2008 Chevrolet Malibu 2.4 LTZ Review
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
4-wheel disc brakes w/ ABS
Stabilitrak Stability Control Traction Control System
1 year free OnStar
17” Chrometech wheels
Power heated outside mirrors
Fog lamps (but, sadly, like other cars, no yellow bulbs in the fog lamps)
AC with automatic climate control
Premium audio system w/ 3 mos. XM satellite free
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.
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