2008 Chevrolet Malibu 2.4 Liter test drive

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Well, well , well.
Here it is.

For many years now, US carmakers have been telling us that their new model is finally the one that will really compete with the Camry and Accord. They swore it so many times before.
So, is the new Malibu really it?
I was invited by GM to Memphis in order to find out.
I couldn’ pass on a free trip and the opportunity to drive a car before almost anyone else.
Would you?….

The first thing I noticed was how good the car looks in the flesh. And on the street next to other cars.
I drove a Camry Le 2.4 and a new Accord LX at this event as well.
The Camry does look a lot cheaper than the Chevy. And besides, there are so many around that’s it’s actually hard to tell.
The new Accord looks.. Well. Weird and disturbing from many angles.It tries too hard to look upscale.

The Malibu has much better proportions and does look like a more expensive car.
And it has much more presence in the street.

The interior is a huge step forward from what we’ve seen from GM before.
But as we know, that’s usually not enough.

Most of the plastics on the dash are soft, but the upper door panels are hard. Which is actually much better than the never ending sea of hard plastics inside the new Accord.
The new dash in the Malibu looks great. It has a retro feel to it with the double scoop design, similar to the old Corvettes. But yet looks very modern.
And it has one of the best use of wood trim I’ve seen in years. It is applied more like a thin brush stroke.
There is a bit too much chrome trims for my taste. But to most buyers it will help the interior look upscale. Toyota and Lexus also now use the same stuff around their dials.

The center console is trimed in the “now usual” silver plastic. And there seem to be too much contrast between it and the black radio and air controls. It does look much better in the upscale LTZ model where that silver plastic is replaced by a darker metallic grey color. Which they should use in the other models too.

The back seat is really impressive. I know the numbers are smaller than the Accord, but I really couldn’t tell.
The only thing missing, just like in the Aura, is a center armrest.
I was told this was due to the architecture of the back seat itself and couldn’t be fixed due to cost. (they would have to redesign the whole thing)
So it won’t be coming next year. Or ever.
That’s really too bad.

Talking about what’s missing, a navigation system will also not be available.
What they have instead is a “turn by turn” system from Onstar. Where you tell onstar where you want to go, and the turn by turn voice commands are downloaded to the car.
It might actually be quite useful, and it won’t cost an extra $2000. (Onstar comes standard in the car with a year subscription)

The door panels are the only let down about the interior design. They seem straight out of the Aura, where they don’t look great either.
But the doors do feel very solid, more so than the Aura.

You don’t need to get the top of the line model, or leather to have nice looking seats. The cloth feels and looks pretty upscale already. With pretty original choices of 2 tone colors.
Although the grey interior without the wood trim is just to close to that “rental car feel”.

Once you start the engine, you notice that it is a very quiet car. Although the engine doesn’t sound nearly as good as the Accord 2.4 Liter, it is on par with the Camry’s. Quiet at idle, then buzzing just a little bit during acceleration, but silent on the highway.
The car is so quiet it is really, really close to a Lexus. And it does feel very solid.
I also loved the steering. (electric on the 2.4L)
It is light but not too much. And very linear. No weird artificial feeling and with a very stable on center feel. The brakes also feel great.
The ride is more Camry than Accord. With a bit more feel to it. And the car feels more stable than the other two.
I thought the Accord was just a bit too firm for most family car use. With a very twitchy steering feel the Malibu didn’t have.

I never thought the 4 speed auto was a problem. You never feel the shifts anyway. the 6 speed will be available in the spring on the LTZ version of the small engine. I thing the only real advantage will be in the gas mileage.
With the 4 speed I was averaging almost 25mpg in mixed driving. But that was mostly beautiful country roads.

Outside, I noticed the opening of the trunk was a bit too narrow in you need to load large objects. That comes from the design and profile of the car.
But at least, unlike the Accord, the floor is flat.

The car I drove would retail for about $21 000.
Conclusion: Well, like most everything, it is a matter of choice and some compromising.

