By on September 8, 2010

It looks like the Malibu is finally outselling the Impala. There’s been a lot of discussion, here on TTAC and elsewhere, as to why that hasn’t been the case all along. After all, the Malibu is the shining example of New GM’s ability to compete on an even footing in the marketplace with relevant, modern product, while the Impala was originally engineered in 1986 and has an interior made entirely of recycled Tupperware. Every “car person” in your life, from the neighbor kid who drives a slammed Civic EX Coupe to your IMSA Patron GT3 Cup-racing podiatrist, knows the Malibu is the smart choice.

I’ve been driving GM10 and W-body cars since I first rented a 1990 Cutlass Supreme sedan for a Spring Break trip (to Chicago, dammit, not Daytona Beach) twenty years ago, and I know them pretty well. It had been a while since I’d driven a ‘Bu, however, so I snagged an el-cheapo 1LT 2.4L/six-speed from Budget Rent-A-Car and put 1100 miles on it over the course of four days. Perhaps the Malibu would explain to me why it hasn’t left its ancient showroom mate in the dust.

This is the basic Malibu interior. The materials and execution aren’t terribly different from what you would find in the base Fusion. There’s that same combination of dark-grey plastic and silver-finish accent, but the Malibu is more obviously “designed”.

This is the Impala interior. It’s clearly from a different school of design. What stands out to me is that the Malibu interior, combined with the significantly more narrow passenger compartment, works to “envelop” the occupant. The Impala, by contrast, offers far more room to maneuver one’s body. When properly seated and adjusted in the vehicle, neither car impinges on me personally (I’m 6’2″ and 225lbs) but the Malibu doesn’t give me the impression of room to spare, while the Impala does. The same is true of the back seat; the Malibu has enough room, while the Impala has more than enough.

One particular gripe about the way the Malibu “fits”: the rather fast windshield line brings the intersection of the roof and windshield uncomfortably close to my head. It doesn’t touch, it isn’t really cramped, it just feels cramped.

Now let’s talk transmissions. The Malibu’s standard 2.4L/six-speed tranny combo is just fine for very slow-paced driving, and it returns more than 30mpg any time you’re on the freeway. Up the pace a bit, and it becomes easily confused. I ended up really disliking this transmission over the course of a few days running around downtown Toronto. It’s almost always in the wrong gear and the throttle/gearchange synchronization is miserable, leading to bucking and odd behavior on the fly.

The Impala has two fewer gears and benefits from base and optional engines that deliver much more torque than the Malibu’s. As a result, there’s less transmission work going on and it’s rarely confused on the move. The Malibu has less wind noise, while the Impala is mechanically quieter. Your choice.

Nobody’s going to buy a Malibu for cargo room, that’s for sure. Trunk space is another Impala strong suit, as is trunk access through a decklid that is longer and taller than than of the smaller Chevrolet. The Impala is just large enough to be a cramped police car and/or taxi, which opens it up to fleet and municipal sales opportunities denied the Malibu.

I prefer the far more modern stying of the Malibu; it just looks so much more modern in its proportions and detailing. The revised Impala isn’t hideous, however, merely generic in a kind of previous-gen-Accord way. I liked the previous model better, style-wise, but this one is okay, and your opinion may differ.

In the real world, the cars are priced pretty closely. There’s almost always more money on the hood of the Impala, and when you correct for equipment (V6 et al) the Impala is probably cheaper. If you’re simply looking for the proverbial most car for the money, don’t bother with the Malibu.

Let’s sum up. In the Impala’s corner, we have

  • More spacious
  • More cargo room
  • More standard power
  • Mechanically quieter

In the Malibu’s, we have

  • Far more “modern” inside and out
  • Better fuel economy
  • Available four-cylinder and six-speed transmissions
  • Styling

I would also suggest that the Impala will be more reliable in the long run, being made of simpler components that have seen far more real-world mileage. When we look at the lists above, it seems to be to be a conflict of tangible versus intangible. The Impala has more and does more, but the Malibu is simply better somehow.

I have a few theories about why the Impala refuses to fade away.

Theory #1: The Malibu is designed to appeal to “import intenders”. Those people end up buying imports. The Impala is designed to appeal to “domestic intenders”. Those people end up buying an Impala.

Theory #2: The design superiority of the Malibu doesn’t impress people as much as automotive journalists think it should. Real buyers prefer interior space to Motor Trend’s endorsement.

Theory #3: The Impala has been a generally decent car for a long time, and it’s been more or less the same car for over a decade. The Malibu was a dead nameplate before being resurrected on a straight-to-rental yawner and a chrome-faced oddity. It will take a few years for the nameplate equity to come back.

Of the three theories, only #3 helps explain why the Malibu is finally pulling away from the Impala in the sales race. I’d be interested in hearing your theories, but I suspect it comes down to this: No matter what the people from the color rags and big websites say, people will still buy the product that appeals to them. For better or worse, the Impala continues to appeal. You can call it a case of stupid flyover country hillbillies buying the crappy old throwback, or you can call it a case of smart consumers buying a tried-and-true product with their hard-earned money, but it’s still a case of consumers making their own decisions. How can that be bad?

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88 Comments on “Malibu Dreaming: Why Can’t Chevy’s Mid-Sizer Vanquish the Impala?...”

  • avatar

    Malibu has an attractive lease, Impala does not.

  • avatar

    The answer is simple.
    The one flooding the fleet market at any particular time is the sales winner.  Usually the Impala has huge fleet sales, but with Hyundai/KIA moving in on fleet sales, I guess it opens the door for the Malibu.

