By on December 7, 2007

test-drive-472×200.jpgWho'd a thunk that USA Today would plant an IED under the juggernaut that's the new Chevrolet Malibu? Reviewer James R. Healey sets 'em up. He praises the sedan's styling, hushitude, roomy interior (huh?), price, "mildly satisfying" driving dynamics and acceleration. Healey knocks 'em down. "Impressions were colored, however, by some glitches… The V-6 model was tainted by a light howl from under the hood, a vibration in the steering wheel at idle and low speed, and violent shifts by the automatic transmission in some low-gear situations… The hybrid delivered a scare. Its powertrain kept racing and trying to fling the car forward after hard acceleration followed by firm braking. It finally required a full-on panic stop — anti-lock brakes kicking in, car nose-diving — to overcome the wildly revving engine and obey a red light." Healey also slates Chevy's supposed Camry killer for its reluctant and clunky six-speed autobox and the 'Bu's limited visibility. Although the summation attempts to ameliorate the assault– "On paper, Malibu seems superior to the lionized Camry. In practice, judging by the test cars' foibles, maybe not quite"– the damage has been done. 

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39 Comments on “USA Today: Chevy Malibu Plagued by “Glitches”...”


  • avatar
    NICKNICK

    a howl under the hood is a good thing.
    steering wheels vibrate when the engine is on–get over it.
    as for the car trying to fling you forward after the goofing off–make sure your hands aren’t anywhere near the cruise control switches. i thought my VW was the next Audi 5000 until i realized that my “unintended and sudden acceleration” was only happening when i was making left turns–the cruise control switch is on the end of the stalk at the bottom. poor turn signal technique activates the cruise set speed.

    maybe the malibu’s controls are on the steering wheel right where you’re holding during your playtime panic stop…

    after my turn signal incident(s), i did start to wonder how VW won all those ergonomics awards…

  • avatar
    dwford

    Wow, an honest review. I could never understand how the Malibu was going to be the giant killer, when it’s really just a Saturn Aura under the skin – and that car got decent but not overwhelming reviews in the auto press and panned by CR.

    Meanwhile, the forgotten Ford Fusion keeps perking along with steady sales and excellent reliability. and a navigation system, and all wheel drive. and better resale value…

  • avatar
    jthorner

    I bet that by the time it has been on the market a few years GM will finally get the Malibu sorted out, just in time to kill it.

    Long Live The Spirit of Fiero!

  • avatar
    crackers

    It will be interesting to see if GM dealers can actually fix these kinds of problems. With the push for more software controls of the vehicle, we are likely to start seeing more Microsoft-style erratic behavior in our cars.

  • avatar
    starlightmica

    And this happened with specially prepared press cars, right? Pity the average consumer, then.

  • avatar
    carguy1964

    Well the Fusion really should be a good running reliable car… It’s really a Mazda just remade and rebadged as for GM, was the Opel Vector really that good of a car…Makes me wonder.after all now we have the Aura and the Malibu and with these so called glitches I’d say, I hope Holden makes a better car, otherwise the Big GM Ship is Sinking and taking on water fast!

  • avatar
    willbodine

    dwford:
    Meanwhile, the forgotten Ford Fusion keeps perking along with steady sales and excellent reliability. and a navigation system, and all wheel drive. and better resale value…

    …and center rear armrest.

  • avatar
    EJ

    I checked out the Malibu at a car show the other day.

    Though it’s far nicer than, say, a Chevy Monte Carlo, I found the interior a bit plasticky and maybe a bit too busy. It seems smaller than a Camry, maybe more like a Ford Fusion?
    As far as I can tell it’s almost identical to the Saturn Aura, the car of the year (that few bother to purchase).

    One detail I really liked: the suede fabric for the chairs in one of the premium versions.

    Do I feel an urge to switch from my 1997 Camry? No.
    (in fact, that thought strikes me with fear)

  • avatar
    dwford

    Willbodine:

    “…and center rear armrest.”

    And there’s that….

    BTW, Ford’s quality is getting so good, CR just recommended the new Taurus X despite it being a new model – based on Ford’s new history of reliability, but declined to recommend the Toyota Highlander until it’s quality is proven!!!

  • avatar

    dwford: the new Taurus X despite it being a new model Like the "new" Taurus (am updated and rechristened version of the "old" Five Hundred), the Taurus X ain't so new. It's the restyled Freestyle, reviewed here . 

  • avatar
    philbailey

    At the risk of repeating myself, ad infinitum, NEVER BUY THE FIRST YEARS PRODUCTION OF ANY NEW VEHICLE.