To me, the new Malibu looks much better than pretty much any other family car in the segement.
It drives great, feels as solid as it looks.
The only complains about the interior are now small details. Wich pretty much happens with any other car.
After hours of driving, I still really liked the interior design. It is just a nice place to be for a long time.
It is relaxing yet a very pleasant car to drive. I still wanted to drive it more.
To me that’s really what matters. Most everything is pleasent to the eye. Unlike, again, the Accord.

The main problem with this car is the image. Once you get past it, you still need to tell people you drive a Chevy.
It shouldn’t be a problem, but for many people, it is.
Which also can affect the resale value.

I think GM is now putting out really nice cars . People in the market for a family car really need to give the Mailbu a try.
When you buy a car, you should drive everything in the price range anyway. Don’t get stuck with old ideas.
Companies change all the time. Look at Audi in the 80’s or even Hyundai just a few years ago.

I really honestly think that if I was in the market for an affordable family car, I would get this.
I do like it better than the Accord and Camry. I like the Altima but the ride is too firm for a family car.
I also like the Passat very much, but it’s at least $5000 more.

I also drove the Hybrid and the V6 6 speed version and I will comment on that later.
As well as the Accord and Camry.

Conversation 30 comments

  1. Great review Vince. I would definitely be interested in this car if gm could get their residuals in line with my 06 Accord. I also have to say that I do like the chrome on the interior … it looks classy to me. The general shape of the car is euro sharp and I think it looks great… it is arguably one of the best looking cars in the segment. You are probably right about the image thing though. If gm plans to keep rolling out solid efforts like this, they should go for an “extreme makeover” on marketing. I live in an area with no blacks and a lot of the boring gm commercials feature black actors and black voice overs. How about marketing cars to cuacasions gm? Out with the old, in with the new. The cars are getting better gm … now you need a new image!!!

  2. Good review, Vince.

    I appreciated, too, what CNN Money had to say about this car:

    General Motors has finally realized that, while people will happily buy boring sedans from Toyota, they will not buy them from GM. So GM has worked hard to improve the quality as well as the emotional appeal of its cars and trucks. The improved designs give you a reason to look and improved quality gives you no reason to turn away.

    I wish the new Malibu well, but the lack of a rear armrest is a detail frustrating enough to look elsewhere for a car, just on principle alone.

    GM, you can’t afford to fuck it up once again. Either play with the big boys or don’t. Put a goddamn armrest in the rear seat, jazz up the boring Tupperware interior door panel materials, and lose the Toyota-inspired steering wheel. We won’t even get started on the unbelievably drab gray interior on the hybrid. It’s as if you want it to fail.

    I admire this Malibu, but I don’t want one. Bottom line: one still has to say they own a Chevrolet, and in this day and time, that’s just not good enough.


  3. I bet those hard plastic front seat backs feel great on knees of rear seat passengers. Maybe it’ll take their minds off sore arms lacking a rudimentary armrest.

  4. Vince-
    Thanks for telling how the seats and steering are in the new malibu! I wasn’t sure if the electric steering would be good or numb! But it sounds like you liked it. And we know you’re just as picky as we are!

    So basically you liked the seats? I was test driving a Ford Edge and thought those were awesome seats, yet the ones in the Saturn Aura, weren’t that good, little thin on the bottom cushion. The malibu is better than the aura’s seats?

  5. Vince, does the rear seat fold down, and if it does, is it a split design? Sounds very promising.

    That is very important to me. I use that feature on my 98 Accord 4 door at least once every couple of weeks.

    I just wish Honda put a split 60/40 rear seat in.

    I first have to run the Honda into the ground before looking for a replacement. It only has 182K on it.

  6. KIt makes me happy to see the new Malibu is a darn great car. Too bad the lack of a wagon version will keep me away.

  7. If Chevy keeps in the right direction which includes
    reliability, design, and safety, maybe the Chinese won’t be its future owners. I think need to add a 10 year warranty.

  8. How does it compare to the Ford Fusion?

    You are right that the Chevy name will be a deterrent. Most people are sheep and don’t want to stand out or make a bold choice they would have to explain to their friends.

