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Old 05-15-2008, 10:55 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Review: 2008 Chevy Malibu LT (31.3 MPG)

“Real World Test: 2008 Chevy Malibu LT”

(No hypermiling is performed on newly tested models: average driving is done to see what the average driver can expect. Max sidewall tire pressures were applied in this test)

+ Best Domestic Midsize FE
+ Comfortable Ride for all Passengers
+ Easy, yet Fun to Drive

- Keeps Getting Bigger Every Re-design (how many more times do I have to write this)?
- Low Quality of Interior Parts / Assembly
- Low Resale due to Fleet Sales

Introduction: If you’re familiar with my reviews, you know that I absolutely love the previous generation Malibu. Review Link. Its simplicity, ergonomics, and FE has earned it several accolades on my part. The new model has some big shoes to fill.

Made alongside the Saturn Aura at the Fairfax Assembly Plant in Kansas City, Kansas, the new Malibu is very similar in dimensions and appearance. The advantage to the Malibu is the available Eco-Tec 4-Cylinder. This all new redesign impacted the Press with its striking exterior, driveability and character (not to mention its larger size).

“2008 North American Car of the Year” by vote. “Car of the Year” boasts Motor Trend Magazine. “Ten Best” says Car and Driver . Others rave of its design; however, I was still apprehensive to drive it. Having driven its twin, the Saturn Aura, my impressions were that it wasn’t a good family representative. Heavy steering, poor V-6 FE, and vague driving feel turned me off to that model’s appeal. So, I stuck with the previous generation Malibu as my tried-and-true companion of 1000’s of efficient miles. Moreover, the new Malibu looks bigger and less efficient than before. The time had come to choose a pinch hitter for a family trip. It turns out that this player just might be from the Major Leagues...

The first trip included a family weekender from Kansas City to the Minneapolis Area / Central Minnesota, and back. Four adults and luggage cruised at 70-75 with ease and efficiency. The second portion was for business: KC – Sioux City, IA and back – with just yours truly.

Note: The 2008 “Malibu Classic”, or last year’s model, can be bought by fleets and the like. These will trickle into the mainstream as they enter the auction block. There is little to identify them, since GM decided not to call it the “Classic” like they did last time.

On the Outside: “It’s the car you can’t ignore”, advertises GM. 2 model generations ago, I would have liked to ignore the Malibu by sinking it to the bottom of the Missouri River. Since that horrible lump of a conveyance, each redesign has vastly improved the outward quality of the drivetrain, driving feel, interior and exterior. The new model is vastly different, with a large frontal aspect, sweeping lines, and chopped rear deck. It has a European air about it, with side-marker turn signals and aggressive dual-grille.

Those are actually 5-spoke, 17” steel wheels with plastic wheel covers made to look like chrome. It will fool the average passerby, and give it a more expensive appearance. The taillights match the car’s aggressive demeanor and add to the visual experience.

The 4-cylinder is also available in the upline LTZ model, with satellite radio, heated seats, leather, and other goodies.

On the Inside: The interior is yet another improvement over the last model. The instrument cluster and accent lighting give it an upscale feel. The audio system offered a standard auxiliary input jack and good tone. Interior sound levels were low. There were some things that did not exude quality, however.

As mentioned, the trip included a trip with the the In-Laws to Minneapolis. While loading up at the hotel, one of the rear doors wouldn’t close – something was stuck! In the meantime, a cab driver began honking with impatience. “Hold on a second!” I shouted.

The plastic kickplate trim had come loose and became stuck in the door. I opened the door fully (more honking) and quickly snapped it back into place, but not without getting into a face-to-face argument with the Cabbie. All was resolved after the exchange of “pleasantries”, and we were on our way. Other trim pieces seemed loose or poorly fitted. On my way to Sioux City, an annoying rattle developed in the driver’s door. A few swift wallops took care of it.

Side Note: “I must explain, that it’s not my usual demeanor to get into a shouting match with other drivers (anymore). The hotel was downtown, near the I-35W bridge collapse site. Traffic was mayhem and construction detours seemed to raise the blood pressure of other drivers in the area, including me. The Interstate basically dumped itself into the streets of downtown. One has to stand back and reflect at the number of bridges we take for granted on a daily basis. In this case, it took a major catastrophe to open the eyes of the public. Luckily, the city had several other options to cross the Mississippi, but without GPS, I still would’ve been circling the Metrodome”.

Otherwise, steering-wheel buttons, ergonomically placed controls, and overall comfort and convenience trumped the stumbles in build quality. The dash is swept with more style, yet simple plastic panels are run-of-the-mill. The instrument cluster matches the nighttime “mood lighting” with a pleasant blue-green hue.

The information center cycles Avg. FE, Instant FE, Dual Tripometers, Ambient Temp, Average Speed, Distance to Empty, and other info such as Cruise Control updates. All are accessed within easy reach, on steering wheel.

