By on March 4, 2015

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I was not exactly charmed by the current-generation Malibu when I reviewed it last summer. Its Kamm-tailed predecessor had enough virtue to face the Japanese-brand midsizers squarely on their own turf and come away with at least a respectable, stylish showing, but the current car is a retrograde step in everything from its regrettably truckish styling to its lowered-expectations driving dynamics.

Turns out that I’m not the only person, or corporation, if that’s not the same thing in 2015 anyway, who feels that way. If you’re renting at certain airports, you’ll have the chance to enjoy the Malibu at the same kind of deep discount it currently requires in order to slip the surly bonds of drab GM dealerships. I asked a rental-industry insider why that might be so.

My friend was guarded in his response to my question, which was, basically, “Why is a Camry considered so much more valuable than a Malibu as a rental car?”

“Well,” he responded, “As traditionally utilitarian cars become nicer, they are given new classes. The 200C is classed differently than the Cruze which is considered a midsize car. If you book a midsize, chances are you’ll get a Cruze but a 200C is an upsell.” Fair enough, but that doesn’t explain why there’s a specific category for “full-sized cars” that also happen to be Malibus, and that category happens to be much cheaper than regular “full-sized” cars like a Camry.

“It’s all done internally for depreciation reasons,” was his response, but when I pressed him I found out that the rental car companies are a lot more sensitive to the market’s desires than you might think. Consider, if you will, the new-generation Impala. Once upon a time, all Impalas were considered the same kind of upgrade, whether you got a leather-and-buckets LTZ or a fleet special with a bench seat and no insignia on the tail. I’ve paid about the same for both, with no warning as to what I’d get when I booked.

Nowadays, however, the Impala LTZ lives in a different category from the LS and LT. Although even the mid-grade model impressed our own Bark M. when it arrived in the fleets, if you want the Zen Impala, so to speak, you’ll pay more.

But that doesn’t answer the question of why a car that is priced heads-up against Camry and Accord finds itself heavily discounted as a one-night-stand. Maybe it’s the channel-stuffing to fleets that New GM swore off with all the conviction of David Crosby waving his hand at a proffered bottle of liquor. If the rental companies pay less, I suppose they might consider passing the savings along to me, the rental customer.

Alternately, perhaps they’re tired of people like me who view the current Malibu as the all-time rental booby prize and will therefore raise hell not to spend a weekend behind the wheel of one. With this new pricing strategy, we have a chance to put our money with our mouth is, so to speak. And who would want to put their mouth on a Malibu?

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67 Comments on “What’s Wrong With This Picture: But Some Are More Equal Than Others Edition...”


  • avatar

    Dodge Charger with v6 and 8*speed please!
    Charge me extra…

    • 0 avatar
      Marone

      Ummm, what does that have to do with the topic?

      Anyone can upgrade. Am I missing something?

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        His responses apply to the topic at hand 50% of the time, and to Chrysler products 100% of the time.

        • 0 avatar
          319583076

          Sounds like Dead Weight if you swap Cadillac for Chrysler, separated at birth?

          • 0 avatar
            DeadWeight

            Speaking of Cadillac, more and more “journalists” at the glossy magazines are now conceding that the ride quality of the ATS is way too harsh, in any trim (i.e. even with MRC), motors far too unrefined, and passenger space way roo tight, for any vehicle that should wear the Cadillac badge.

            But they’ve only admitted this after years ago initially pronouncing that the ATS would be zeee BMW/Audi/Mercedes slayer, and after Cadillac has had to pile $14,000 to $17,500 (rumor has it as much as $20,000) on the hoods of ATSs & CTSs (with the CTS nearly as un-Cadillac worthy as the ATS), to try and tempt people to actually buy these lumps of overpriced sh!t.

            http://www.carscoops.com/2015/02/cadillac-has-hard-time-selling-ats-and.html

            This vindicates my position all along that:

            1) All three motors in both SUCK

            2) These ride like sh!t (there’s a non-refined, harsh, non-premium ride with no reward – very un-Cadillac and far less comfortable than 3 Series BMW, Mercedes C Class or Audi A4)

            3) Their back seat room and trunk space blows

            4) Their gauge cluster sucks

            5) Their build quality & reliability sucks

            6) They are overpriced

            7) They have hideous exteriors

          • 0 avatar
            caltemus

            BTSR is DeadWeight without the ability to make a rational point.

