Test Drive: 2008 Chevrolet Malibu

Heavily-promoted, redesigned Malibu actually comes close to matching the early hype ... Hybrid version also goes on sale

by James M. Flammang

2008 Chevrolet Malibu

When something sounds too good to be true, it often isn't. That's a simple truism of modern life. So, when auto companies boast excessively about one of their newest products, sensible shoppers take the claims with a degree of caution. Both the advertising business and the automobile business are well known for hype - short for hyperbole - which typically means exaggerated claims and overblown rhetoric.

That's been the case with the 2008 Malibu, which has received plenty of acclaim not only from company marketers but from the automotive media. Well, test-driving the Malibu has demonstrated that sometimes, the praise is deserved. Though it's not perfect, and doesn't quite stand above the import-brand pack of midsize sedans, the abundantly redesigned Malibu represents a sizable leap forward for Chevrolet and its General Motors parent. In short, it's almost as good as they promise.

Styling takes precedence, and the new Malibu comes across as markedly more attractive than its predecessors. Dimensions have increased considerably. The 2008 Malibu is more than three inches longer than before, on a wheelbase that's gained six inches (now 112.3). Chevrolet claims that the growth results in a "smoother, more direct driving experience."

Up front, a new grille is said to represent the "global face of Chevrolet." Out back are twin round taillamps. Inside, instruments feature blue backlighting and two-tone leather interior trim is available.

Safety counts in family sedans, and Chevrolet has moved forward in this category, too. Six standard airbags include side-curtain airbags as well as seat-mounted thorax-protection airbags. Antilock braking also.

Fuel economy is another plus. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that a four-cylinder Malibu will get 22 mpg in city driving and 30 mpg on the highway. Estimates for the V-6 model aren't quite as frugal: 17 mpg city and 26 mpg highway. If those figures aren't sufficiently attractive, Chevrolet is offering a Hybrid sedan with a gasoline/electric powertrain.

To be specific, either a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine or a 3.6-liter V-6 may be installed. The four-cylinder develops 169 horsepower, versus 252 hp for the V-6. A six-speed automatic transmission is standard with the V-6, and will be available later in the 2008 model year on the four-cylinder LTZ model. For now, the four-cylinder Malibu gets a four-speed automatic. Four-cylinder models use electric power steering, whereas the V-6 engine is accompanied by hydraulic-assisted steering.

Like Saturn, its sister company, Chevrolet also is marketing a Hybrid (gasoline/electric) version of the Malibu, comparable to Saturn's Aura Green Line model. In the Malibu Hybrid, a motor/generator mates with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine and four-speed automatic transmission.

In ride quality, steering/handling and overall road feel, the Malibu comes impressively close to import-brand rivals such as the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. Critics of recent GM automobiles are likely to be surprised by the change, which some believed might never happen. To be seriously competitive, on the other hand, a new or reworked midsize sedan has to edge past the competition. Coming close won't quite suffice, if the goal is to induce ardent import-brand buyers to make a switch to Chevrolet. On that score, Chevrolet still needs to devote a little more attention to details.

Performance is a bonus, too. Even with the moderately-powered four-cylinder engine and its four-speed automatic, the Malibu accelerates energetically enough to suit most shoppers in this category. Engine noise isn't absent while accelerating, but it's not particularly bothersome, amounting to only a little bit of buzzing.

Gas-engine Malibus come in three trim levels: LS, LT, and top-of-the-line LTZ. XM Satellite Radio and GM's OnStar system with remote diagnostics capability are standard on all three versions. LT and LTZ models add StabiliTrak stabilty control, and the LTZ rolls on 18-inch polished wheels rather than the usual 16-inchers. Fog lamps and clear-lens LED taillamps are installed on the LTZ sedan, and V-6 models get dual chrome exhaust outlets. Sticker prices start at $19,995 (including destination charge) for the Malibu LS sedan, rising to $26,995 for the LTZ edition. When it goes on sale later in the model year, the Malibu Hybrid will carry a Manufacturers Suggested Retail Price of $22,790.

Attention Editors: The complete 2008 Chevrolet Malibu review is available now for your publication. Please contact us at JF@tirekick.com for details.

© All contents copyright 2007 by Tirekicking Today
Text and photos by James M. Flammang
Home | New Cars | Used Cars | Comparisons | Newsletter | Consumer | Industry