2008 Chevrolet Malibu 2.4 LTZ Review

By Brendan Moore

08.10.2008

When I received a call asking me which Malibu I wanted GM to bring over to the office for a week of road testing, I did not hesitate in responding, “the loaded 4-cylinder”.

It is not solely the current price of gasoline, and the subsequent demand for four-cylinder sedans that made me request the four-cylinder Malibu.

I drove this same model during a press preview last year and was impressed, but a couple of hours seat time is one thing, and a whole week of living with a car is quite another. I was curious to see whether my initial favorable impression would stand up to a week’s worth of scrutiny and everyday driving. The four-cylinder Malibu has taken some knocks in different automotive media outlets for not measuring up to its Honda and Toyota four-banger competition. I’m certain I was mostly sober during the press preview event, and I just don’t remember there being that large a gap between the four-cylinder Malibu and the four-cylinder Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. So, I requested the Malibu LTZ with the four-cylinder engine and the six-speed automatic transmission, and here we are.

If you’re an impatient, A-Type personality that likes to skip ahead, I’ll save you the trouble right now.

I’m sticking with my original assessment from last year. While it’s true that the Chevrolet four-pot is not as refined or smooth as the Accord and Camry four-cylinder engines, neither is it the agricultural-quality powerplant that some have described in other publications. It is a good, even, a very good, engine. It is not a great four-cylinder engine, but it’s good and there is no need for apologies from anyone at the GM powertain unit on its behalf.

Since the Accord and Camry are amazingly dull to look at, both inside and out, and, the Malibu has a very attractive exterior and an equally attractive interior, I would buy the four-cylinder Malibu LTZ over its Japanese four-cylinder sedan competitors. Because the engine is close to the same quality, the transmission is equal, and the Chevrolet pulls away on styling and never looks back at its Japanese rivals. That sounds like a win to me. Yeah, yeah, I know, I’m crazy, I’m an idiot, blah, blah, blah. Hey, did I mention that the Camry is also having a couple of nagging quality issues the last couple of years?

You can start writing those emails about me being obviously biased against Japanese cars now. And just so they don’t feel left out, the Ford Fusion doesn’t get the nod, either, and neither does the Hyundai Sonata. Although, just as an aside, after having a lot of seat time in the new Sonata, I definitely cannot see why anyone would buy a Toyota Camry or a Ford Fusion if they are also looking at a Sonata. Nissan Altima? Good looks outside, but the CVT transmission, the interior and the cramped backseat work against it mightily.

For those of you who want to stick around for more than just a taste of this snappy writing, here we go.

The Malibu LTZ that Chevrolet dropped off at 100 Autosavant Plaza was loaded:

2.4L DOHC Ecotec 4-cylinder MFI engine that produced 169 hp/126 kw
6-speed Hydra-Matic 6T40 automatic transmission
Tapshift manual shift control
4-wheel independent suspension
Airbags everywhere
4-wheel disc brakes w/ ABS
Stabilitrak Stability Control Traction Control System
1 year free OnStar
17” Chrometech wheels
Chrome exhaust
Power heated outside mirrors
Fog lamps (but, sadly, like other cars, no yellow bulbs in the fog lamps)
AC with automatic climate control
Power everything
Premium audio system w/ 3 mos. XM satellite free
Leather seats
Leather-wrapped steering wheel
Driver information center
Remote keyless entry and remote vehicle start
Rear power package (110V outlet, rear sunshade)

And that brings the car up to a $26,620 MSRP.


Some more housekeeping items – Five-star ratings in all the crash tests except for rollover, which garnered four stars. EPA fuel economy estimates are 22 mpg in the city and 32 mpg on the highway. I did better than both mpg estimates in the week’s worth of driving I did, but I did not crash the car, so we’ll have to take the five stars crash test rating on faith.

How did the car drive?

Very well, thank you. The four-cylinder does get a little breathless in the upper rpm range, but gives you a nice smooth torque curve and it works very well with the six-speed auto box. The car just loafs along at 60 mph in sixth gear, and fuel mileage is in the mid-30’s, which more or less begs the question of why anyone would get the mild hybrid version of this car, which gets a stated 32 mpg on the highway with a four-speed auto, but costs more and is more complicated.

The Malibu handles well (but not as well as the Saturn Aura, it’s corporate cousin, which is tuned more stiffly) brakes well, and is quiet as you move down the road. The body is solid, the chassis is responsive but shows no flex. I love horsepower as a general rule and still couldn’t help but think that the four-cylinder setup would probably be just fine for most drivers. It would certainly be just what the doctor ordered for commuting duties.


