Quick Drive Alaska: 2010 Chevrolet Malibu LT
By Kevin Miller
When the current-generation Chevrolet Malibu launched for the 2008 model year, I was impressed. In design and materials, it was leaps and bounds ahead of its predecessor. It possessed some stylistic cues that I still feel are class leading (as well as beating vehicles several classes above); the Chevrolet symbol detail in lamp lenses and the continuous C-pillar trim on the rear doors are two of the details that continue to stand out as the Malibu gracefully ages.
Since the time when the Malibu launched to much fanfare (with a large advertising budget), key competitors such as the Accord, Fusion, Mazda6, and Sonata have launched new generations (or have had major updates). Among those three competitors, only the Sonata and Fusion actually improved upon the appearance of their predecessors since the Malibu’s launch date.
You can tell that I’m generally a fan of the Malibu. It doesn’t get a lot of love in the mainstream motoring press, but it is a design that has held up well, and is durable enough to hold up to the test of time… and to hard use. I recently had the opportunity to spend some seat time in the harsh climate of Anchorage, Alaska in a nicely-equipped Malibu LT, which was in remarkably good shape after 22,000 miles of service in the harsh Alaskan climate. When I first started the Malibu, it was just 12 degrees F outside.
Once the car was warmed up and the windows defrosted, I was surprised to find the roadways covered with compact snow and ice nearly everywhere. It was a sunny day, and I had assumed that Alaskan cities would clear snow from the roadways; I assumed wrong. The roads were icy, and even dry-looking roads had an invisible slick layer, which I first learned on a sweeping curve at about 45 MPH less than a mile after embarking, when the Malibu was suddenly well wide of my intended travel path, all four all-season tires overcome by the centrifugal force of cornering. Fortunately, my years of front wheel drive experience in snowy weather, coupled with the Malibu’s predictable handling and standard stability control program, meant that the drama quickly passed.
In a climate like Anchorage’s, all-season tires (rather than snow tires) are a terrible idea, but the Malibu did the best it could given this car’s less-than-ideal tire selection. In addition to seeing the message “LOW TRACTION” flash on the Malibu’s single-line text display with nearly every application of the throttle (no matter how light), the familiar feeling of front wheels without traction let me know that I was literally driving on ice. On one occasion I had to reverse down a mild slope because I was unable to gain traction to pull out uphill from a side street onto a main road; the two SUVs behind me graciously reversed out of my way.
Other that one occasion, the Malibu dealt with icy roads and temperatures between 6 and 18 degrees Fahrenheit without complaint; actually with confidence. I was impressed that the GM engineers who created the car did their jobs well enough that the Malibu could overcome bitter cold weather conditions and severely compromised tires. I’ve experienced nearly every midsized sedan on the market, and after more than 20,000 miles most cars exhibit significant wear and tear; that this Malibu didn’t speaks volumes.
It took this frozen adventure to remind me just what a solid car the Malibu is. A 2011 Malibu 2LT like the one I drove, with 169 HP 2.4 liter four and 6-speed automatic transmission, 17″ alloy wheels, standard heated seats and Bluetooth phone interface has an MSRP of $25,955, with a $2,000 incentive currently available in my Washington state zip code. Comparing per features on TrueDelta.com against the Hyundai Sonata (the current class-leader in most regards), the Malibu is at a $3,140 price disadvantage, though that shrinks to a $1,140 disparity when the Malibu’s incentives are considered. Although far from being the newest car in its segment, the Malibu is absolutely worth a look for the value- (and style-) conscious shopper in the midsize sedan field.