          • 0 avatar

            When did the “hideous exterior” get added to your copy/paste diatribe? I thought most people agreed that exterior was quite attractive and nicely proportioned.

          • 0 avatar
            DeadWeight

            Art & Science theme is looking dated already.

            The headlamps of both the ATS & CTS look Nimoy-ish, both have plain/flat sides, and the CTS has a badonkadonk.

          • 0 avatar

            We’ll agree to disagree on this, DW. Recent Cadillac’s have had spot-on proportioning (the CTS looks decent with 17s…try putting 17s on any Audi/BMW these days) and I always find the look eye-catching and unique. Even the XTS, as thrown together as it is, looks far better in person than it ought to given its heritage. Their looks are their strongest attribute, to me.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            @EChid

            “Recent Cadillac’s have had spot-on proportioning (the CTS looks decent with 17s…try putting 17s on any Audi/BMW these days)”

            So essentially by your logic the “best looking” ugly fat chick is acceptable?

    • 0 avatar

      Weak. I was given a free upgrade to a Chrysler 300C AWD last week at Avis.

    • 0 avatar

      Last time I had a rental, I purposely switched out of a base ’12 Charger SXT for a ’13 Impala LTZ because I couldn’t stand how the Charger drove.

  • avatar
    energetik9

    I travel often and always try to rent new cars, to include any segment I can. I even rented a Corvette on a recent trip. I avoid the Malibu like the plague. Nothing about this car excites me in any way. Even with the restyle the have managed to produce an incredibly boring looking car. Even the Camry of all things has some new visual dynamic to it.

  • avatar
    Mike N.

    Might be because the Malibu has quite possibly the worst auto-start-stop system in the world.

  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    When I travel, I invariably arrive at my destination in late afternoon. My midsize usually turns into a free upgrade to a full size car that’s bigger than I need. I’ve refused a number of higher cost upgrades when the vehicle I reserved wasn’t available but the alternative in the same class was unacceptable, and been given the upgrade at the same cost. I suspect a refusal to take the Malibu that’s available results in an upgrade at higher cost for people who don’t like to haggle at the airport counter after a long flight.

  • avatar

    I think this is just a matter of the rental car companies discovering they can charge a few dollars more to rent a desirable car.

    And the Malibu is not the all-time rental booby prize. That honor belongs to the 2012 Mitsubishi Galant I rented last fall at SFO.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    I have seen this model Malibu with peanut butter leather and contrasting dark piping! Which trim is that? It looked nice from a pass-by. I suspect all hope falls apart when you get into it?

    • 0 avatar
      zaxxon25

      Cocoa/Cashmere interior … I have it on my 2014. I love it, definitely has a luxury-class feel to it. Though I think they should have stayed away from the fake wood on the console and power window controls, one too many elements at work there.

  • avatar
    eManual

    I’ve rented the 2013 Honda Accord and the 2014 Chevy Malibu for 18 hour (one shot) trips. With the Honda, the NVH was just enough to feel like I was on a canoe trip. My body was still rocking as I went to bed. The Malibu was just as comfortable as my Chevy Impala after 18 hours. The Accord was not out of alignment, it (and others I’ve been in) just naturally has more NVH.

    With that said, I liked the Honda Accord better than Malibu and would rather own it, except the Honda didn’t have a 60/40 rear seat fold. The Malibu sun visors were too small and it needed a backup camera (which it didn’t have) to park.