  • avatar
    Stephan Wilkinson

    Drove a couple of press Malibus this past Thursday. These cars do seem to vary. Car and Driver complained of torque steer, my co-driver and I didn’t notice any. Got an old-fashioned steering-pump grumble at full lock while turning around, though. Healey noted “violent shifts,” we thought the transmission was exemplary. Oh well…

  • avatar
    Skooter

    Looked at both Malibu and Camry. No comparison. Believe it or not, Malibu is superior!

  • avatar
    umterp85

    RF- You had none of these issues with your Malibu test—did you ?

    I test drove the V6 and had none of the issues Healey talks to—had some mild torque steer and thats about it.

    With all the relatively positive test drives I have seen reported..including Dan Neil of the LA Times—I am a little confused by Healey’s experience. Ya woulda thunk GM would have vetted his vehicles a little more closely for a reviewer who has the reach like Healey.

    Overall, I consider healey one of the most well balanced reviewers out there—I think he does hold some sway.

    On a related note Robert can you publish some of his reviews that have been positive about domestics ?

  • avatar
    Johnster

    dwford: I could never understand how the Malibu was going to be the giant killer, when it’s really just a Saturn Aura under the skin.

    Beneath the sheet metal of the Malibu lies the spirit of the Citation.

    Meanwhile, the forgotten Ford Fusion keeps perking along with steady sales and excellent reliability. and a navigation system, and all wheel drive. and better resale value…

    While I was not overly impressed with the Fusion when it came out, it’s starting to look better and better. I sure hope that the 3.5 liter V-6 turns out to be a decent engine and that they get it in the Fusion soon.

  • avatar

    umterp85 :

    RF- You had none of these issues with your Malibu test—did you ?

    As I wrote under Mr. Karesh’s review…

    5. Gearbox. Definitely this car’s weak spot. The six didn’t respond to throttle inputs quickly, the paddles are useless and I even managed to make it CLUNK once (unintentionally I swear).

    RF

  • avatar
    Blunozer

    I don’t think these issues are enough to kill the car…

    It’s gonna be GM’s response that will make or break this thing. If they blow it off, its worth a deathwatch article at least. If they take it seriously, and fix it not only for future ‘bus, but current ones, a la’Toyota, they might be on to something.

  • avatar
    peoplewatching04

    I’d be curious to see where the new Malibus are selling. GM has strongholds in certain parts of the country, and I wonder if their buyers have so far been repeat GM or Domestic buyers as opposed to previous Camry or Accord drivers. The question as to whether or not it’s decent takes a backseat to the question of whether or not people will actually buy the thing and aren’t turned off by Chevy dealers.

  • avatar
    umterp85

    RF: Fair enough. I agree the paddles are useless—next time I test drive it—I’ll see if I can replicate the CLUNK.

    Blunozer: I agree—it is how GM responds that is important. Let hope GM matches the “car you can’t ignore” to “problems that aren’t ignored”.

  • avatar

    carguy1964 :
    December 7th, 2007 at 10:53 pm

    Well the Fusion really should be a good running reliable car… It’s really a Mazda just remade and rebadged as for GM

    Obviously you have not checked the initial quality and long term ( 3 year) survey results for Mazda or for that matter many other imports (Hyundai, Kia, Benz). The juxtaposition of the Ford, Lincoln, Mercury brands shows them to be much better and more reliable than Mazda ever was.( or Nissan, or VW or Benz, or Audi). In fact at the JD power site you can see that poor picked on Mercury beats all the Aisians except Lexus in the latest 3 year reliability survey…..the survey that counts!

  • avatar
    jkross22

    I’m surprised by the amount of attention the initial quality surveys garner. People whine about cars being dirty at delivery and that counts as a ding on the car, rather than on the particular dealer (a friend of mine working for Nissan shared that detail with me)

    For me, a 3 year reliability measurement isn’t enough. I want to see 5 year surveys, especially since lease returns come in at year 3, and the 2nd owner can better rate reliability from 36,000 – 60,000 miles. If we see transmission/water pump/interior trim/etc. failures, we know the car’s likely to be a lemon.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    I’m surprised by the amount of attention the initial quality surveys garner.

    JD Power claims that IQS and long-term reliability correlate. They’re probably partially correct — I seriously doubt that a car with poor initial quality is likely to go the distance. But in contrast, I’ve seen plenty of examples of vehicles with good initial quality that don’t endure well over time.