  • avatar

    The 2013 Impala will for all practical purposes BE a Malibu, since it is shifting to the stretched Epsilon platform from the Buick LaCrosse. The 2012 Malibu will shrink to the smaller Epsilon platform from the Buick Regal.

  • avatar

    I think it’s a question of “perceived” value.  I test drove both cars back to back and while the Impala screamed “dated design” I recommended it for my wife.  So she goes out and buys a Cadillac CTS…..

    Anyway, I think the Impala also appeals to the Boomer generation.  It harkens back to the full sized cars of our youth.  It also has a reasonably low beltline sans the gunslit windows that are all the rage with the ‘Bu and its ilk.

  • avatar

    Impala has that all-important metric that most people forget – hip and shoulder room.  Its shortcomings are in the back seat, where its old bones are apparent.

    One person made a good point on here a while back about the Impala: it is the closest thing to the inexpensive value for money Chevy car that everyone used to buy.

    Another theory: orphans of big SUVs find this liveable.  Wide, adequate power, basic mechanicals are familiar.

    I have my own pet theories that people never really wanted to stop driving larger passenger cars but weren’t given much choice besides antique platforms like the Panther so largely fled the segment for SUVs, four-door half tons and minivans.  There’s been a slight correction, especially in the current economic climate where you see value brands like Hyundai in the ascendency, and you can pick up a lease buyback Impala for not a lot of money.  And it’ll do its job for pretty much as long as you want it to.

  • avatar

    Your second paragraph says it all, really; as such, you probably should add:
    #4: The Impala is really, really cheap and is sold in huge volumes to fleets who aren’t quite as economically cramped as the “real people” who buy Malibus.  This is changing because the Malibu is only now starting to see serious fleet numbers.
    It’s the same reason it outsells the 500/Taurus.
    Also, could you pick a more disingenuous set of photos of the two cars’ interiors?  You’ve got a daylight-overexposure special for the (base) Malibu and a Photoshop puffery from the sales brochure for the (top-trim) Impala.
    I’ll root for the home-team where possible (the Impala is made in Oshawa, which is not far from where I live) but you’re also overlooking two more points:
    * The Impala rides and steers much more poorly.  There’s a taxi-grade clomp to the Impala that’s missing from the Malibu.  Fleets don’t care about this.
    * The Impala’s rear seat is really uncomfortable.  Low, short, and badly angled.  Fleets don’t care about this, either.

    The Impala only offers more in the same sense that I can get pounds of food per dollar at a fast-food place than at a nice cafe. That’s fine, if that’s what you like, but I wouldn’t call it “intangible”.

  • avatar

    My first reaction is that the delay in the introduction of the 4-cylinder/6-speed auto combo hurt the current Malibu at launch. The car was initially panned for its “outdated” 4-speed transmission. While stylistically a quantum leap from what it replaced, under the sheet metal the current Malibu wasn’t all that much different from its predecessor. I like the current Malibu, but GM has a way of launching a car half-baked then upgrading it as a way of maintaining sales through the product life cycle. Just once I’d like to see them go all-in on a new car launch. You know, like the Direct Injection Cruze?
    What? Too soon?

  • avatar

    The premise of the article sums up what is wrong with the Malibu. The Malibu just isn’t good enough to be considered against the top tier midsize sedans, and is fighting for sales in its own showroom with the traditional Chevy buyers.
    It’s too small, missing features (navigation), still has hints of the old GM in the materials and fit and finish, faces epic depreciation, and doesn’t have the feel good, can do story of the Fusion, the up and coming story of the Sonata, or the default choice story of the Accord or Camry.

  • avatar

    The local police got Impalas. Imported of course. I haven’t seen a new Malibu in person since 1998.
    I liked the previous Impala more, it had more character, but the new interior looks much better.
    And yes, I’d buy one if given the chance. I have a baby and need the enormous trunk.
    On your comment that the car was engineered in 1986… read yourself or another fellow member on the Grand Marquis or Town Car. I’m sure this car is vastly different and improved over its 1986 ancestors.

    In any case, hopefully my next and first new car will have a lion on the grille, steering wheel on the wrong side of the car (you can’t win it all), RWD and a V8

  • avatar

    I’d pick the Malibu over the Impala in a heartbeat (pun intended) if I had no other choice, but the confining center console, short side windows, and small trunk opening would give me pause.  I’d also have to see if I could live with the 6-speed auto; I do prefer 4-cylinder engines for better fuel economy.  The Impala is a very dated car, as has been pointed out, but it’s a huge hit with fleets (and guys like Mikey who built them)! 

    An aside: what’s with the el-cheapo aftermarket rubber mat in the rental Malibu? You’d think the rental companies would have heard about the floormat/sudden acceleration brouhaha with Toyota!

  • avatar

    Having just bought a 2010 Malibu, I can tell you I never cross-shopped the Impala.  I also never considered a brand new Mercury Grand Marquis.  My other considerations were the new Sonata, Mazda 6, Accord, and briefly the Fusion.  The Malibu really won me over with the styling, the feature content, and the price I was able to get one at relative to the competition.  Plus, my wife really liked the styling and the features, which is important because it is her daily driver.
    GM’s discounts for retail buyers still hold lots of relevance…a loaded Malibu may not be as impressive a car overall as a loaded 2011 Sonata, but a loaded Malibu is a much nicer car than a relatively base Sonata or 6, and that in the end, is what the dollar comparison was.  That said, dollar for dollar, I liked the Malibu’s “character” better than the Accord and Fusion.  That is an intangible, as Jack points out.
    I agree with most of Jack’s review and points here.  I do find that the 6-speed is busy, but not as disagreeable as he does.  The ride, comfort, and seats for me are top-notch.  I’m 6’3″ and 185lbs.  I do hope the reliability proves good…at least there’s a 100k mile warranty on that tranny.
    In regards to tangible vs. intangible, if we all cared only for the tangible, we’d all drive old Crown Victorias.  The feel one gets from driving a new car who’s styling is fresh, features are modern, etc. makes you feel better about spending a big chunk of money.  It makes it worth it.