  • avatar
    Maymar

    I’ve only experienced the current ‘Bu moving it around dealer lots, but by all means for my sake, it seems like a completely inoffensive vehicle, something that I could drive for two days, and remember nothing about it years later. It helps that I’m proportioned like a human dachshund, so its relatively tight interior isn’t a bit deal.

    Thankfully they should be pretty much phased out of rental fleets now, but I would raise about seven kinds of hell if anyone tried to stick me with a Dodge Avenger ever again. The four-cylinder is both gutless and sucks gas (I averaged about 22mpg, even with a fair amount of highway driving), the seats are shaped oddly, and for a car often driven by people who have no idea where they are, visibility is horrendous. On the other hand, I’ve lucked into a Volvo S60, which made for a pleasant weekend.

  • avatar
    typ901

    Yep- Thanks Hertz, I just had this 3 weeks ago in Ft. Myers, FL

    $48 a day for a Malibu

    or $60 a day for an Altima.

    I chose the Malibu, and didn’t really care for it, that and it had 50k on the odometer, which is a long life for a rental car. Whatever happened to the 25k rule then sell?

    • 0 avatar
      kvndoom

      I thought all rentals got dumped off to Carmax at 36k.

    • 0 avatar
      Mike N.

      I’ve also rented a (base model) Altima. I wouldn’t pay extra for one.

      Really, the only thing that I found super-terrible about the Malibu is the auto-start stop. Otherwise it was just a generic midsize car.

      The Altima was otherwise equally forgettable but it had a complete dealbreaker for me. The Altima I rented had the skinniest, slipperiest steering wheel I ever experienced, my hands cramped just holding onto it after about an hour or two, because you had to clamp down pretty hard to maintain grip and control of the wheel. It go so bad that on a 1000 mile road trip I had to stop by a drugstore and buy some bandages to wrap around the steering wheel for more grip.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      There are lots of 50-60K rental cars in the fleets now. Typically when they make a purchase the mfg will agree to purchase a certain percentage of them after a year or so with a cap on mileage for them to sell to dealers as program cars. The rest of that purchase will then stick around for a long time with the better ones going on their lot and the worst of the worst going to Carmax.

  • avatar
    Hummer

    The Malibu start-stop is embarrasing, I was at a stop light with my window down last fall and as the light turned green I heard something struggle to crank, couldn’t figure out what it was. At the next light a Malibu was beside me, as the light turned green I noticed it was the vehicle in question, it was embarrasing.
    It cranked like a 1980s TBI that had been sitting for 3-4 months. It spun fine but both times it stumbled before firing.

    Stop-start truly screams cheap.

    Why do they list these as large, they’re anything but.

    • 0 avatar
      bball40dtw

      “Why do they list these as large, they’re anything but”

      Because rental car company. I’m surprised that a Toyota Corrola isn’t full-size to them.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m driving an E400 Hybrid as a demo now. Same stupid start/stop.

    • 0 avatar
      DeadWeight

      Start/Stop is on the top 5 list of most idiotic automotive features of this decade.

      It most likely yields a fuel economy savings of less than 1/3 mpg in real world driving at the expense of a lot of long-term wear & tear on the starter, alternator & battery, as well as adding yet another complex mechanism with a myriad of things that can go wrong with it, throwing codes left and right.

      • 0 avatar

        I suppose it’s designed to let automakers meet certain MPG thresholds—which is why several cars will let you deactivate start/stop, but will then reactivate it the next time the car is used. But I don’t like it, for all the reasons you’ve mentioned, and then some.

      • 0 avatar
        redav

        In heavy city traffic, they can (and do) provide an improvement of 5% to 10%. For more open driving, they do nothing.

    • 0 avatar
      deanst

      I was next to a monster Mercedes SUV the other day – a AMG bi-turbo V8, that had stop-start “technology”. Just how many ounces of gas could you possibly save and does mercedes really think anyone driving this thing cares about saving a few bucks on gas? I was more embarrassed for the guy than impressed as his vehicle repeatedly cycled on and off as he inched along in traffic.