    For me, a 3 year reliability measurement isn’t enough.

    JD Power’s paying customers are the automakers. The three-year mark matters to them, because their warranties tend to run for 3-4 years. You can get longer-term survey results from Consumer Reports.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    If the discussion of the Malibu means anything, it’s that any supposed “media bias” you’ll find favors domestic cars.

    Let’s be honest — if the Malibu was identical to what it is, except that it was called a Mitsubishi Galant, it would not generate anywhere near the hype and hopefulness that it garners as a Chevy. From what I’ve seen of the Malibu, it appears utterly mundane and would not have caught my attention if I wasn’t a car guy and hadn’t been told how obliged I am to pay attention to it. I hope that we don’t confuse the average with the exceptional.

  • avatar
    taxman100

    Front wheel drive cars transmit noise and vibration to the steering wheel, especially when they get old. Automakers have learned to market this engineering weakness as “road feeL”.

    JD Power just released their survey for three year old cars – 2004 model year vehicles. Go to their website and check it out if interested.

  • avatar

    The new (V6) Camry is plagued with transmission problems/complaints/recalls, and its a shame GM is primed for the same problems. I sampled the Toyota transmission in the Lexus ES and came away with similar complaints as Healey in the ‘Bu.

    Is this the same transmissions in two different cars?

    And one more question remains: did Mr. Healey lose press car perks and NAIAS credentials?

  • avatar
    umterp85

    Sajeev—Healey won’t lose his perks—he throws GM and Ford a few bones here and there (eg. GMC Acadia, Buick Lucerne & Lincoln MKZ) to keep them off of his back :)

  • avatar
    Jason

    The Camry SE V6 is boring but fast and handles well (gulp!) but is still boring. But the sin is that it doesn’t work, hence the recalls. The Accord’s V6 engine I’ve heard has a lurching tendacy too, and is not linear to redline like the Camry (when it works). Strangely, the coupe is sweet though. And now the General’s V6 is retarded dud too. With Toyota especially on its engineering knees, this is the best shot at GM to take advantage of the situation, not building a better car, but convincing Camry (and some Accord) guys and gals that the bowtie has reformed its ways and is superior value. In 5 years, I predict Toyota will get a handle on all its reliability issues (a worldwide crisis), and maybe if “The Committee to Create Interesting Cars” produces anything “interesting” like a new Supra, AE-86 or something, the big T will maybe (big maybe) start rebuilding relationships with pistonheads. If that day ever comes, and GM hasn’t yet capitalized on Toyota’s situation now, they will never recover.

  • avatar
    jthorner

    ” … the big T will maybe (big maybe) start rebuilding relationships with pistonheads … ”

    Which will not matter to Toyota as a business. The era of I-want-a-faster-car pistonheads having a dominating influence in the car selling business is drawing to a close.

  • avatar
    Stephan Wilkinson

    That’s certainly absolutely true, that pistonheads are increasingly irrelevant, but they never did have “a dominating influence” in any case, at least in car-buying terms. When I was at Car and Driver in the ’70s, the reason that manufacturers advertised in the magazine was not that they wanted to sell our readers cars (particularly since they knew a huge number of them were 15-year-olds far more concerned Clearasil and Chevy) but that _other_ people whgo weren’t readers asked our car-buying advice.

    We’ve all had the experience that the boss, or the rich guy down the street who never otherwise talks to us, or somebody else we never otherwise hear from, calls once a year to ask car-buying advice. (Hell, it just happened to be this morning.) We’re “the car guy” who must know which car to buy, so they turn to us. And the manufacturers used to turn to us as “influencers.”

    But it’s been a long time since they seriously built cars to be bought by enthusiasts in the mass market. And don’t tell me about Vipers and Corvettes and R8s and the like. These are halo cars, not rational products.

  • avatar
    Hank

    And this happened with specially prepared press cars, right? Pity the average consumer, then.

    Or maybe you mean “treated like a rental bound for hell press car?” You know they don’t figure out the performance numbers and handling limits by babying them. But you may well be right. Maybe he got a fresh one, and if so, that’s not good for Chevy.

  • avatar
    Stephan Wilkinson

    Understand that there are testers who indeed do probe performance and handling limits for instrumented testing–those are the long-lead magazines–but what somebody like Jim Healey or I am driving is a short-lead ride-‘n-drive car. Yes, if it’s a Porsche Turbo even the short-lead cars get abused, but something like a Malibu is driven by testers who are not probing its G limits but trying to use it as a consumer would. The average rental car is far more abused than is a short-lead test car, the latter being driven by people who have a certain affinity for cars and don’t enjoy abusing them.

