2008 Chevrolet Malibu Review

By Brendan Moore

11.05.2007

If you watch television, you have seen the commercials for the new Chevrolet Malibu. If you spend time on the Internet, you have seen the ads for the new Malibu. And if you are an automotive writer, you have probably been invited by General Motors to drive the new Malibu. GM is making a big bet on the redesigned Malibu and they are focused on making certain that everyone who might want to know about Chevrolet’s new mid-size mass-market sedan gets a chance to hear about it. They are spending some serious coin to market the new Malibu.

Why is GM so intent getting the word out about the new Chevrolet Malibu? There’s the money, of course. There is a lot of money to be made in the mid-size segment because there are a lot of sales in this segment. Chevrolet has a fair amount of that action, moved a lot of the previous Malibus in this segment, but most of the volume goes to the Honda Accord and the Toyota Camry, the twin Godzillas of the American car market, with the Nissan Altima in there punching a bit as well.

But, there is something bigger at work here for GM. They believe that they have built a game-changer in the new Malibu, a car that will make people who buy GM cars proud of their choice instead of having to defend it in some circles, and more importantly, will convince a sizable number of people who would not consider buying a car from GM that they really ought to take a good long look at the new iron from Chevrolet. To say that this hoped-for outcome is important to GM doesn’t begin to cover it.

Now, some of you might be saying to yourself that you’ve already seen this movie, a la last year’s launch of the Saturn Aura, a very good car that was widely praised by most in the automotive press, but inexplicably remains unknown to most of the American public. GM is disappointed with the sales performance of the Aura and is trying to figure out how to get more people to notice that the Saturn is actually a pretty good car. GM would probably respond that this is different because, 1) Chevrolet has tremendous national coverage in terms of its retail dealers, 2) a bigger brand, and, 3) the Malibu will be available with a four-cylinder engine, which is what both the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord do the most business with in their respective retail sales.

I flew to Memphis, Tennessee last week at GM’s invitation, and at their expense, in order to conduct a laying-on of hands, and a mashing of the right foot, on the new 2008 Malibu. I was able to drive every powertrain version of the 2008 Chevrolet Malibu last week and I am now ready to relate all the results of that effort to you.

First of all, the sheet metal – I like the exterior, even though my personal preference would have been something more daring. It’s not a knockout, but, it’s clean with crisp lines, and compared to the Camry and the Accord sedans, it looks so much better to these eyes. And compared to the previous Malibu, which was as plain as anything else sold, it is like comparing Jessica Simpson to Marge Simpson.

The interior is massively improved in design, execution and materials. I had my doubts about the twin-cockpit treatment when I first heard about it, intended to evoke the 60’s era Chevrolet Corvettes, but it works. The levels of fit and finish look high, no gaps, nice shut lines where things open and shut, and it’s a pleasing coherent design theme. Everything looks like it all belongs together; even in the lower trim levels. The quality of the materials used is much improved – certainly the equal of the Camry, better than the Altima, I think, and not as good as the Accord, but close. There is, of course, a considerable amount of comfort and convenience options available in the new Malibu, as is the case with almost every car sold these days.

Let’s talk about driving the car.

First of all, if you’ve driven the Saturn Aura XR with the 24-valve, 252 HP 3.6 liter mated to the six-speed automatic transmission, or the Pontiac G6 with the same engine/transmission combination, which both also happen to be on the same vehicle platform, then the Malibu LTZ will seem awfully familiar. It is an excellent drivetrain and I’m not going to spend a lot of time on it because it’s been reviewed and analyzed by everyone and anyone, including us. There is one difference, though, and it’s a good one – NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) levels seem to be improved over the 2007 models of those cars, which is never a bad thing. Overall, it is a very good ride, and as we noted in our review of the Saturn Aura XR last year, mechanically it is the equal of anything else in the segment. That, combined with the Malibu’s good looks inside and out, should ensure that the Chevrolet version of this platform gets the consideration among buyers in the segment that it deserves. If you would like to know what the 3.6 liter Malibu will drive like, click on the link to our review of the Saturn Aura XR two sentences back.

