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Old 03-04-2008, 02:24 AM   #1 (permalink)
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2004-2008 Chevy Malibu (Review)

2004-2008 Chevrolet Malibu (’08 Chevy “Classic”)
When I started to rent cars for work in 2001, it took a few years for GM to win me over with any car. That was the age of the Alero, Grand Am, Cavalier, Lumina, Grand Prix, Century, and the dreaded Sunfire. If you’ve read my recent reviews, I’ve softened on the GM stance.

The new 2008 Chevrolet Malibu is the “Car you can’t ignore”. I’m sure you’ve seen the billboards or the multitudes of TV commercials.

So, what’s going on? The next one looks like the old one, but it's still on the road as the “Malibu Classic”...

Enter the return of the “Chevrolet Classic”. The outgoing Malibu is still produced along with the new model (allow me to explain the last entry of the “Classic” – (2004), which was one of the worst carry-over, low-quality crumples of sheetmetal to have the misfortune of human interaction.

UGH! Hopefully high tide will wash it away. It’s best for all involved…

GM uses the tagline “Classic” to say: “It’s on its way out…” – from the Caprice Classic to the 1988 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme Classic RWD (the front-wheel version appeared the same year). In this case, it’s the title for fleet-only vehicles made from leftover parts and super-cheap sales of mass-produced vehicles. Don’t expect to go to your Chevy dealer and take delivery of an ’08 Malibu Classic. You’ll end up with the new iteration of a Saturn Aura which remains untested in Chevy trim (I’m not impressed with the Aura at this point). The Saturn version is not worth writing home about, and contains too many flaws to comment upon at this time. I’ll certainly miss the outgoing graduate…

This is what I said a year or so ago:

What makes the Malibu a stand-out is its ability to use a variety of features together as an efficient vehicle, but still simple to operate. Electric power steering, push-button gear selector when in Drive, tilting and telescoping wheel, plenty of torque and mid-RPM power, and better-than-expected fuel economy add up to a nice surprise. Cargo capacity is expanded as the back seats fold flat, as does the front passenger seat. If the Malibu Maxx is selected, a longer wheelbase and a wagon-like hatchback offers rear seats that move on tracks like typical front seats to offer more space for hauling, or additional legroom (which is good in either model). Optional On-Star and XM Radio are built-into the top-tier 2LT and SS trim levels in the sedan.

The fuel economy in both the 4-cylinder and V6 consistently get better than the EPA estimates in all categories. With the torque of the V6, the vehicle feels faster than 0-60 and other published track times suggest. Controls are easy to reach and the typical sedan layout makes blind-spots minimal. The bottom line is that any new Malibu I drive, I can count on better-than-average fuel economy in a variety of speeds and conditions.

On the flip-side, the drive isn't exciting, and expected reliability isn't up to Asian makes. The transmission downshifts to 1st very oddly in Neutral, or to N from 1st (even when engine-off coasting). For example, coasting down a hill from third gear, pop it in Neutral, and coast to a stop at a traffic light. From 2nd to 1st, engine off or on, there's a hard thump and vibration, like the clutch isn't fully engaged. Just a guess, but maybe the clutch is reduced because shifting from R to D when the car is still moving is much like driving a manual -- it's an odd fault in the transmission.

The Malibu is the first of many vehicles to be built on this platform around the world. In North America, expect to see the Pontiac G6 as a badge-sharing vehicle (but of significantly less build quality and design). US Automakers and GM itself needs to take notes as to how this car was designed, and to take it as an excellent example of what folks are looking for. It's an inexpensive, domestic sedan that makes no compromises and gets tremendous fuel economy. If I'm buying the gas and taking a long trip with a rental, the Malibu is at the top of the list to choose for comfort, ease of use, and great FE every time.

Choose the 4-cylinder for less torque, better in-town FE, and a lighter foot. The V6 is the most popular and has neck snapping mid-range kick and excellent high-speed Interstate economy. All this, and it's made in my hometown of Kansas City at the Fairfax Assembly Plant. I'm usually hard on GM, but this car has earned my trust on many levels. In addition, many safety features are standard such as: excellent crash-test ratings, ABS with brakeforce distribution, front/rear head airbags, traction control, and many others.

+ Fuel Economy
+ Overall Comfort and ease of use
+ Functionality and Cargo Hauling

- Average Styling in-and-out
- Funky Transmission
- Expected Reliability

2006 Chevrolet Malibu
Trim Level: 2LT V6
EPA Vehicle Class: Midsize Car
Engine: Pushrod 3.5L V-6 rated at 217 hp / 217 ft-lb torque
Transmission: 4-Speed Automatic with torque converter and "Manumatic" shift button
EPA Mileage Estimates (City/Highway/Combined Cycle): 22/32/26
Avg. Speed: 62 MPH
Time = 9.2 hours
Miles = 578
Weather Conditions over 2-days: Fair. Temp range 60-90F
Driving Style: Average
Location Test: Tulsa Metro to Kansas City and Metro Areas

MPG = 31.8

Background: The preface to this review is pretty succinct (with a lengthy flashback), but I’d like to say that this particular vehicle design is one of the best from GM in its history. Over the course of its existence, I’ve logged nearly 10,000 miles with variations of the 04-08/Classic Chevy Malibu. There’s the Malibu Maxx 5-door 6-Cyldinder, the V-6 Sedan, 2.2L 4-cylinder, and the sporty SS edition. Trim levels ranged from the base LS to the LT (1 and 2) and up to the SS.