  • avatar
    Mandalorian

    It amuses me how picky some people are about their rental cars. I’d take the Malibu in this one no question, it’s not like I’m buying the car.

    As long as it’s big enough for me and my cargo and doesn’t smell bad, it’s good enough.

    • 0 avatar
      InterstateNomad

      I agree with you. Since we aren’t buying the car, it’s the state (smell and cleanliness) of the car that is the deal breaker, not the brand itself.

  • avatar
    CJinSD

    Maybe people that reserve fullsized cars from rental companies often intend to carry passengers, something that a Camry is much more suited to than a Malibu. The Chevy is only big on the outside.

  • avatar
    Davekaybsc

    By far the worst rental I’ve had to date was a current gen Toyota Prius, which is a miserable, hateful car. The Malibu rental I had was definitely better than that, but not by all that much. Generally uncomfortable, cramped, near zero visibility thanks to idiot bunker styling, and man does that pale green lighting look OLD.

    Compared to that, the previous gen Chrysler 200 ne Sebring I had was a revelation. Yes, the hated, worst in class previous generation Chrysler 200 is still way better than the latest and greatest Malibu. Way to go GM.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    “As traditionally utilitarian cars become nicer, they are given new classes. The 200C is classed differently than the Cruze which is considered a midsize car. If you book a midsize, chances are you’ll get a Cruze but a 200C is an upsell.”

    The Cruze is intended to be a Corolla-Civic rival; the Malibu and 200C are supposed to compete with the Camry and Accord. I would expect the 200C to be in a size class above the Cruze and the 200C to be priced in the next class up.

    “Fair enough, but that doesn’t explain why there’s a specific category for “full-sized cars” that also happen to be Malibus, and that category happens to be much cheaper than regular “full-sized” cars like a Camry.

    This has long been the case. The import midsizes are often upgraded by one class, presumably because those cars offer less repurchase support from the OEMs at the back end.

  • avatar

    The 2013-present Malibu is a perfectly decent car on its own. The back seat isn’t even that cramped anymore. But I think this is a case of that “journalistic wobble” you mentioned, in that—since the 200 has been redesigned and the Avenger discontinued—the Malibu is now the least-competitive entry in the mid-sized sedan class and the current fleet queen. But that baseline is a lot higher than it was even a few years ago. I had one as a rental car a couple of years ago. It wasn’t bad. Unremarkable, but not bad. And that’s really all I need out of a typical rental experience…

    (Side note: one car that I *do* mind getting on long drives is the Altima because of its pencil-thin steering wheel and the particular cocktail of chemical smells that newer units exude. But even it is not a bad car).

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      Kyree, maybe the Malibu’s competition is more formidable, and by that I mean the Camry, Accord, Altima, Sonata and Legacy.

      From personal experience, there is no better peace of mind than Hyundai’s 10yr-100K warranty. And what was even better is that my grand daughter never had a breakdown in her 2011 Hyundai product.

      If GM believes that their Malibu is really that great, let them put a 10yr-100K warranty on it. I bet that would jack up sales in a NY minute.

      • 0 avatar
        hubcap

        I wonder how V.W. would fare in they put a 4/48 or even a 5/60 warranty on their vehicles? They could even go a bit daft and offer free maintenance for the life of the bumper to bumper coverage.

        • 0 avatar
          highdesertcat

          hubcap, I believe VW would go broke trying to keep their offerings running.

          In my area, many GIs who bring back a VW product from their military tours in Europe, usually trade them in for something less prone to needing attention, especially since the nearest VW dealer is 120 miles South of here and does not give out loaners, even if you have bought something from them.

          • 0 avatar
            hubcap

            I think V.W.’s loaner policy is dealer dependent. We have an Acura MDX. If we decide to use dealer service we take it to the local Honda store.