The forthcoming Malibu Hybrid is the mechanical twin of the Saturn Aura Green Line Hybrid and therefore you can expect an extremely similar experience. We have not reviewed the Saturn Aura Green Line Hybrid, but the car has garnered somewhat tepid reviews in the automotive press.

That brings us to the main reason I went to Memphis, the four-cylinder Malibu, and more specifically, the Malibu four-cylinder paired with the six-speed automatic transmission, which will not be on sale until early 2008 calendar year. This offering in the Malibu, available only in the LTZ trim level, will mark the first time that General Motors will make a four-cylinder engine available with an automatic transmission that has more than four gears. GM’s marketing data forecasts that roughly 70% of all Malibu buyers will want the four-cylinder engine, so Chevrolet made sure the Malibu would be available with the four-banger, and available further with both a four-speed and a six-speed automatic.

At this point I must be candid and tell you that my expectations of the four-cylinder Ecotec engine were not high, no matter which transmission it was paired with in the new Malibu. The 2.4 liter, 16-valve, 169 HP inline four has never been high on my list of four-cylinder powerplants. And since I assumed that the six-speed automatic would take some work to be calibrated to the four-cylinder properly, I thought that there might be some teething problems and the result could very well be a thrumming over-matched engine paired with a six-speed transmission that was constantly hunting for the right gear.

I drove both the Malibu LT2 with the four-speed auto, and the future Malibu LTZ with the six-speed auto, and just like the six-cylinder model, it will also be possible to use the six-speed in manual mode through paddle shifts on the steering wheel.

The route we (I and the rest of the writers GM invited) drove meandered through the area around Memphis, through rolling country in Tennessee, and then down to Mississippi, where we were deep in the country on a variety of road surfaces. When I say “deep in the country”, I mean it was cotton and catfish territory. It is a region of the country I am familiar with and one that I am enamored of, so the day passed in a pleasant manner. The new Malibu handles and brakes well, no matter which engine is up front.

I was hard on those four-cylinder Malibus, running at high revs, low revs, and everything in between. I was trying to lug the four-cylinders out, looking for the dead spots, any complaints from the engine or the transmission, the tip-in points, and the places where the 160lbs/ft of torque was mismatched with either transmission. I spent much more time with the six-speed automatic because I thought, as I stated above, that the calibration to six-speed would be problematic. The four-cylinder has been married to the four-speed automatic in the GM line for awhile, so that was not my primary concern.

Both of the four-cylinders ran very well with their different automatic transmissions – there seems to have been some tweaking of the Ecotec engine in the Malibu. The GM engineers really did some good work on calibrating the six-speed automatic transmission to the Ecotec engine, and even in the pre-production model I drove, which was more or less a well-finished mule, everything worked as it should. The only complaints I had were the complaints you have with any mass-market four-cylinder; the torque you don’t have at 1300 rpms in fifth gear, or the fact that the engine gets a little breathless at high revs. The GM four-pot cannot comfortably go up as high in the revs as its Japanese competition; its not as good as the those engines in smoothness, but 99% of the driving population never visits that part of the horsepower and torque curve anyway. I have spent a lot of seat time in the four-cylinder versions of the Toyota Camry, the Honda Accord and the Nissan Altima, and I enjoyed driving the six-speed Malibu more than either the Camry or the Altima. In my opinion, it was not as good a ride as the Honda Accord four-cylinder with the five-speed auto, but I think that’s the benchmark in this segment. The Malibu four-cylinder with the six-speed was very, very close to the Accord in driving pleasure.

After I add it all up, that is, exterior styling, interior design and materials, quality of fit and finish, handling, motive power, etc. of the four-cylinder models of the other cars at the same price point, if I’m a buyer in this segment, I think I’m buying the six-speed automatic of the Malibu when it comes out. I think the Honda is a better car mechanically and in fit and finish, but only marginally, and the looks of the Honda do nothing for me.