Remember what I said about the Malibu’s looks? I’m not alone in the point of view. The Malibu racked up compliments at the post office, the Safeway, from the 19 year old cashier at the dry cleaners (she pronounced it “cool”), and a 20-something at the Shell station. People like the looks, and if they didn’t know what it was, were surprised when I told them it was a Chevrolet.

It’s not all milk and honey, though. The first strike against it is the lack of a navigation system. GM’s corporate stance is that most people just need OnStar and it’s turn-by-turn directions and nothing else, but I’m getting tired of that one-note song. GM, why don’t you let the consumer decide what he/she wants?

The second black mark is that fact a few small bits in the interior seemed ever-so-slightly mismatched in terms of quality. The Malibu’s cabin quality is very, very good, except for a little thing here and there. Strange.

Third problem is that you can only use the paddle shifters when you place the gearshift selector in “M”. Other cars let you start shifting manually when you engage the paddle, no questions asked.

But these are minor issues to most people ( I include myself in that category) and the irresistible conclusion I come to after a week of the driving the four-cylinder Malibu LTZ is that this is an extremely competitive car in its segment. I’ll go even further than that; this is the car I would buy in this segment.

Props to GM on getting this one right – it’s a winner.

COPYRIGHT Autosavant.net – All Rights Reserved

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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23 Comments

  1. Everyone (except you) knows that a Camry or an Accord is a better car than any Chevrolet. You could ask any ten year old kid and he would tell you. I don’t think you really believe it yourself, I think you’re just afaraid GM will pull it’s advertising from your site.

  2. Chevrolet doesn’t advertise on this site (unless it randomly appears on the Google ads). I assume you’ve driven all three vehicles in question, right?

    In March 2008, Car and Driver ranked the Accord #1, Malibu #3, and Camry #5 in a 7-car comparison test, so the Camry’s supposed superiority is somewhat debatable.

    Fact is, everyone has different preferences in their vehicles. Those looking for an attractive car would ignore the Camry; those looking for excellent resale would probably pick the Accord, etc. Thank God we don’t all like the same things, because a world full of nothing but Camrys sure would be a boring place to live.

  3. That wasn’t me, Chris.

  4. How can you tell the difference between a Hyundai and a Toyota?

    3) You can’t.

    2) Questionable residual value.

    1) Hyundai is more exciting.

  5. About that orange interior… other color choices are available, right? Right?!? Please say it’s so.

  6. ladderman, wake up and smell the coffee, dude. The Camry’s been losing ground against the competition for years now. The only reason they sell so many Camrys still is because all the people that don’t know anything about cars keep buying them. The Honda Accord is a fine car mechanically but it is challenged considerably in the area of looks. You’re living in the past. The Malibu is a really good car and it looks great.

  7. It’s good to see GM get a truly competitive midsize sedan in the market. We all know that the days of living off the fat of the land (eg. trucks, vans, SUVs) are over and GM as to make an honest living with truly good small and mid size cars.

    But I agree with Brendan’s comments about GM not delivering on the small things that customers want and like. Why no pass-through from the trunk (skis etc.)? Other cars in the category have pass-throughs (not talking about split-folding seats). Just one example.

    GM has about ten years left to get a very good car business going in the U.S. If they don’t, they’ll be shrunk down by Wall Street into a niche manufacturer of trucks et al or be sold off to Toyota.

  8. It’s sad you have to be afraid to give a good review of an American made car because of all the ignorant fan boys. My wife’s 2006 Mercury has been a flawless car so far, and I do not have even the slightest hint that it will have any problems in the future.

  9. The era of complete Japanese dominance in quality, etc. is over. It’s really been over for several years now (I’m not saying Chevy or Ford was a better choice in 2001, just that the gap was finally narrow enough for the average person to not notice). Except for Chrysler, American cars are not only competitive, but surpass the competition in a few areas. For instance…there’s a lot of Honda owners over the last few years that have gotten angry at that carmaker’s transmission troubles.

  10. Ladderman said: “Everyone (except you) knows that a Camry or an Accord is a better car than any Chevrolet.”
    You can just feel the hate this dying breed has for the American automotive industry in this post. These people cheer every time General Motors or Ford post a quarterly loss, or when Toyota announces they are gaining on General Motors in global sales.