  • avatar
    ra_pro

    It seems that many people who visit this board seem to be under the impression that GM Europe aka Opel produces vastly better cars than GM NA and that if GM NA could only bring these wonder machines to America all would be well with GM again. Well, I was on vacation in the summer in Europe and I heard repeatedly the characterization of Opel that sounded a lot like what we know about GM over here; Opels are not well designed, not well built, have poor used car reputation and consequently very poor resale value. People largely buy Opels for their price. I think therefore that any hope that Opel can somehow lead GM NA to the promised land are wholly misplaced although it probably can improve GMs offering somewhat but certainly not enough to rescue it.

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    “Let’s be honest — if the Malibu was identical to what it is, except that it was called a Mitsubishi Galant, it would not generate anywhere near the hype and hopefulness that it garners as a Chevy. From what I’ve seen of the Malibu, it appears utterly mundane and would not have caught my attention if I wasn’t a car guy and hadn’t been told how obliged I am to pay attention to it. I hope that we don’t confuse the average with the exceptional.”

    True, but most of us are not jurnos and don’t need to refrain from rooting for the home team to win (or at least not embarass themselves)

    The exceptional thing here is that Toyohondissan have set the new average, and GM actually made something on par. It’s as if the design team went out and rented a Camcord so they actually knew what their competition was like. Then they built a car that is almost as good as Accord and a bit better than a Camry.

    Of course there’s long term reliability to consider, and GM just doesn’t have a good rep in that department. I hope the tranny clunks are not a portent of serious failure.

  • avatar
    2nd opinion

    I test drove a 4 cyl. Malibu just after testing a Camry and Accord. I was absolutely blown away by the progress GM has made over the old Malibu. I think its better than the Camry too, but maybe not yet as good as the Accord.

    GMs got a fighting chance if the dealers don’t behave badly. Will current Camry and Accord owners even consider a Malibu? Some will, but most gave it up long ago.

    Oh, I think Healey’s review is an anomaly among alot of really good ones.

  • avatar

    2nd opinion: Oh, I think Healey’s review is an anomaly among alot of really good ones. I disagree. Both Mr. Karesh and I found the production Malibu's gearbox lacking. It's also a problem that's bedeviled buyers of the Saturn Aura. The really scary part is the fact that GM shares your desire to dismiss these issues as "anomalies." Impressions were colored, however, by some glitches. They are problems that no others have reported, says Malibu chief engineer Mike Meloeny. As stated above, that's simply not true.

  • avatar
    2nd opinion

    Well its then just a matter of opinion. I found the tranny in the Malibu behaved no differently than the Camry. It suited me fine for what I want. (I’m not Evel Knevel, RIP.)

  • avatar

    2nd opinion: Well its then just a matter of opinion. No, it's a matter of fact. And neither Michael nor I (nor Healey I'm sure) torture-tested the car.

  • avatar
    jthorner

    “GM Europe aka Opel produces vastly better cars than GM NA and that if GM NA could only bring these wonder machines to America all would be well with GM again.”

    The last few Opels brought to the states were a disaster. The Cadillac Catera was made in Germany and was only lightly made over from it’s Opel sedan origins. The Saturn L was basically an Opel built in Delaware. Both were sales flops.

    You have to go all the way back to the Opel GT to find a moderately successful Opel-to-the-US effort, and it was clearly a niche vehicle, not a mainline product.

  • avatar
    blue adidas

    There are a lot of very positive reviews on the Malibu, and there are some lukewarm reviews. I just think that it’s become clear that the Camry is no longer the benchmark in this category, yet there isn’t a clear top dog. Auto mags just don’t know what to make of that, and the fact that the Malibu can be mentioned in the same breath is confusing to them. Obviously all of the magazine publications don’t talk to one another and develop a consensus on how to review a car, so there will often be differing opinions. And that’s all these reviews are, “opinions.” Some of Healey’s opinions seem to be very poorly supported, bordering on bitchy. Excessive “cut lines” for christsake? Has he seen the $15 clock-radio quality green plastic on the Camry’s dash, or the cluttered orgy of buttons on the Accord’s dash?

    Personally, I like the looks of the Malibu inside and out. And from the overwhelmingly positive reviews, the Malibu is now a player in this segment. I hope Chevy doesn’t allow it to grow stale and that they make constant improvements each year based on all the information available to them on boards like these. Nav would be nice.

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