Of course, I realize that there a lot of people that will tell you that most people that buy four-cylinder cars spend a lot of time in bumper-to-bumper traffic and therefore have no need for the six-speed automatic, and that is a salient point, but I beg to differ. If you don’t need those extra one or two speeds in the automatic transmission in slow traffic, no one makes you use them, and when you can use them (long-legged highway cruising), its very nice to have same, both for fuel economy and to lessen noise and vibration.

Now, is GM going to be able sell the Chevrolet Malibu to Americans used to a steady diet of Japanese small cars, or will the Malibu suffer the same anonymity as the entirely worthy Saturn Aura? You might theorize that Chevrolet will have even more trouble moving the Malibu four-cylinder models since the reputation of the Japanese is even stronger in that area. That certainly doesn’t bode well for the Malibu if that’s supposed to be 70% of their volume.

Yeah, well, I don’t know how GM’s market efforts with the Chevrolet Malibu are going to work out, but after the aforementioned laying on of hands and the mashing of the right foot vis-à-vis the vastly improved Malibu last week, I can say without reservation that any serious shopper in the mid-size car segment needs to make one of their stops at a Chevrolet dealership. If they don’t they’re only cheating themselves out of another great choice in the segment. GM, and Chevrolet, have produced a competitor worth reckoning with in the 2008 Malibu.

COPYRIGHT Autosavant.net – All Rights Reserved

Editor’s note: Since this press preview of the Chevrolet Malibu, we have spent a solid week with the 2.4 liter, four-cylinder, six-speed automatic version of the Malibu LTZ. Click here for that review.

Author: Brendan Moore

Brendan Moore is a Principal Consultant with Cedar Point Consulting , a management consulting practice based in the Washington, DC area. He also manages Autosavant Consulting, a separate practice within Cedar Point Consulting. where he advises businesses connected to the auto industry. Cedar Point Consulting can be found at http://www.cedarpointconsulting.com.

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32 Comments

  1. You’re right, I’ve seen the movie and if GM couldn’t move the Aura out of Saturn dealers, who get a lot of import owners cross-shopping their next purchase, how will they attract current umport owners when they do virtually no cross-shopping at a Chevrolet dealership? They can’t buy if they never look at it. Most import car buyers are just not going to go a Chevy dealership to look at anything, period. It’s just not on their checklist when getting another car.

  2. I am driving a four-cylinder and a six-cyl. later this week at the Chevy dealer in town. I told the salesman I wanted to drive both. Gasoline is going to get more expensive, not less, so I’m thinking pretty hard about the 4. I love the way the Malibu looks, and I’ve already driven the six platform in the Aura, and really liked it, but didn’t like the Aura’s looks too much. So I’m going to buy a Malibu this week, the only unknown is whether it will be a 4 or 6. This is the only review I’ve read that keys in on the 4-cyl engine so very helpful to me, thanks.

  3. Is it possible the GM might have made a four cylinder car that I might actually buy with my own money? It doesn’t seem possible that this car could be better than the Camry with the 4 cyl or the Altima. But you say yes. And I own a Honda Accord with the exceelnt four, but have never been happy about the looks.

    There may be japanese car owners that won’t set foot on a Chevrolet dealership as “truther” says, but I’m going to go check it out.

  4. Look at GM, all grown up! Finally, as the Japanese have done for years, they’re going to offer a fully optioned out car with the most fuel-efficient engine. I am really looking forward to driving that 6-speed AT with the four next year, because I might just be a buyer if gasoline keeps going up, as I think it will.

  5. Bad news from Consumer Reports – the issue that just came out did not recommend the new Malibu’s platform-mates due to poor reliability – Pontiac G6 and the Aura XR.

    CR gave middling reviews at best to the Epsilons and as the Malibu is but a mechanical twin of the Aura, don’t expect any accolades from the test track in Connecticut.

  6. OK, so that makes the Toyota Camry and the Saturn Aura exactly in quality from Consumer Report’s viewpoint.

  7. Finally, a review that focuses on the four-cylinder! This is going to be the volume model of the Malibu. And you got to drive the test car with the 6-speed, which is cool. I am glad to see Chevrolet is going after those buyers that fuel economy and a full list of options.

  8. You are on crack if you think anyone is going to give up their Japanese car (or Korean car, for that matter) for a Chevrolet inline 4.