  9. It does seem that GM has finally turned the corner. Maximum Bob has shot or locked up the accountants and let the designers and engineers finally have the most say in how a car looks, feels, and is built. This is the product that I have always believed GM could build…

  10. Great review Vince. It also sounds like a pretty honest one too. I agree with that center stack. The light silver looks like it does’nt belong. It reminds me of the new center stack of the new Focus. Blah! The darker one you mentioned would look better. Maybe one can get the dealer to swap it out when purchasing. I think the door panel looks good but the inside door handle and window switch look very bland. A little contrast would be nice. Overall it seems it’s a very nice car though.

    Vince, how was the acceleration of the 4 cylinder?

    John M.

  11. I doubt I’ll ever see a Malibu in the metal, but I think its easily the best looking US mass market car for a great many years. Chevrolet deserve to have a winner with this one.

  12. First, thanks to all for enjoying my review.
    Now some answers:

    -I did drive the Fusion when it came out, but just the V6.
    Also a very nice car I would consider. But the interior is really a few steps behind the competition.
    But the revised 2009 model will be introduced at the L.A Auto show in a couple of weeks. And it has a new interior.
    I’ll report on it as I will be there for the press day.

    -I must say the car pictures here is the base model. The LT models and LTZ have metallic trim on the door armrests.

    -I never felt the plastic front seats back because there was more than enough leg room in the 1st place.

    -The Maxx is gone and will not be replaced. Apparently it was really beloved by most owners. But not enough people wanted one.
    I still think if a new one could be designed to look fantastic, it would find ann audience.

    -I did like the seat. For the main reason that I didn’t really notice them. There is a lever for the lumbar support so you can make it firmer.
    The lumbar in the Accord was really bad. Pushing into my lower back. And it could be changed.

    -The rear seat is a split design.60/40.
    With the back of the seats covered with a hard surface so you won’t damage any soft surface.

    -The Chevy name will deter many people. But think about cars like the PT Cruiser. When it came out, not now…
    I remember seeing people in it who 6 months before would have never been caught dead driving a Chrysler.
    Same thing for the 300.

    -I never drove the G6 so I can’t comment.
    The steering on the 2.4 Liter is one of the 1st thing I noticed.
    It was very steady on center. You could easily drive straight with your hands off. But it felt very smooth when turning. Without any of the weird fake feel most current steering systems have.
    I know, I ‘ve read the opposite from other reviews and I don’t get it. It felt more like a Camry but with a bit more feel to it. A very natural feel.

  13. Hey vince, i’m GM all the way, but can i just say one thing. Don’t u think the window controls seem to have a cheap feel? they definately do in the aura, impala, and the lacrosse. I’m comparing the feel and the clicking noise to the tahoe, yukon, cts, and lucerne window controls. I just wanted to put that out there because no one has ever adressed it. Maybe i’m wrong, but it would be greatly appreciated if u gave me your feedback vince. thanks.

  14. I see what you mean, but I didn’t notice any cheap feeling while using the windows.
    The controls in general felt smooth and solid.

  15. HA!!

    So there!! GM makes a better mid size family car than Honda and Toyota!! READ IT AND WEEP all you GM haters!!

  16. I think the Malibu is overwhelmingly the best looking midpriced family sedan on the market. To me, the Aura is the second best looking, and I see them everywhere lately. GM has pulled-out all the stops in the past two years. They started with the Aura and improved upon that formula. If this progression continues, there is no doubt that people won’t mind saying they own a “Chevrolet.”

    As for the criticism of the Aura, I’m pretty shocked that people think so little of the interior. I haven’t driven the latest Accord, but the interiors of the Camry and Sonata just don’t compete. I drive an Audi, so I’m used to great interiors. Whenever I travel on business, I try to rent an Aura when I can because it’s the only car that doesn’t make me feel like I’m driving a rental.

    I’m not in the market for a car like the Malibu, but I wouldn’t hesitate recommending it. From the reviews so far, the Malibu is going to do very very well. Kudos Chevy.

  17. Don’t hate GM, just don’t care. Only car Honda intestests me in is maybe the 18K CR-Z hybrid. With gas at 3.19 a gallon, and going up again, MPG rules.
    Toyota? Corolla? Well, if they would hybrid-it for 19-20K.