    • 0 avatar

      “a loaded Malibu is a much nicer car than a relatively base Sonata or 6”
      Hmm.  The base Sonata is in the 16k range with the current 2.5k on the hood.  You’d have a hard time getting off the lot with a BASE Malibu for that much, even factoring in the heavy cash on the hood GM was throwing around on the labor day sales.
      That said, the Malibu is still a decent car for a decent price… although I look at GM reliability to be bottom rung of the ladder from empirical evidence.
      P.S.  My wife drives a 2007 LTZ Impala that I view to be a royal P.O.S.  Doesn’t go hardly 6 months without repairs.

    • 0 avatar
      Kevin Kluttz

      GM and the word ‘character’ in the same phrase is an oxymoron. 
      Anyone buying a car from a bankrupt company living on my dime (character?) is an oxymoron.

  • avatar

    The Malibu would be very hard to choose against the last gen Sonata, and is now not even in the same ballpark.  The Impala has no real similar sized competition at its price point (Charger?).  It owns the niche market of “big and cheap”.  I know a few guys who drive Tahoes, and who cannot stand the “cockpit” feel of most cars.  They could live with an Impala.

  • avatar

    “I would also suggest that the Impala will be more reliable in the long run, being made of simpler components that have seen far more real-world mileage. ”

    Really – when has that been true?  By your theory an LS460 should be much less reliable than a Chevy Cruze – that isn’t the case… is it? 

  • avatar

    +1 to dwford.  Around here (in America’s Heartland or Flyover Country, depending on your perspective), I’ve been impressed by the number of Chevys in parking lots that have been purchased at small town dealers GM at one time wanted to cut, apparently, but because of luck or good sense didn’t.  There’s a big Chevy dealer in my home town (about 70,000), but my seat-of-the-pants judgment is that he sells a very small fraction of most of the cars I see.  But here there are Honda, Toyota, Mazda, and Hyundai (not to mention Subaru, popular here in the snowbelt) dealers, while these little towns have Chevy, and maybe Ford or Chrysler.  Hence, the Malibu does principally compete in those markets with Impalas on the same floor.  Sometime on TTAC I’d like to see a demographic analysis of where and to whom GM sells cars.  My guess is that they do disproportionately well in small rural communities (I’m talking fewer than 15,000 population) and with an older population who have always bought GM.

  • avatar

    OKAY! Time to speak up. Jack  I agree with 99% of your post. I think at my age I’m confident calling myself a “car person” and I choose the Impala.

     I drove the Bu for a week in Florida,before I bought the Impala,and I went with the “tried and true”. I keep my Impala nicely detailed and I get compliments whereever I go.

  • avatar

    If I lived in a place like Arizona of New Mexico, I would snag a lightly used Impala in a second. For a very reasonable price, one gets a large car with just a classic classic powertrain, the good old big torque V-6 and a bullet-proof 4 sp auto. The car is big, for big people. It is mechanically simple, parts are cheap and available and every knuckle-dragging mechanic with a room temperature IQ can fix it while drunk. The Impala does what American cars should do, drive you down the Interstate with ice cold a/c, reasonable economy, lots of space and low cost. Does it win g force races of slaloms? Nope, not in a second and I doubt anyone who buys one even cares. And finally, there is really nothing that competes with it at this price. A quick search on Phoenix Craigslist shows a nice 2009 Impala LT with 45,000 miles at $13,500. That is a really screaming deal and I am sure you could drive it away for $12,000.
    As for the Malibu, it is also a nice car. I have driven one extensively in a business/road trip. I like the Camry  better, and the Accord (I own a 2009) much more. Both are worth the premium over the Malibu, again in my opinion. In my opinion, the Malibu just has too much competition to make big sales numbers. Hence the success of the Impala’s sales. GM is making a car buyers want in the Impala and they would be very unwise indeed to mess much with it.

    • 0 avatar

      “parts are cheap and available”

      As compared to what?  I’ve looked up prices for parts vs. a camry or accord and it don’t see any difference.  In fact – GM prices seem a little higher…

    • 0 avatar

      For OEM stuff, true. Jobber stuff for GM cars tends to be cheaper. The big thing is availability, this stuff is so common and used on so many GM vehicles that a lot of it tends to be in stock in many places.
      I would not own an Impala where I live but to buy one is really cheap!

    • 0 avatar

      “The big thing is availability, this stuff is so common and used on so many GM vehicles that a lot of it tends to be in stock in many places.

      Yeh, those camry an accord parts are so hard to find – who even stocks parts for them?

  • avatar

    I ended up really disliking this transmission over the course of a few days running around downtown Toronto.

    You drove downtown?  You’re nuts.  When I lived there I never drove.  Now that I don’t, I drive to the GO station, park, and take the train.

    Besides, a) walking is good for you and b) you get to look at the scenery without interruption when you’re not driving.

    It’s almost always in the wrong gear and the throttle/gearchange synchronization is miserable, leading to bucking and odd behavior on the fly.

    This seems to be the case with most 5+ speed automatics: they’re very often  in the wrong gear in urban driving and it seems to be more of an issue now that manufacturers are gunning for big EPA numbers.  I personally don’t mind four-speeds for this very reason, and I’d certainly choose them 5/6/7/8-speeds, given the choice.