  9. Give me that crack pipe cause I might just do it.

  10. Great review.
    I was there too and I liked the car. I also think the 2.4 is the best buy.

  11. What, is the Mazda6 chopped liver? Mazda sells some cars in this segment, too. I admit it’s not a big hitter like the Camry or the Accord, but they’re in the segment competition. And I know you can’t make the review too long and compare to every car in the segment, but I think the Mazda6 does more volume than the Subaru and the Passat.

  12. Nicely done. I was there too and I have to agree with Vince. It is a good buy. While I’m not totally sold on American cars the Malibu did make me think.

  13. What a bunch of horse hockey. We have been lied to so many times by GM regarding “this one’s different, it’s just as good as any Japanese car”, that it’s now expected. And you are shilling for them here, making Americans believe that this car will be relieable and be a nice car to drive for the next five years. It’s not going to be, it never is, and that’s the way it works with GM vehicles. They just need to go out of business, fold up the snake-oil tent and stop torturing Americans with their inferior products.

  14. CR is a biased joke of a quality agency. They are always looking for an excuse to make the asian imports look better. Buyers should have some sense and go check out the Saturn Aura and more importantly the Malibu. They are both great cars and folks are just to blinded by the horrible looks of their Camrys and Accords to see a better car when it drives by.

  15. I’m not a CR fan, but I will say that my experience with the G6 has not been a good one. This Malibu looks a lot better than the previous generation, but I’m staying away from the entire platform.

  16. The only thing we can do is give GM a chance to see if this car is a real winner, and I really think its going to be. I am glad to see GM making good vehicles and using something other than price to compete. The car beats camry and it starts about 2k cheaper, so this really could be the one…Gm is also doing a pretty good job of marketing it, Im seeing the commercials everywhere.

  17. I enjoy my Malibu and I recommend you take this car for a drive. You may buy this car or you may not. But is definitely a well sorted out vehicle and a great price to boot.
    If you have driven only Asian autos for the last 30 years have no idea as to the improvements the domestic automakers have made in quality.
    Have fun looking for a new car!

  18. Wow, I love this car.,looking good, interior is great and powertrain is perfect.

    No need of these ugly japanese cars like Accord,Camry and Altima.

    Be american proud

    Lessy

  19. In other Malibu-related news, it was named to Car and Driver’s 10Best list in the January 2008 issue. The Accord was also named to the list, again. It’s quite an honor to be in that esteemed company.

  20. Picked brand new 2008 Malibu from a dealer on Nov 20, 3 days later 100% dissatisfied with the new GMs 6-speed automatic, it is a failure.
    Nature of the problem: in the speed range between 10 – 30 mph in the slow traffic where you speed up alittle, than cost, than speed up again every time I touch the gas pedal there is a distinct kick in the drivetrain, which becomes annoying after a few minutes. Same thing happens when you make a turn and then try to speed up. Feels like a new driver learns to drive manual. Went to the dealer and he says that it is the way it normally works. Contacted GM, obviously no help there. Overall I like the rest of the vehicle (althoug workmanship is of a typical for GM quality). GM says that it wants to compete with Camry and Accord with this new Malibu, aha, good luck.
    So guys, if anyone considers this one as a next wehicle – take it for a good test drive, or better rent it for a few days. I regret that I didn’t. Lately I took for a ride 4 speed version, it is completely different vehicle, nice and smooth ride. I would trade that 6-speed transmission for a regular 4 speed in no time.

  21. Interesting review. I will look forward to driving a 4cyl/6 spd AT Malibu soon. For GM’s sake and their workers future, hope it is as good as he says it is. Over the last 16 years, wife and I have had three Accords, two 4cyl, one V6. Currently own an EX-L 4 cyl 5AT. Rented an 07 Saturn Aura XE this past week, drove it over 300 miles (3.5V6/4 AT). It was a clear improvement over past GM midsize cars but it is not nearly as good a car as our Accord. Maybe the top of the line version is as good as Brendan says it is. I’m not a GM naysayer, have owned several of their cars and recently bought an older LeSabre for my folks. But the quality level of Accords and Camrys is so high, compared to all the GM cars I have rented in the last five years, I have yet to be convinced that GM can deliver quality consistently at the same level.