The trunk is sizable, and stowed a 4-person luggage set with ease. Rear seat passengers are offered a dual cupholder, and plenty of room. The extended length of this model refresh allows for more legroom. Again, all passengers acclaimed that the comfort was a definite improvement over the last model.

I have to summarize that the front seats were also very supportive and comfortable – no complaints. With Mother’s Day brunch sitting heavy and the satisfaction of a Red Sox win the night before, the 3 passengers soon drifted to sleep in the quiet abode. And yes, the center armrest is adjustable by sliding forward for elbow comfort (but the door’s rest is solid plastic). A Tilt/Telescoping wheel is standard. This car just might compete in the highly competitive mid-sized family sedan segment.

Safety: To put it bluntly, safety comes standard. The Malibu received 5-Star NHTSA Driver and Passenger impact ratings. Side-curtain airbags are standard on all models, with the driver’s bag deployed based on the weight of the driver. 4-wheel ABS is also standard, as is traction and stability controls.

Efficiency: This engine and transmission combo is a great pair. GM has taken cues from the obvious by making the final gearing taller. With a final drive ratio of 3.29, this rivals the 3.05 or 3.63 of past Inline-4’s. RPMs at 60 MPH are approximately 2100, with 70 MPH coming in at 2500. This is traditional GM V-6 territory. Honestly, the 4-banger handled this range excellently. An odd trend during cruise: the torque converter would constantly unlock and lock slightly – in a rhythmic motion. While just cruising along, any reduction in load or throttle would cause the tach to bump up 200 RPM and back down into full lockup. It wasn’t noticeable or felt – just something noticed at the tach. I predict this to be a wear-out point in the future, but may be the secret to the low-RPM drivability of this engine.

A mild-hybrid model is also available, with a slight bump in EPA ratings.

The Drive: Based on GM’s Epsilon platform, the Malibu shares underpinnings with the popularly selling, European Opel/Vauxhall Vectra. For the U.S., Chevy made sure the drive would be “just right”. Electric power steering in the 4-cylinder is easy to operate, yet offers little feedback. This is just fine, since it likely saves on fuel. The ride is perfectly balanced whether loaded or with a lone driver. Cornering is precise and the ride is mid-range (not too harsh or soft). The engine is rev-happy and very efficient. Shifts are firm and deliberate from the 4-speed automatic – that is, until the torque converter slides into lock and back again (and lock again, and back…)

The upline V-6 models come standard with a 6-speed automatic. The top-level LTZ model offers the 6-speed in 4-cylinder trim. This is a curious addition. Hopefully, the FE will benefit. This particular 6-speed was tested in the Saturn Aura and Vue over the last year. Around town, this transmission was indecisive and hesitant to downshift and seemed rather confused as to what to do. The Vue was equipped with the “Manu-Matic” shift gate, so to save on confusion, I did the shifting myself. On the highway, the final gearing proved beneficial, but balked on slight grades. We shall see.

For the Energy Conscious: Surprisingly, GM has come-up with an FE winner in an overall appealing package. This large, mid-size sedan, hits decent FE numbers through common sense techniques. Drive and ride is not compromised, and the looks don’t scream “Rental Car!” If you are after a Domestic, Mid-Sized Family Sedan, look no further. If FE is a priority, Imports such as the Accord, Camry, or Sonata manual-transmission models can offer better economy at a higher price tag.

Loaded up, the average was 28-30 MPG. Single passenger averaged 34-36 MPG.

As always, consider the size of your vehicle needs, and think smaller.

Raw Data -- Specs:
Model: 2008 Chevy Malibu
Trim: 1LT
Class Size: Mid-Size Sedan
Transmission: 4-speed automatic with lock-up torque converter
Engine: 2.4L DOHC, 16-Valve, I-4 with Variable Valve Timing
Rating: 169 hp at 6400 RPM and (EDIT) 162 lb-ft torque at 4500
Drivetrain: FWD
Seating Capacity: 5 (very snug) at 2+3 or 4 more comfortably at 2+2
RPM @ 60 MPH: 2100
Price as Tested: $22,500 USD (May, 2008)
ECU Target Coolant Temp: 190F
Curb Weight: 3436 lbs.
EPA: 22/30
EPA Average Fuel Cost per Year: $1842

Raw Data -- Stats:
EcoModder Tested Mileage: 31.3 MPG
Speed Avg: 60 MPH
Time of Operation: Lots
Distance Driven: 1791 Miles
Gallons Used: 57.26
Ambient Outside Temp: 50-80F
Cruise Speed: 70-75 MPH
Test Loop: Kansas City – Minneapolis and Central Minnesota – KC – Sioux City, IA – KC
A/C Usage: 5-10% of time
Wind/Weather: Over 4 days: 50-80F Max Tailwind = 25 gusting to 40 MPH, Max Headwind = 20; 20% Rain, 80% Clear
Driving Style: Average, with max sidewall tire pressure applied


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


Last edited by RH77; 05-16-2008 at 11:40 AM.. Reason: spelling/grammar, Torque Figure
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