    I’ve actually had much more better experiences with Nissan’s CVTs; so much so that I’d probably buy a Nissan over anything else were a manual not an option.

    • 0 avatar

      I agree, manufacturers had enough reliability issues building 4-speed ATs, going to 5 or 6 speeds seems crazy.  Is all that shifting really getting better economy?  I’m sure they can game them for the EPA ratings, but is there much benefit in the real world?

    • 0 avatar


      As an example Hyundai’s new 6-speed is 12kg lighter and has 62 fewer parts than the 5-speed it replaces.

  • avatar

    Based on Jack’s noted complaints with the ‘bu, why would anyone buy that over a similarly equipped Sonata, Fusion or Accord/Altima/Camry?  Forget the Impala… what about the Malibu’s supposed competitors.
    Yes, it was a big improvement over the previous incarnation, but so what.  It’s still behind the class leaders.
    Without a discernable advantage in warranty, depreciation or price, there’s no reason to buy a Malibu when better options for the same or less money are available.
    Other than the CTS, ‘Vette and SUV’s, GM has a firm hold on old people’s money, but few others.

    • 0 avatar

      1. cost, 2. Democrats

    • 0 avatar
      George B

      My Dad is a previous generation Malibu customer.  He wanted the Impala, but my height challenged Mom wanted a smaller car where she could see over the dash.  They test drove several different brands, but in the end they bought Chevy like they have for the last 40 years.  The dilemma for GM is a decontented old design car results in maximum profits from Chevy loyalists like my Dad who will buy anything with the bowtie, but the pool of loyal Chevy customers is shrinking.
      Had a chance to rent a Toyota Camry and a Chevy Malibu for the same price.  Easy choice to rent the more roomy Camry to drive thousands of miles on the interstate.  Also rented a Pontiac G6 for use around town.  The G6 would have been much better with just an upgrade in interior plastic..

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    I’ve driven a first year current generation Malibu LTZ with V6 and auto and a 2004 Base/fleet Impala, both used car (loaners), each one with about 80,000 miles on the clock.  My sweetie was with me and she’s very picky about what she wants to ride in and drive.  She enjoyed driving the Malibu, but enjoyed being driven (and picking up groceries) in the Impala.  Since I do the majority of the long distance driving when we’re together, guess which one she’d rather have me buy?
    I agree with the commenter who said that they believe people never really wanted to give up their “land yachts,” thus they fled to SUVs.  Remember, American’s talk horsepower but they drive torque.  The Impala vs Malibu is a classic example of this.  And I actually found the Malibu interior (even in LTZ trim) more “plastic-y” than the Impala.  Call me old fashioned (I’m 33) but I prefer fake wood to brushed aluminum, I find it more charming.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      Edit function seems to be malfunctioning again.
      The only thing I would add is that I would slap a set of Bilstein shocks on it and see if I could find some SS sway-bars, then it would be dead nuts perfect for me.  I have a feeling that many over 45 or so GM customers the man would rather drive a Malibu but the wife would rather be driven in an Impala and rather take the Impala on trips to Cosco.

  • avatar

    I agree with Jack’s points regarding the ‘bu for the most part. I recently bought a 2010 Accord, and cross-shopped the Camry, Fusion and Malibu.  I never considered the Impala.  Way too old-school, despite it’s apparent advantages over the ‘bu.  The Camry was a yawner, the Fusion nice but terrible ergonomics and crappy materials.  I strongly considered the Malibu based on its styling and driving characteristics.  I liked the 4 cyl/6 speed combo; I didn’t see the shortcomings that Jack experienced. 

    In the end, however, the Accord offered the space that the Malibu lacked, plus excellent materials and assembly quality and…oh yeah… a proper manual trans (also available on Fusion and Camry).  For me, the Malibu, while a perfectly good car on its own, falls short of its real competition, the Accords, Camrys and Fusions of the world.

    • 0 avatar

      I bought an Accord for exactly the same reasons, an ’09 EX 5 speed manual. Great car, great materials, fit, finish and very light on its feet.
      I also realise I will have to drive it into the ground. It is a manual and it ain’t worth diddly squat used. Suppose the discount I got on it (yes, whoda thunk it, a discount on a Honda) because it was in stock and languishing on the back lot goes some way to compensating for that.

    • 0 avatar

      I will be driving mine into dust also.  I actually got a substantial discount on the only manual trans Accord on the dealer’s lot.  I think they were glad to be rid of it. I wanted an EX because I love a sunroof, but they only had an LX manual, and the need for a three-pedal trumps all.

  • avatar

    I really like my ’04 Impala (base model w/sport appearance pkg,). Even has the bench seat – that screams “ROOM”! I don’t understand why the car makers feel every car should have a console, unless it makes one feel like they’re driving a two-door.

    I agree with “Educator(of teachers)Dan” concerning people loving big cars – I’m one of them, and my car is a fuel-efficient one – that’s the difference, otherwise I’d be forced to drive something smaller. I’ve always been an Impala fan, learned to drive in one and love ’em. You do get a lot of metal for the money and I’m a cruiser, not a hard driver, so my Imp does everything I want it to do very well. I hope the upcoming generation will be just as appealing to me.

    • 0 avatar

      Impala and the Lucerne (leather bench option!) are the only cars I can think of with a front bench. Correct me if I’m wrong because I’d love to know if there are more. I found it a charming throwback, but my wife would no doubt raise her eyebrows at the front bench. The utility of the front is forgotten until you need to fit an extra person in there…say you’re a divorce with your two kids and your new wife’s two kids, or bigger soccer carpool…handy, no need for a minivan to tool around, no need to yell two rows back. I  agree, I’d give up another place to lose sunglasses and stow crap for an extra albeit smallish seat.