    Anyhow, no fold down rear seat armrest… Hyundai/Kia has one.

    The V6 gets better MPG than this I-4.
    Costs less, too.

    If I need a Midsized sedan, I will stick with Sonata.
    Five(5) Speed Auto-Manual shifter….not 4 speed automatic, like this “new” Malibu I-4.

    No Offense Meant..buy what you like!

  18. So GM spent money to include a shiny Chevy sill plate, but wouldn’t make a rear armrest. Typical GM laziness and stupidity.

    You’ve not done it again, GM. And you’ve not earned my money again.

  19. “HA!!

    So there!! GM makes a better mid size family car than Honda and Toyota!! READ IT AND WEEP all you GM haters!!”

    Ummm, What? Who says? Vince is not a professional automotive journalist. If I were going to base my future purchase off of what someone says or recommended it would be a major automotive magazine like Car and Driver and not a blogger like Vince Burlapp (no offence Vince).

    Glitz and glitter can only get you so far. While this car might be more exciting than the Accord or the Camry, it certainly won’t have the long term reliability or resale value of Honda or Toyota. If I were in the market for a vehicle such as this I would buy the V6 Accord and never look back.

    While GM has improved by leaps and bounds they still haven’t been proven yet, you all need to remember that.


  20. Car and Driver (and other car magazines) are the worse place to find out about what to buy.
    These guys compare everything to a BMW, take family cars on the track(!!!) and only care about 0 to 60.

    Go ahead and read them. You’ll never get an answer to the question “Should I buy one?” from them.

    Many bloggers like me were invited and so far they pretty much all liked the car.
    I don’t really care what elitist car magazines have to say.
    And if you are really in the market to buy a car, you shouldn’t either…

  21. Thanks for the great review of the new Malibu, Vince. I saw the car in the flesh at a local Chevrolet dealer over the weekend as I drove past, and I have to agree that it looks much better in the flesh than what I saw in photos. It really is a very striking car, and I really appreciate hearing your perspective on it. I am a 30-yo young professional and there’s not a chance I would have considered a Chevrolet product before, but I too thought the car looked great in person and will definitely be willing to give it strong consideration when I’m ready to buy next spring. Thanks again.

  22. Malibu: Lack of rear arm rest

    Accord: Lack of Decided Style….and NO split folding rear seat? Unacceptable…

    I’d consider a Malibu LTZ over an Accord EX-L…..I don’t drive from the backseat anyway….

  23. “Car and Driver (and other car magazines) are the worse place to find out about what to buy.”

    I haven’t read Car & Driver, but all the Malibu reviews I’ve read have agreed with your review… overwhelmingly favorable. The design is good, the build quality appears to be very good and the interior is a very pleasing combination of materials and design… although I am not sure yet what I think of the interior door panels. This is a very smart looking car that will likely make owning a Chevy a consideration for a lot more people.

  24. Your mistake, just another Northstar regardless of your bias or comments. Three years from now to those who buy this always remember, I told you so.

  25. If I am going to “waste” 23K(or whatever this car tops out at)… I’ll buy an Azera on sale(and after bargaining, too) Edmunds Editor’s Pick for car between 25-30K msrp for 07, in mid-sized sedans.
    Or go even cheaper, and get the Sonata-Azera knockoff for 3K less, and just shy a few HP of the Azera.

    Sorry. I only drive 8-10,000 miles per year, and keep my cars -usually- 6-7 years.
    5/100K does not cut it for my warranty needs, Ten Years(10) 100K does.

    That extra 2(or 3) years of warranty is nice, for drivetrain.
    I’d say”Chrysler’ has best drivetrain warranty, but who really buys a Sebring?

    Sorry, guys, this thing looks like a Camry and Chevy mated( that design, in general, and Bulbuous nose/grille….reminds me of the Mantee-nosed Camry).
    Sure, I sit inside the car when I drive, but I don’t live in the thing, and got to look at it sometimes, in the 6-7 years I’d own one.
    The VOLT… that is what this car should have looked like, or make a 3 door “Sport” Malibu version, with that general design theme, and I’d buy one(for 20K).

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