Avoiding the usual Auto Journo networking opportunities like the plague leaves me with the road test equivalent of everyone’s sloppy seconds. But there’s a good story behind a nearly dead model, unless we are talkin’ about the Chevy Malibu. Without the charms of a 6th gen Honda Civic or Panther Love (‘natch) this whip’s demise couldn’t come soon enough. A recent sales chart proves the point: a sad commentary for a car that was once hailed as “the car you can’t ignore” by people genuinely interested in making a CamCord fighter…so how exactly has the ‘Bu faired since then?
The Malibu doesn’t Mali-blew like a Chrysler Sebring. The Buick Lucerne/VW Phaeton-alike styling from the B-pillar back quite fetching. It’s an upscale and hunky greenhouse, marred by a fat face influenced by the (GMT-800) Chevy Silverado’s two-tier grille and a posterior hammering circular Impala lighting in a square peg posterior. Even with punchy 18” hoops, brilliant Diamond White paint and tasty chrome LTZ bits thrown into the mix, the façade’s ham-fisted details kill the mood, but it’s a significant improvement over the 6th gen Malibu. Which begs the question, is the Iraqibu the cleanest, most ideally proportioned Malibu of the past 30 years?
On to more subjective matters: the ‘Bu was but a single pre-Ch. 11 GM family sedan promising to shed the craptastic interiors of the General’s past 10-20 years, and the PR-tweaked photos certainly proved it. In reality, none of them really delivered. The Malibu LTZ’s interior is “look, but don’t touch quality.”
Sure, that chrome and wood dashboard looks suitably upscale, just don’t touch anything but the laser-perfect, microscopic panel gaps. If it’s Cocoa or Cashmere in our tester, it’s usually too brittle to be class leading. Class average is more than fair: the chintzy roll-top console storage, depressingly sparse door panels, missing rear armrest (yes, really) and outdated ICE belong in Kirk Van Houten’s “Bachelor Arms” apartment. But the trick dashtop storage door proves this ain’t no Chrysler Sebring…like, awesome.
This is a good time to mention my test drive buddy, my feminine Reality Check of sorts. Why did she come along for the ride? For a free spa trip on GM’s marketing dollar! Poking around the top drawer Malibu’s chocolate brown guts left My Reality Check feeling flat, noticing a loose thread in the Malibu’s leather (nearasdammit to rubber) seating, the utterly mangled sunroof-to-headliner molding, and the half-inch of play from said headliner when you press the (seemingly spring loaded) overhead console. I totally missed all of those faults.
Which begs the question, did she find these faults because this was not a press vehicle? On the other hand, pay no attention to those concerns: FREE SPA TRIP!
The Malibu’s interior warms up after a few miles behind the wheel. The Corvette tiller is fun to grab, albeit with the vague steering expected from a family sedan with no sporting pretensions. The same holds true for the springy bits, there’s enough body roll to warn drivers of their imminent EPIC FAIL, but understeer is constrained well enough to keep all but the most idiotic test drivers from plowing into the scenery. Put in terms of the (2011) Camry, the Malibu LTZ is halfway between the Toyota’s uber-plush LE tuning and surprisingly wonderful SE spec. No complaints, this performance is the sweet spot for any bread and butter sedan.
Our tester came with the base four-cylinder motor, an “Aluminum Duke” with a decent 169-horses pushing 3400lbs of Chevrolet sedan if you will. The powertrain works well, provided you catch the 6-speed autobox at the right moment. With the close ratios, 33MPG highway rating and a flat, torque steer free power band that’s light on 4-cyl thrash in the upper rev range, the Malibu is just completely adequate for a normal person. With that in mind, a simple request: My Kingdom for highway downshifting with haste!
In the end, the current Chevy Malibu was a wholly decent vehicle with almost nothing noteworthy. But did it make headway against the CamCord, or is it another “almost there” GM product from the Robert Farago days of TTAC? I wish there was reason for a test drive, other than to give My Reality Check a free spa trip thanks to the “Chevy Girls” viral marketing initiative.
Is twitter set afire by Chevy Girls hashtagging their royal treatment at local spas? Maybe not, but they get an “A” for reaching out to the right people with the right bait. By “bait” I mean the spa thing, not the Chevy Malibu. So what’s the last refuge of the damned?
Value pricing. Our $29,755 tester can sell for about 25-large. Then again, wouldn’t you really rather have a Buick (LaCrosse)? Even with no options and no toe-tag sales in sight, GM’s Tri-shield nets you a better vehicle for not much more money. And if you can’t play in the LaCrosse-Malibu LTZ’s price point, the base ‘Bu is no match for the surprise and delight offered by the Hyundai Sonata. Perhaps GM will give us a family sedan we simply can’t ignore…perhaps next time.
(Mr. Mehta received no compensation for this review, the Spa Gift Certificate was not mailed to his address. You’re welcome.)