    What these America haters don’t know and cannot stop is the inevitable increase in sales of cars like this Malibu, or even the CTS (which is now the best-selling car in the entry-level luxury car segment). When you make the best product, people will buy. And so far, the Malibu and CTS (not to mention Enclave, Corvette, Cobalt SS, Tahoe hybrid, Escalade, etc) are the best products in their respective classes. That’s why they are outselling the competition.
    The Malibu isn’t outselling the Accord or Camry now, but for the best product to acieve #1 in sales takes time.
    And it’s an inevitable thing that the America-hating import fanboys cannot stop, no matter how much they will it to stop. :)

  11. Ladderman is right, ten year olds do prefer Toyotas. And some spineless adults let ten year olds run their lives.

    The rest of us are sick of their BS.

  12. It’s the little things that tell the story. Why did they use sound reducing glass in front and not in back. A good car would have used it in both places. The general usually cheats where they think someone isn’t looking. A good car is good all over. When the general starts doing that a few more buyers will look to them with respect.

  13. Sound deadening glass only in the front? The stupidity of the American public never ceases to amaze. First, putting it in the front is better than most manufacturers. Second, its in the front because thats where the noise is – from things like wind, engines, etc.

    Nice review, good to see the American manufacturers getting a fair shake from someone.

  14. For decades now GM has been saying that they now have the cars that are as good as the Japanese cars. It hasn’t been true yet. Why should anyone believe it’s true now?

  15. Excellent review, and true! I am a Honda Accord owner (2003) and I would buy the Malibu if I were in the market. It's that good. You really need to drive it to understand. I drove the V6, but I think the 4 banger and 6-speed auto would be a perfect day-to-day powertrain. Anyone with an open mind go drive the Malibu and then see if you're not impressed too, Especially you Honda & Toyota fanboys. Toyotas are a snooze and no longer as good as they once were. And Honda lost their wayt with styling on the sedan and interiors in a major way.

  16. I can’t understand you guys. Last week you completely trashed GM, and this week you’re praising them. Is this what’s called balanced coverage or is this what’s called schizophrenia?

  17. What a response! It’s great to see this much passion devoted to cars.

    Stereo Pickle, to respond to your question, I hope we are balanced in coverage as opposed to schizoprhenic, which I suppose would also make us unbalanced.

    Just because one of our writers thought it was kind of dumb for GM to not design the Beat to pass the U.S. crash tests doesn’t mean we are going to ignore their successful efforts (the Malibu) in other areas. We try to call them like we see them, and we strive for honesty and fairness.

    As an example, just because I think the Honda Accord sedan is homely doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate what a little jewel it is from an engineering and mechanical standpoint. And BTW, I like the Accord Coupe’s looks – a lot.

    Thanks for reading.

  18. Before you make ANY decision in this segment, drive the new Mazda6. Absolutely stunning looks. We ordered our 6i Touring (4 cyl, 6M) Saturday. Camry and Accord are fine cars, but provide a soulless driving experience.

  19. Anyone who is doubting the quality of the new Malibu has been living under a rock for the past year…
    Come out and take the blindfolds off, I beg you. It’s not that GM can build a better vehicle than Honda and Toyota, they just DID and are continuing to do so. Like it or not! That said, being American, there is no longer an excuse to not buy American cars now that we do it better again. So why not help out the economy and buy American. To all you American car haters, its not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country. Do you think Japanese people drive anything other than Japanese cars in Japan? Even when they werent anything special? Do you ever seem them driving anything else here in America? the answer is no!! They must laugh at how un-patriotic America has become. Its sickening if I do say so myself.

  20. Can we keep this in perspective? Honda and Toyota make many if not most of the cars that they sell here in this country. The American manufacturers source components from Canada and Mexico as we know. Ford and GM will only survive if they make quality small and mid-sized cars that consumers want. We know they can do it, they do it in Europe. The question is will they. The Malibu looks to be a strong step for GM. The rest of the line needs to come along as well, and hopefully Ford will do so as well.

  21. Every time I go on a business trip and have to rent a car, I ask for a Malibu. Even if they have one, which they don’t usually, they never have the four-cylinder. It’s always the six-cylinder. I’ve always wondered why they don’t offer the four-cylinder Maalibu.

  22. HELLO ,I HAVE HAD A 2002,2005 AND NOW A 2008 MALIBU ALL THE SAME COLOR EXTERIOR I.VE BEEN HAPPY PRETTY MUCH W/ ALL . NOW THE 2008 IS STARTING TO HAVE A COUPLE OF PROBLEMS ; THE BACK DOORS NO LONGER LOCK/UNLOCK AUTO,(a friend has this same problem), THE ROGHT BLINKER DOESN,T CANCEL AFTER A TURN AND NOW THE STEERING TIGHTENS UP DURING PARKING IN A TIGHT SPACE. i hope these are warranty issuses, but i only have 16,000 on this veh. seems to soon for problems …to me…

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