  22. snjnyc, Mr. Moore could be right on the new Malibu because the New York Time today picked it as one of the 10 best cars of 2007 and they are really anti-GM. So that really means something coming from them. In fact, they called the 4-cylinder Malibu a tremendous bargain among it’s competition. Maybe GM has turned a corner.

  23. Set down the pipe crackiswhack if you think anyone should choose a Korean car over an American car. Give me a break, Kias and Hyundais are rolling, depreciating, junk boxes and all these clowns that have purchase one in recent years will soon see what tiny amount they get in trade for their 4 year old Kia. Oh, and don’t give me any nonsense about those JD Power awards which only measure initial quality and happiness with the car. If we believed JD Power we’d chose Buicks over Hondas and Toyotas every time.

  24. If you dont think GM or Ford proudcts is any good, fine, if they go bankrupt. The domino effect will probably hit your job, you will be without a job and an imported car as well…….. It will be understandable if GM and Ford make junk cars, but they dont……… A penny wise is a job foolish………GM and Ford is a huge company titan that will make big ripples all over U S of A if they go under……..

  25. I own GM and Ford stock because I am betting that many of you carbuyers will reconsider buying GM and Ford products. I want to stress that we owe it to the real men and women who accepted buyouts from management and stockholders to make way for lower paid new job openings. It was a necessary measure to save GM and Ford. I still lose money in GM and Ford stock and I dont care if GM and Ford go under or not and I dont care if you will lose your job as well. What I am trying to tell you is that GM and Ford did their part, now it is your and my part. I just do not give a damn what car or pickup you will buy next be it from Tokyo or Detroit. For your information, I will either buy GM or Ford one next, no question about that… They are fine products. Encouragement is the word to use right now.

  26. My 3 teenagers give it the all thumbs up and that says it all for me.

  27. Well I drove the Malibu last week and I must say that I liked it. It drove well and the ride was good. I liked that I did not hear alot of road sounds. I’m thinking of getting one.

  28. I swapped cars with my sister since she has a six-speed, 4-cylinder Malibu and I am very suspicious of GM quality and I wanted a nice long test drive. So she got my Mazda and I got her Malibu (with the womens lacrosse sticker) to drive around for a week.

    Didn’t think it would happen, but I guess I’m sold. It’s a good honest car. I’m still in shock that it was good at all. I’ve never owned an American car. It’s scary thinking about owning one. I’m sure I’ll take some flak from my friends about it, too. Another Mazda, the new Mazda6 would be fine, you know, it’s a good car, but I think the Malibu is actually better.

  29. I bought a Red Pearl 1LT Malibu Thur after a careless driver hit my Chevy truck with just 68,000 miles; totaled it. After driving a truck for at least 40 years, I never dreamed I would buy a CAR. My children grew up riding in a truck. Here in GA seat belts are not required, but I always used them–that and an airbag saved my life. i walked away unhurt.

    I had 18 and 26 gas mileage and was surprised that Colorado trucks did not get as much.

    The settlement plus my GM M/C points = about 60% of the cost.

    As a woman almost ready to retire, I sure do miss my truck. But, this car is safe, has a lot of features I have never had before, and MADE IN THE
    USA. Growing up in a Chevy town, I have always bought the product made by my friends and neighbors even after all these years.

  30. I’ve had my 2008 Malibu LT for about 5 months and I absolutely love it. I drive mostly in the city and get 25 MPG with the 4 cylinder. I’ve had many positive comments about the exterior and interior styling. I test drove the Accord, Camry, Prius and Altima. The Malibu was clearly the best value I could find in Canada and it handles equally well in snow, rain and fair weather. I have no hesitation to recommend this car wholeheartedly.

  31. That is a fine looking piece of machinery. I wouldn’t mind owning one myself.

  32. Neighbor has one with over 60K miles and he loves it to death. No problems so far, he says. Not a bad looking ride, either.

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