            They usually have CR-V’s as loaners. That’s how I know neither I or my wife would want one.

            As a bonus they’re they’re much less expensive than Acura. We recently had the timing belt/water pump replaced. Saved 500 dollars by going to the Honda dealer.

            I really like VeeDubs. We’ve always had at least one in the driveway growing up (Bug, Rabbit, Dasher) along with another vehicle (usually domestic).

            I’ve had a few as an adult and will most likely be buying a GTI or Golf R. I like the brand and want to see them do well.

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            hubcap, my experience with VW products while in Europe during the 1970s with the US Military was generally good.

            I was able to pick up and resell quite a number of used VWs, like Beetles, Squarebacks, and owned a used Scirocco for about one year.

            And the American GIs loved to buy them, use them during their tour and the resell them. If they sold to me, they could drive it until their last day there and I even let them drive it to Rhein-Main AB where they departed to return to the states.

            So I liked VWs; my definition of a true Volks Wagen or People’s Car. Parts were cheap and plentiful. I did my own labor. Mostly a breeze.

            And when I came back to the states I actually did buy a brand new VW Quantum and a little later an Audi 4000, essentially the same car.

            But my experiences with VWs designed for use in the US were not as robust as those VWs used in Germany. I have noticed that other GIs went through that same transition, like I did.

            IMO, the VW products for use in the US, today, may be much better than they have ever been, but IMO they still can’t hold a candle to similar products from Toyota, Honda, Hyundai and even lowly Nissan.

            You know, it’s Caveat Emptor. When I was young and poor and needed dependable transportation, I didn’t mind tooling and wrenching on my cars to keep them running.

            Now I’m too old for all that parts R&R (remove and replace). And many of the GIs bringing back a VW product seem to trade them off for Toyota, Honda, Hyundai and even Nissan products.

            Quite a number of traded VW stuff on the used car lots in my area. Don’t know what ultimately happens to them, the ones traded, since there aren’t many VW products on our roads or parked in driveways where I live. Problem is…. no VW dealer nearby.

      • 0 avatar

        Oh, I absolutely agree. The Malibu is, as I said, uncompetitive. However, it’s not a *bad* car. And we considered a 2013 Malibu around the time they first came out, but instead went with a 2012 Sonata Limited w/nav. And yes, the 100K-mile warranty is great.

        We also have a 2014 Volkswagen (with an extended warranty, naturally).

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    Newsflash- stop/start sucks on every vehicle I have driven including a Sonata hybrid, a Bimmer something or other( letter and number names are meaningless)and of course a Malibu. The Malibu actually seemed better than those cars but was far from perfect. The BMW was a joke. Stuttering, stammering and hesitating was a good description of that setup.

    And for the record I wouldn’t pay any extra for an Altima, Camry or Accord over any Malibu. The Altima stinks inside of toxic chemicals, is noisier and that damned CVT with said noisy engine revving constantly drives me crazy. The Accord is hard riding and noisy but has a nice engine tied to an okay CVT that is better than the Altima and the Camry’s are just plain cheaply constructed turds who’s only redeeming feature is better than average rear legroom. The Malibu rides quieter and better, steers better, it’s bluetooth works better and the interior is far more appealing to my traditional eyes than the Camry’s all black or gray blah!

    Looking at the used car market sees all but the Accord prices exactly the same in a neighborhood used car lot. 2013 Camry LE’s, 2013 Malibu LT’s and Altima S’s are all priced at around 13995 with 23-30K miles so obviously the rental lots pricing discrepancy does not translate over to the real world.

  • avatar
    Yuppie

    Maybe the lower pricing reflects the GM ignition switch fiasco, which has not been recalled / addressed in most rental vehicles? I always avoid the GM products and usually end up in a Mazda6, or a stripper Jetta / Passat in the midsize category.

  • avatar
    cRacK hEaD aLLeY

    Anyone driven a Malibu with the 3LT package?

