive, and the suspension soaks up bumps without floating over them like an airboat. The only flaw is a bit of torque steer at full throttle. I wouldn’t be surprised if GM’s new “hyperstruts,” which debuted on the Buick LaCrosse and suppress torque steer, make their way into this model in 2012, when the ‘Bu is set to receive an update.
Speaking of the LaCrosse, I have to bring up the age-old question about GM brand management: could the money spent on the Buick have been better applied to the higher-volume Chevy? After all, the LaCrosse is, in many respects, a further evolution of the Malibu, riding on the next generation of GM’s mid-size Epsilon platform and sporting just the sort of infotainment equipment that’s sorely missing in the Chevy. Granted, the Buick is selling very well, and for premium prices at that. But as the Malibu continues to underperform — it currently trails the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Fusion, and Altima in sales — one does wonder if GM might have been better off funneling the LaCrosse’s improvements into what might be the company’s single most important car.
As David noted, the absence of a navigation system and a rearview camera in a $30,000 sedan is going to be a turn-off to some buyers. But other than that, the Malibu is aging quite well, now that it’s been on the market for nearly three years. This particular, well-equipped, V-6 model impressed me with the smoothness and responsiveness of the powertrain and, especially, the very good brake-pedal feel and response. Add in good steering, a well-damped ride, and good body control, and the Malibu continues to be an entry that anyone shopping for a family sedan ought to have on their consideration list.
The Chevy Malibu is a super comfortable sedan with ample passenger space and engine power, especially when equipped with this optional 3.6-liter V-6 engine. The transmission however, is another story. When called upon, the six-speed automatic takes what seems like forever to downshift, especially at highway speeds, leaving the driver anxiously waiting to accelerate.
The interior of the Malibu is just fine; the dark-brown-on-khaki leather seats are quite attractive in this two-tone color combination and offer great support. The radio interface is simple and easy to use, and I particularly like the navigation syst — oh wait, it doesn’t have one; and even worse, it’s not even an option! All navigation is done via OnStar, which is fine unless you like to virtually see the route you’re about to take.
It’s easier (and more concise) for me to single out the bad in the Chevy Malibu than praise the good, since this car is so good overall: Torque steer is bad to very bad, and this hinders the 3.5-liter V-6’s strength. Road noise is bit too prevalent. The interior materials are very, very good, but their alignment is pretty poor in places. Speaking of poor alignment, the trunk of this test vehicle was misaligned a bit as well. Finally, the price of this tester was a bit steep…for $30K, I would at least expect dual climate control, navigation, and a sunroof.
Fortunately, this car is otherwise well optioned, with comfortable heated leather front seats, satellite radio, multiadjustable power seats (eight-way driver’s), a six-speed automatic, lots of space for both people and luggage, and smooth styling. This current generation of the Malibu was an Automobile Magazine All-Star (twice), and we clearly made a good choice. Hopefully for Chevy, the Malibu can climb back to award-winning status amongst its peers once it’s revised in a couple years.
I stumbled into this car after midnight in the airport’s remote parking lot, where it was waiting for me after a long trip (and an even longer layover in Atlanta). At that late hour, it was a pleasure to find myself in a vehicle that was at once both familiar and comfortable. Others have pointed out the lack of a navigation system in this car, but at that moment it didn’t matter to me, since I can find my way home from the airport and to work the next morning without electronic assistance. Nope, what I cared about were controls that were easy to adjust, a layout with which I was familiar, and a ride that would be neither jarring nor sleep-inducing. The Malibu fit the bill perfectly.
Base price (with destination): $27,675
Price as tested: $29,695
2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine
6-speed automatic transmission
4-wheel disc brakes with ABS
Stabilitrak stability control
Onstar with turn-by-turn navigation
18-inch aluminum wheels
Power heated outside mirrors
Automatic climate control
Power locks/windows/front seats
AM/FM stereo with CD player and USB port
Bose premium audio system
XM satellite radio
Heated front seats
Tilt/telescoping steering column
Options on this vehicle:
HFV6 engine package — $1595
3.6L DOHC V-6 engine
Red Jewel tintcoat — $325
Compact spare tire — $100
Key options not on vehicle:
Power sunroof — $850
Dual headrest DVD system — $1740
Tire pressure monitoring system — $143
Remote start — $280
Fuel economy: 17/26/20 mpg (city/hwy/combined)
Size: 3.6L DOHC V-6
Horsepower: 252 hp @ 6300 rpm
Torque: 251 lb-ft @ 3200 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Curb weight: 3649 lb
Wheels/tires: 18-inch cast aluminum wheels
225/50R18 Goodyear Eagle LS2 all-season tires