  • avatar

    Two reasons Impala outsells Malibu. Size and Price. The Impala appeals to a totally different size class customer, its much roomier than most of the mid-sizers, especially in the trunk. Price for Impala is on the constant discount phase of marketing. New they’re discounted, lightly used they’re dirt cheap. As to performance, most of us don’t care if its V6, I4, four speed tranny or six. How does it run??? I rented a brand new ’10 Impala last year. Ran great and mileage was very similar to my 2005 Accord in real world driving. The icing on the cake is the styling. It may be old fashioned, but I agree with above comments that I prefer wider, higher windows and cheap plastic phony wood to cheap plastic phony metal.

  • avatar

    The current Malibu suffers from what I call the “Olds Intrigue” syndrome. People looking for that type of car generally don’t visit Chevy dealers, while people inclined to visit a Chevy dealer are not necessarily looking for that type of car.

  • avatar

    Funny timing on this article as I just returned from a west coast trip where my rental was a 2010 Impala w/ the V6 and the 4spd automatic.  Drove it around Seattle for a few days and then headed east over the cascades for a three night run of Dave Matthew’s at The Gorge in central washington.  Car always had a minimum of 3 people and the trunk swallowed all of our luggage with ease.
    The interior sucked, but the seats were comfortable for the long slogs on I-90 and then rt2 back to Seattle.  I averaged between 27 and 30 mpg on the highway trips and 27-28 on the rt 2 (Steven’s Pass) trip which is better than my V-6 Passat could ever manage.
    The car turned out to be the perfect rental as it was cheap to drive, was comforatable for long distance cruising and had a stereo which had an Aux in port.

    Also, you can rev the piece of shit to 60mph in 1st gear.

  • avatar

    What Canucknucklehead said…..

    A 1-2 year old Impala is a GREAT value. I drove one and while it handles like a, um, doesn’t handle, it is like being your living room watching German TV at night…I think Bertel knows what I talk about(?)…(Not the videos from the space shuttle)

  • avatar

    Jack, I think you will find your answer in the checklist of fleet buyers more than those looking for a family car.

  • avatar

    Expect Chevy to “Taurusize” the 2013 Impala. They will try to reposition it as more upmarket to better separate it from the new smaller 2012 Malibu. The new Taurus has a transaction price something like $5,000 more than the previous version.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    The Impala is the last of the big(gish) cheap cars, which is why the fleet buyers like it. On the retail side, it appeals to the dwindling number of GM loyalists who want something that feels like an old land barge but can’t or don’t want to spend $40k+ on a Tahoe or a Buick.

  • avatar

    It has to be the fleet buyers.  I admit I’m only 5’8 160 lbs, but I fit fine in the Malibu (they’re both rental cars my company features), and actually enjoy that intimate feeling I get in the car.  That picture doesn’t do the Malibus interior justice.  The level of detailing and general appearance are leagues ahead of the Impala and on par with the Japanese and Koreans.  There is no comparing the driving experience either.  admittedly most of the driving I’ve done in either car is below 40 mph on city streets (with the exception of 1 extended highway drive in a 4 speed Malibu cross town).  The Malibu rides both smoother and more refined than the Impala, has handling in another league, and I would argue feels quicker.  At city speeds the Malibu’s I4 feels as smooth quiet refined and punchy as a v6, which is something that can’t be said for most 4 cylinders, including Toyota’s in the Camry (another rental we have).  The Impalas V6, while generally quiet, still has a certain grittiness that makes it through the drivetrain that reminds you that it is a big pushrod 6.  To me its no contest.  Hell I’d say the Malibu is a better car than a Camry (a car I admittedly despise), on par with an Accord, but not as much fun as an Altima, or Mazda 6, but more refined than both. (haven’t driven the latest fusion).  Being government motors, though, I’d never buy one.

  • avatar

    I know a retired guy who drives a recent vintage Impala.  He bought it to replace his Grand Marquis.  With the Panthers on the way out, the Impala has become one of the top choices for the older crowd.  I suspect they view the Malibu as less car for more money.

  • avatar

    Nice pic-a-nic basket there Mr Baruth.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      Thank you Sir, it was made by the local Amish. Or at least it was sold to me by the local Amish. Or at least somebody pretending to be Amish sold it to me. Well, they had a horse and buggy, anyway.

  • avatar

    I had the misfortune of renting a Malibu with the 2.4L/6AT combo in Denver recently.  Actually, I was given a choice between the Malibu and an Impala.  I chose the Malibu due to its more “modern” design and expected better functionality that would come along with that.  Not sure if it was the altitude, but to sum up the engine in one word: anemic.  The transmission had a very stubborn mind of its own – it always insisted on giving economy as a default and switching very begrudgingly to the performance I’d asked for only after some seconds.  I’ve learned my lesson, I’ll take faux wood and outdated design of the Impala any day given that choice again.  Hopefully it’ll be the LTZ with the 3.9 engine so I can keep up with the popo driving their Impala “police pursuit vehicles.”