In each formulation, solid FE formed the foundation of a loveable format. But why? I’d like to call it, “Unexpected, Engineered Simplicity”. From the first drive in this car, it was fully apparent that a team of well-informed, creative people were at work to design and implement this car. Especially since the previous vehicle was a horrendous wreck.

This car is just the right size. From a 2-person road trip to a 4 adults, there’s plenty of room for arms, legs, luggage, conversation, AND economy. All of this is from a domestically designed and manufactured machine. From the V-6’s performance and economy to the 4-banger’s ultimate overall FE, this car has the upper hand with one simple quotient: value. This is coming from a die-hard Import supporter and from back-seat In-Laws who applauded the fuel cost and comfort.

On the Inside: Simply, the interior is rugged and simplistic, with an air of creativity. Basic touches like excellent seating position, the upper dash ventilation, and transmission fingertip gear-select feature make the car stand apart from other Domestics (and even higher priced Imports).

Higher trim levels offer steering wheel controls for both radio (+XM) and cruise-control (for base models) and available seat heaters, trip computer, side-impact airbags, and stability/ABS/traction control. The Malibu Maxx (discontinued last year) offers hatchback versatility with rear seats that slide forward/backward depending on your cargo needs.

I really have to emphasize the comfort of the driving position. Base models have a power seat elevation and a tilt/telescoping column with generous travel in both directions. Equipped models have a 6-way seat with lumbar adjustment and bun-warmers. Ergonomics are top-notch with multiple power points, ease of reach in controls, and copious creature comforts.

Over and over, I’ve chosen this vehicle for long-distance travel for primarily one reason: FE. Over and above the mileage, the comfort and feel of solid dependability and ease of drivability has kept me coming back to this mid-sized Chevy. 2 problems developed over the thousands of miles: a broken air vent director and a dead battery for the key remote. That’s it. No other malfunctions were noted.

The car has been manufactured by Union laborers, who are neighbors for me in Kansas City, KS. Despite the location of assembly, I’m proud to call this a local accomplishment. Whether your opinion of U.S./Canadian manufactured vehicles is “less-than-ideal”, I honestly would investigate a second look at this particular design. Drive it. Research it. Enjoy it.

On the Outside: The Sedan has a squared, generic stance that, in my estimation, can trick the unknowing into false assumptions. Take a look at all angles and form your own opinion. After that, take my report of the overall data and subjective observations to make a final judgment for yourself.

On the “Maxx”, fully expect an odd, wagon-like profile. Although strange to the eye of the beholder, cargo capacity and comfort is excellent as reported by passengers. The only engine offered is the 3.5L V-6, so city and average mileage could suffer.

Assess your hauling requirements and compare them to the 4-cylinder with the standard pass-through rear seats and fold flat front passenger seat. The 2.2L Ecotec engine is brilliant in this size of car. It won’t win any drag racing events, but the electric power steering, fly-by-wire throttle, and instant MPG feedback make it a fuel economy winner.

The Drive: There are 3 models I would like to chronicle: 3.5L V-6 (Sedan and “Maxx” Wagon) and the 2.2L 4-cylinder sedan. They sold fewer of the 2.2-equipped models, but that is the model to get.

The V-6 offers low-to-mid range power, but the 4 offers economy and torque to get the job done. On significant hills with a significant weight of load, passengers joked about the car’s ability to handle the situation. This was primarily in the transmission’s eagerness to lock-up to torque converter and hang-on to sub 2K RPM operation. Downshifting/Unlocking is a last resort for the competent, torquey 4.

Later 6’s have a traditional power steering rack, with the I-4’s offering the electric unit and with poor feedback. The most recent drive experienced a flat-out 90-degree crosswind at 20-30 mph, gusting to 45. This was a concentrated struggle at highway speeds. Conversely, parallel parking and low-speed steering was effortless. Insert your preference here...

Used Vehicle Analysis: The fact that 2008’s are “Fleet-Only” status upholds the used position of this make and model. The ideal find is the 3-year old 4-cylinder with low-mileage and one-ownership; otherwise, most found will likely be V-6’s and/or high mileage mules from rental companies. The LT badge was missing from the trunklid, so attention to detail is sometimes missing from fleet offerings. Do the research if this is your next ride.

Vehicle Specs:
2008 Chevrolet Malibu “Classic” LT-Fleet
Engine: 2.2L “Ecotec” DOHC, Inline-4: Rated at 144 hp and 155 lb-ft torque
Transmission: 4-speed Automatic with Lockup TC and "Manumatic" shift button
Price as Tested: $13,000*
EPA Class: Midsize Sedan
EPA FE: 24 City / 34 Highway
Driving Style: Average
*Price is estimated based on 2007 prices and the option for the average buyer to purchase

Raw Data:
FE Average: 33.4 MPG
Average Speed: 55 MPH
Distance Driven: 784 Miles
Route: Kansas City – St. Louis – Rural Missouri – Kansas City
Temp: 40F - 78F
Wind Speed vs. Heading: S @ 30 MPH gusting to 45 MPH. Outbound = E; Return = W

Conclusion: My favorite fleet vehicle to date. I’ll miss this design and the opportunity to drive them, but still fondly admire the used ones soldiering on the road…


If we knew what we were doing, it wouldn't be called research ― Albert Einstein

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