    • 0 avatar
      zaxxon25

      No stop/start on the 3LT or 2LZ, though I doubt you’ll find either as a rental. All the LTZ’s that I’ve seen as rentals are 1LZ with the 2.5 and stop/start.

  • avatar
    r129

    I’m surprised that they’re creating an entirely new class of rental vehicle rather than just bumping the Malibu down into the “Standard” category. Previously, “Standard” was populated with not-quite-midsize vehicles like the Ford Contour, Pontiac Grand Am, and most recently, the Dodge Avenger and previous Chrysler 200. I’m not sure what they’re filling that class with now, considering that all of the compact cars fall into the “Intermediate” class. The Impala Limited is still around, and is generally considered “Full-size” along with the Camry, Altima and Sonata. The new Impala is usually ordered with more options and has been bumped up into “Premium” territory.

    • 0 avatar
      dtremit

      “Standard” (SCAR) was historically a *two* door, full-size car, though that fell apart a while ago. For years you would get something like a Monte Carlo or a Thunderbird.

      Realistically, it’s a grab bag; things seem to get stuck there when the model lineup leaves the rental company no choice. E.g., National’s example “SCAR” right now is a Chrysler 200. The smaller Dart is an ICAR, and the Charger is an FCAR, and they can’t pretend that the 200 is the same size as either. Ergo, it’s a SCAR.

      Oddly, when the new Fusion came out, National stuck it in SCAR, even though it is larger than the Malibu, and the Malibu is an FCAR. They seem to have figured that out since.

      (Also, I rent too many cars.)

  • avatar
    thetallguy

    I am 6’5″ tall w/ a 38″ inseam. I don’t understand the excitement about renting cars. If I can drive the car without getting a cramp/charley horse from twisting my knee between the console and steering wheel, I am happy. BTW, I drive an ’05 Park Avenue and would like to hear about what other tall folks drive. I am talking about cars, not trucks.

    • 0 avatar
      FamousX

      Same here (I’m 6’7″ with 36″ inseam). I rented the 200 and Avenger 2 years ago which had lots of headroom but the legroom/room under the steering wheel was below average at best. Luckily I didn’t have a long drive. Our family has a 2003 Suburban and a 2014 E-Class.

  • avatar
    dtremit

    This is Hertz-specific, isn’t new, and I think your insider is mistaken — at least in this particular case.

    The “F6” class used to be associated with the Hertz “Green Collection,” and you were guaranteed a *4cyl* Camry — back when most of the full-size cars were V6 models. The “Green Collection” is now all hybrid, but they seem to have the car class left over.

    Over at National, by contrast, the Malibu and Camry are both categorized as FCAR, regardless of trim level or powertrain, and the new Impala ends up as a PCAR (premium). The Impala Limited is still a FCAR.

  • avatar
    markholli

    A suggestion–and forgive me if this is a tired request: why not move to a comment platform that allows for upvoting, rather than first comment posted first. That way the conversation doesn’t invariably and immediately become hijacked by our friend BigTruckReviewSeries and his compatriot Deadweight.

  • avatar
    baconpope

    To answer the question of the higher rental price, the “F6” indication means that the Camry/Altima are meant as $4/day upgrades over “F” Malibu models. Counter Sales Reps are trained to query customers to find means of upselling. In the case of the Camry, the larger trunk would have a value for a travelling family. Salesman are targeted for the Altima’s larger gas tank and longer range. Interestingly, upgrades are more likely to purchase additional services (insurance) from which rental car companies make a good deal of their profits. As to the advertised pricing, Hertz obviously over-purchased Camrys and Altimas which will be frequently substituted for Malibus at the counter negating the possible upsale at the time of rental.

  • avatar
    spw

    since Camry does not look pretty either or drives well, i would guess that people value its reliability and that will pay more for it than for Chevy…. quite possibly Malibu is cheaper to the fleets than Camry, so thats reflected in the final pricing as well.

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