  • avatar

    Last year we bought this car’s platform-mate, a Pontiac G6 with the 4 cyl and 6 speed tranny. We didn’t even consider an Impala, but i have driven a number of them in the last 10 years or so, as I know many people who have one. The thing I like about the Epsilon chassis is that it has much better driving dynamics than the old W bodies, at least as my G6 and my neighbor’s ‘Bu LTZ seems to do. I don’t mind the smaller car, I don’t want a huge car.
    I would agree with another poster’s comment about 5 and 6 speed trannies, they all seem to be hunting. On my Pontiac, I can slip into manual mode and control the amount of hunting that the tranny does. I’m surprised that Jack didn’t try manual mode; it was one of the first things I tried out when we got our Pontiac. You get the Ecotec up into the 4500-5500 RPM ranges, she starts to sing and put out the power. These trannies are geared for max fuel economy, not driveability IMO.
    Once GM and Chevy put out the much larger replacement for the Impala, we’ll see how this all shakes out.

  • avatar

    In hindsight, it was probably wishful thinking by driving enthusiasts, tree-huggers and Peak Oil theorists that the new Malibu would quickly cannibalize the aging Impala.   It’s a reminder that old traditions don’t die overnight, and new eras don’t begin nearly as often as people think.
    That said, today’s “old” Impala is still a pretty decent car.  In fact, it makes the older Impala, Lumina and Caprice look like donkey carts by comparison.  GM deserves some credit for carrying it this far.

  • avatar

    “Stupid flyover country hillbillies”
    I huddle within my shanty hiding from that horde.
    I know they are out there.
    The incessant noise of their un- and poorly-muffled vehicles intrude upon the innards of the shanty.  Intrusive, unwanted and un-welcomed but noise creation by mental midgets is apparently a requirement here in hillbilly land.
    Such are the sacrifices made by the working-poor seeking an affordable place to hunker down, waiting for the apocalypse or a rapture of some sort or a planet-splitting asteroid impact or the even less likely economic turn-around that allows the elderly a shot at a livable wage job that would allow, perhaps, relocating to a shanty where the distance between shelter and noise sources can be increased so as to reduce the decibel level to a more tolerable range.
    I wonder if the Impala warranty repairs are ignored in a similar manner; “Unable to replicate,” as was too-frequently encountered with the brand-spitting-new 2004 Silverado  purchased new in June 2004?
    I still rue purchasing that vehicle and will be forced to use it for a duration yet to be determined so as to minimize economic loss tied to depreciation.
    Not being at an actuary-level of math/economics determinations I can only guess at what point I can sell the truck and minimize the economic loss and/or gain obtained from recouping some of the initial purchase price of 20 grand.
    Repairs HAVE been mostly minimal since the worst of the unrepaired problems occurred during the sub-zero climatic conditions left behind when I emigrated closer to the equator.
    But, would I, the Disgruntled One ™, buy an Impala? Skeered’ not.  I would opt for an Impala over a Malibu but the horrid taste left in my craw after the warranty debacle disallows any future GMC or Chevy purchases. For general principles, at the least.
    Future planning would require some sort of van-type conveyance, preferably a van with a large amount of potential living space, in case the economy led to future shanty-less living conditions…. or the eventual retirement  forces a shanty sale and hunkering down in a modern-day form of “Hooverville”  (Obamaville? PalinVille? Chelseaville? Insert celebrity’s name here-ville?).
    ‘Round these parts, fly-over land, where intellectualism of any sort is considered akin to Commie tendencies, a slew of Impalas stalk the land. Malibus are noted but the tremendous girth and mass of locals, rotund to the extreme, make the larger Impala more practical.
    Heck, for many residents the more practical choice is the bed of an F-350 dually with helper springs.

    • 0 avatar

      Always an entertaining read , obop, if you stay in the south your Silverado will last a long time.

       Anyway obop does bring up a valid point. Obesity sells a lot of Impala’s. Before anybody gets upset, we Canucks are just as guilty. The Bu just does not have the front seat room that the Impala has.

       Even us boomers that have avoided the “girth and mass” plague,are dealing with arthritis. My five foot seven wife woudn’t touch the Bu or the G6. As soon as she got behind the wheel of the Impala she loved it. In case she reads this, I better mention that she is not overweight.She just loves the interior space of the bigger car.

  • avatar

    Having driven GM W-bodies through rental lots and such since the 1990’s and owning one for 4-1/2 years, my conclusion is they aren’t in general as “awful” as people say and think they are.  Yes the interior is made of Tupperware plastic with buttons designed by PlaySkool.  Yes the fit and finish isn’t up to the imports.  Yes the body flexes and groans.
    On the other hand the GM 3.8L Series I and Series III engines (Series II had gasket issues) simply can’t be killed.  They are as reliable as a sunrise and what they lack in horsepower compared to their modern cousins they sure have gobs of torque.  When you spend twenty plus years on the engine/tranny combo, you’re eventually going to get it right, and the old school 4-speed auto matches up nicely.  Those PlaySkool buttons on the dash make for great ergonomics, and even button laden Pontiac and Buick versions were easy to drive and operate.  They have predictable understeer, and put a supercharger on that 3.8 damn fun to drive.
    Bang for the buck it is about value.  Bang for the buck the Impala isn’t that bad of a car.  I still think GM should kill the Impala and bring the Commodore sized Zeta in wagon and sedan trim back to the states with the 3.0L DI as the base engine (for fuel economy) with the optional 3.6L DI from the Camaro as the middle motor and the LS3 or LS9 as the top of the line option.  That would be some Impala.

  • avatar

    Just how long has the 3800 matched with 4 speed auto been around? I hear from everybody and their brother that it is the best V6 (presumably meaning one of the more reliable) engine/transmission combos around. I know my dad had a 3800 in his 1978 Buick Skyhawk and loved it. I have the same in the GP and it’s been fun (I’m still not comfortable in my abilities with a manuel yet and don’t feel like frying a clutch with clumsy shifts) for an auto.

