Chevrolet Malibu

Debut: 2007
Maker: General Motors
Predecessor: Malibu (2003)

Another world-class GM product since Saturn Aura

The bloodline first: Chevrolet Malibu is one of the derivatives of General Motor's Epsilon II platform. Its sister cars include Saturn Aura, Pontiac G6 (based on Epsilon I) and the next generation Opel Vectra and hopefully next Saab 9-3. It is especially closest to Saturn Aura, sharing most of the latter's good ingredients, such as the Holden 3.6-liter DOHC V6, the Opel 2.4-liter DOHC balance-shafted inline-4, the GM-Ford paddle-shift 6-speed automatic transmission and the up-to-date suspensions consisting of aluminum MacPherson struts up front and multi-link at the rear. These sound very "un-American", don't they ? After criticizing American cars for a decade, I am finally pleased to see they are going up to international standards again !

For sure, the new Malibu has to face some stiff competitions from the Japanese - Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and Nissan Altima. They are either recently renewed or still very young in their life cycle. To beat the Japanese in the US market has always been difficult - not even Volkswagen Passat can do that. However, Saturn Aura has shown that this task is not impossible, because it beat Camry in NACOTY contest last year. Can its Chevrolet sister repeat the same success against the new Honda Accord ? We shall see soon.


The influence of Volkswagen design is apparent in many places

One thing we can answer right now is, the Chevrolet looks definitely handsomer than Honda. Surprisingly, this American sedan looks totally irrelevant to traditional American designs but almost like a classy European car. Can you see the Volkswagen Phaeton-style C-pillars ? or the Passat-style tail ? It is elegant yet restrained. The only American feature is the prominent double-layer grille which looks surprisingly good. Still want that ugly Accord or dull Camry ? Don't joke !

The cabin also surprises. American cars used to look good outside but terribly low-rent inside. This is no longer true to the latest GM cars. Thanks to the order by Bob Lutz, extra money and effort were spent to improve the interior of Malibu, resulting in a stylish and pretty high-quality environment. There are soft-touch plastics on the dash, chromed bezels and illuminated gauges. Yes, it is not a European car, so you will find hard plastics at the door panels and the back of the front seats, but all plastic parts are tightly assembled. The overall build quality is better than Camry and Altima, only slightly behind the new Honda.

Seating comfort up front is good. On the contrary, the rear seats are short of shoulder room and legroom compare with rivals. The former is not a surprised, because the Malibu is narrow and its prominent shoulder line eats into cabin width. In contrast, the short of rear legroom is quite mysterious, because this car has the longest wheelbase in class (2852 mm). Passengers over 6-ft 2 will find they knees entered the concave area of the front seatbacks, which means they cannot rest their legs naturally apart.


This is the nicest interior ever produced by Chevrolet

Epsilon II has always been a refined chassis. However, compare with Saturn Aura, Chevrolet Malibu paid even more attention to reduce NVH. It employs laminated glass, quiet steel, composite wheel well liners, improved door seals and spray-on sound-absorbing materials in the engine compartment. Moreover, the suspension tuning is softer than Saturn Aura to favour the majority of family car buyers. As a result, the Malibu is remarkably refined on the road. Both wind and road noise suppression are excellent. The ride is smooth and quiet without damaging handling. Even the slightly coarse Ecotec 4-pot engine sounds sweeter after the acoustic tuning.

In the dynamic side, the 2.4-liter four-pot engine with 169 horsepower and 160 lb-ft of torque is not the most inspiring choice when mated with an outdated 4-speed automatic gearbox. Luckily, both are as refined as the Japanese offerings. Anyway, once the 4-speed auto phase out of production, it will be replaced with an excellent 6-speed automatic. For now, the 6-speeder serves exclusively the 3.6-liter V6, which pumps out 252 horsepower and 251 lb-ft of torque. In isolation, this engine is not yet on a par with Japanese V6s no matter in horsepower or refinement. However, the Malibu V6 compensates with 6 gear ratios and the ability of fingertip shifting via the steering wheel-mounted paddles. It still won't match its Japanese rivals for performance, primarily because it is heavier, but the performance is plenty enough and is enjoyable to exploit.


Superior ride comfort and well-balanced handling highlights its dynamic package, although powertrain is neither disgraceful.

Perhaps the best thing of Malibu is its good balance between ride and handling. This car offers ride composure superior to Accord and Altima, but without soft to the extent of Camry on standard suspension setup. Unlike latter, it does not float or bounce over low-speed undulation. The result is the calmest and the most comfortable ride among its rivals. While it doesn't inspire drivers as much as Saturn Aura (or undoubtedly the European Ford Mondeo), it still displays good body control in corners and good high-speed stability.

If there is anything wanting, it must be the steering. The V6 model employs conventional hydraulic power steering, which is fine in weighting and accuracy while communication is reasonable. In contrast, the 4-cylinder model (which is expected to consist of 70 percent of sales) employ a cheaper electric power steering. Its assistance is already tuned to be more consistent than previous systems used by GM, but it still isn't the most communicative electric steering on the market. There is still some way to go before it can really replace hydraulic steering.

However, even the steering problem or the short of rear cabin room could not
be considered as serious flaws. Very rare to an American car, Malibu is well rounded in all areas car buyers care for. Most important, it no longer feels cheap like traditional American cars. In fact, it feels quite upmarket. If GM continue producing cars as good, it won't be difficult to take back the World No. 1 title from Toyota - although I doubt that.
The above report was last updated on 5 Jan 2008. All Rights Reserved.


General remarks

Malibu 2.4LT
Malibu 3.6LTZ

Front-engined, FWD
Front-engined, FWD

Steel monocoque
Steel monocoque
Mainly steel
Mainly steel
Length / width / height 4872 / 1786 / 1450 mm 4872 / 1786 / 1450 mm
Wheelbase 2852 mm 2852 mm
V6, 60-degree

2384 cc
3564 cc
Valve gears
DOHC 16 valves, VVT
DOHC 24 valves, VVT
Other engine features

Max power
169 hp / 6400 rpm
252 hp / 6300 rpm

Max torque
160 lbft / 4500 rpm
251 lbft / 3200 rpm

4-speed automatic
6-speed automatic

Suspension layout
F: strut
R: multi-link
F: strut
R: multi-link

Suspension features
Tyres front/rear

Kerb weight
1552 kg
1670 kg

Top speed

0-60 mph (sec)

0-100 mph (sec)

Performance tested by: *C&D, **MT

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