    • 0 avatar

      Depends what you consider to be a 3800.
      IIRC, GM stared using the 231ci V6 in 1973 and it went out of production in 2008.
      However, the 1988 “LN3” version represented a major redesign of the motor, as did the 1995 “L36” Series II.
      Really, there were four or five distinct eras for the Buick 3.8L.

    • 0 avatar

      I just figured all 3800s were the same (with some revisions). I currently have the 3800 Series III in the Pontiac. My brother and mom had 3800 Series II engines in their Oldsmobiles (at different times). I had a 3800 (presumably Series I) in my 1991 LeSabre and my parents had the aforementioned 3800 in their 1978 Skyhawk.

    • 0 avatar

      Alas, the 3800 is no longer with us but every time I drove one of the more recent incarnations, I absolutely loved it. Talk about worshiping at Altar of Torque, these things could zing up mountains without even shifting out of O/D. Note I loved the motor and transmission. The rest of the car was always awful, cheap materials, awful fit and finish, vintage GM of the era…..
      The 3.9 is not much different. My buddy in Saskatchewan has a 3.9 Impala and it suits the conditions he drives in perfectly.

    • 0 avatar

      I rented a Bonneville with that drivetrain in 1993 and drove it all over California.  Great motor, too bad it’s gone.

    • 0 avatar

      I like the 3900 alright, but I don’t see why GM bothered with it when they already had the 3800.
      The Series III 3800 actually beats the 3900 for power/torque up until about 2000 RPM, then the two engines are about equal until 4300 RPM, which is when the 3800 runs out of breath while the 3900 still has some life left.  Still, thinking about the vehicle application, how often will these motors see 4500+RPM? Meanwhile, the 3500 is weaker than the 3800 pretty much across the board.
      Same thing happened in the past. Why create the 3400 and 3100 when GM already had the 3800 and 3300?
      I think the current Impala should have had the 3800 standard and then optionally offered the “LY7” DOHC 3.6L.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      Because there’s no replacement for displacement!  I’m just kidding.  I always wished that given the small differences between them on fuel economy that Chevy would have just equipped all Impalas with the bigger V6, like they did with LeSabares and Park Aves.

    • 0 avatar

      There just wasn’t much point in making both the 3800 and the 3.5/3.9. Besides, the 3800, with its iron heads, was quite a bit heavier and being a 90′ V-6, in need a balance shaft so it cost more to make.

    • 0 avatar


      Your comment about “no replacement for displacement” comment reminds me of an episode of Top Gear where they were comparing 3 different cars (I can’t remember off-hand which cars were being compared), two of which were V8s and one was a V12 (I think) and Jeremy said the V12 was the best car there because “more is better.” He said this even after they had gone through the list of problems with the car.

    • 0 avatar

      Actually, if memory serves the 3.8L traces it’s roots back to the 215 CID aluminum V-8 of the early ’60s (the same design sold to Rover, which they used for years) that they “lopped” 2 cylinders off of. It went through a variety of displacements, was sold to Kaiser for a while and used in Jeeps as the  “Dauntless” V-6. GM bought it back from then-owner AMC in the height of the fuel crunch and refined it from there, adding things like a split-pin crank to cure the old odd-fire design. I like this engine almost as much I like the old AMC 4.0L inline 6.  

  • avatar

    I wonder why people spending over $25K would go for the either of the Chevrolets when the Lucerne, Lacrosse, and Regal exist.

    • 0 avatar

      Honestly, I don’t know anyone my approx age (54) who would even think of Buick. Our parents who still drive? Sure, but not us. My friend’s 80 year old father just bought a Buick of some kind, haven’t seen it yet. The local Buick dealer is a shark, so I would avoid them just for that alone. The next closest one is about 20 miles away, too far IMO.
      I have a couple friends who drive Impalas, and they are both ex fullsized SUV or pickup owners. I have an ’08 Charger R/T, a replacement for my ’03 Ram 1500. I drove a bunch of vehicles back in 07, and the lack of shoulder room took many of them off my list of possible new cars. I’m built like a Gorilla, and have huge shoulders and I really hate having something touching my shoulder when I drive, and I was surprised how many cars were just too tight. I don’t remember what it was, but one car’s door touched my shoulder, and my head was so close to the headliner that my (very thin) hair rubbed on it with the seat as low as it went, and it annoyed me greatly. One car’s seat was too close to the steering wheel, and the door had something that rubbed on my knee to the point I had to hold my leg in a unnatural position to keep my knee off the door. Space is a really big deal for me, along with a comfortable seat. I traded my 99 Grand Cherokee for two reasons, one being the steering wheel was too far to the right (and crooked too), and the main reason, the seat killed my back. I got what I wanted in the first place, a GMC Sierra 1500 4X4. When it was wrecked, I went to the ’03 Ram, I just liked it better. Knee injuries forced me to get rid of it and go to a lower vehicle. The 7 MPG milage difference between the Ram and my Charger was a definite bonus too.
      If I would have been buying six months later then when I bought my Charger, I would have probably bought a Pontiac G8 with the V8, and if it would have been a year later, I would have bought a Challenger, but in Dec ’07, I had to buy then, so the Charger was an easy choice. 33K miles later, I’m very happy with it. Zero problems, good power, and it’s very comfortable. The Impala being FWD put it out of the running. I will never buy another FWD vehicle again. AWD yes, but not FWD.

    • 0 avatar

      See I must be an old soul for 43 because I think Buicks look pretty decent. I don’t find them to be too hideously overstyled. My parent bought an Accord, however, so I don’t get to inherit a Buick, I have to go hang my head in shame and buy one, bummer.

  • avatar

    My 09 LTZ has the 3.9 with the  4 speed auto. Its not lacking in power. With the 18″ wheels and the 235/50 Goodyears, its certainly no sports car,but I don’t find handling an issue.

     We drive fast here in Canada, and I never feel intimidated. The big Chevy will hold its own on the 400 series highways. I drove a tired old Sunfire across the top of Toronto last week, Certainly not something for the faint of heart.

    • 0 avatar

      I still have warm memories of the Impala from a week of 85 mile one-way commuting in the Arizona desert.  Turns were nearly nonexistent, but it was comfortable and stable on a ride where I hit 100 mph at some point every time.

  • avatar

    The Malibu is too small for child seats (don’t even think about rear-facing child seats). And try to fit a double stroller through the mail slot trunk opening.

  • avatar

    Jack, I completely agree with you on the styling of the Impala.  The last generation was much better looking.  Granted, I am a bit biased as I have an 05 LS, but I like the car.  It wasn’t a car I purchased as it was my grandmothers and then I received it after she passed away, but I am not complaining.  Even as a car enthusiast, having that much space is a wonderful thing, whether for moving across several states or hauling lots of friends around.  But it’s just a comfortable car.

    And the 3800 V6 is a great engine.  I’m just afraid for the head gasket issue with 62,000 miles on it…

  • avatar
    Acc azda atch

    HEY JACK..
    Apples to ORANGES!
    Go check out the LTZ interior for the Malibu and or its gone cousin.. the Saturn AURA XR.

    • 0 avatar

      A simple, clean appearance will hide a multitude of ills. GM went crazy with cutlines in the Malibu. That means more panel joins to line up incorrectly (I’ve yet to see a single Malibu with door panels that match the lines on the dash.) Those ill-fitted sections are also more likely to begin squeaking over time.

      Add that to the shoddy plastics used throughout, and the Malibu — fancy two-tone dash or no — is outclassed by its geriatric rival. The Impala’s interior is simply classier than the Malibu’s, if less inspired.

  • avatar

    The Impala will off-road much better than the Malibu.  Not great, but better.

  • avatar

    I still can’t believe how small that trunk opening is…same for the cobalt, same for the camaro. Old gm car use to have huge trunk, this is really strange. Did GM decided that people didn’t need a useful trunk? Worse thing is, they don’t even offer a hatch or a wagon for those who would need more utility so they drive those potential buyer in the arms of other manufacturer. A familly intendend sedan NEEDS fonctionnality! And were is that manual transmission for those who would want it? My last car was a saturn LS base with manual everything bought new and if it would have been an automatic only, i would have bought something else. I really loved driving that thing, just big enough in every way but still handled very good and was priced cheap enough that cross shopping it to an accord was crazy! (At least here in Québec where honda dealership think very highly of themselves)

    • 0 avatar

      Perhaps GM started making trunk volumes and openings smaller and smaller to nudge people who needed usable cargo capacity into the higher profit margin body-on-frame SUVs.  Consider the need to carry a few 4’x8′ sheets of plywood sometimes, and a family of 7 at other times.  It used to be that you could do that with a Caprice wagon.  Now you’ll need a Tahoe/Suburban.

  • avatar

    A co-worker of mine bought an Impala program car for 11,000$ with a 200$ monthly note.  He is 6’4″ and fits well in the car and it gets 30mpg on the highway.  He is very pleased.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      Big, inexpensive family sedan that has decent fuel economy, is comfortable to drive long distances, and has a decently torque-y engine for the displacement.  That’s what GM made it’s money on from at least the 1940s until, well… now.

  • avatar

    I maintain the Malibu has the ugliest grille in the industry.  An otherwise competent and attractive looking sedan with a truck grille.

    • 0 avatar

      The Malibu is the ugliest car in it’s class. That rear end is horrid.

      As far as how the 2 fleet specials (Malibu and Impy) duke it out on sales I believe it’s been the same mantra “more metal for the money” which is why the Impy was constantly selling out it’s rental cousin. They can be had for the same price if not cheaper for the Impala as it’s outdated in the powertrain dept. and 20 year old W-body platform make it a bargain over the newer 6-speed, Epsilon based counterpart.

      When you rent a car, there is an upcharge for moving to the midsize to the full size class so rental companies were making more money with Impalas in the fleet than the Malibu.

      Now that the Impala is older than dirt and ready for replacement and the Malibu is close in size, they’ve made the switch. Who knows, maybe GM is charging less for the Malibu now that’s it’s no longer a new design.

      Also, I read somewhere that GM has slowed Impala production to make room for the Buick Lacrosse, thus leaving the Malibu to serve as the top fleet special.

      2nd year in a row! Go Rentabu!

  • avatar

    GM incompetence is the why.

    First off, I have to start this off by pointing out the 2000-2010 WImpala is inferior in almost every way to the B-body Impala it was intended to succeed. Now thats out of the way….

    Why the Malibu can’t overtake the Wimpala in sales is because GM can’t seem to find the answer to the question no one asked…..”How many FWD V6 sedans do you want?”

    And GM with a prime opportunity to buck this with offering the soon to be imported AU Caprice for police as a new flagship RWD Impala for retail will instead choose to continue the WImpala as another FWD sedan because GM clearly does not have enough of those.

    2010 WImpala: $15,995
    2010 Malibu: $19,995

    That is why the Malibu cannot ovetake consistently the WImpala in overall sales.

    And the fact the Malibu rear looks like an old Acura.

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