MEMPHIS - The 2008 Chevrolet Malibu is the most important car being launched in North America this year. It has the potential of reinvigorating Chevrolet in the mid-size car market. And to summarize our first driving impression of it in one word, we found the Malibu impressive.
We concentrated on the four cylinder model because this is the meat of the mid-size car market. At 169 horsepower and 160-pounds-feet of torque; the Malibu's 2.4-liter four cylinder engine had plenty of pep. It was quiet and its four-speed automatic transmission was smooth. (A six speed gearbox will join the mix later this year). Finally, there's a domestically produced four cylinder engine that runs as smoothly as a V6.
For those who want more oomph, the Malibu can be equipped with a 3.2-liter V6 that makes 252 horsepower and 251 pounds-feet of torque. It can be mated to a six-speed automatic. What's more, there is also a hybrid Malibu that has a four cylinder engine and it makes 164 horsepower and 159 pounds-feet of torque.
The Malibu is a family sedan and as such there were a couple of characteristics the suited its use well. The car had electric power steering. We sensed a little disconnect from the road but if you're driving it extensively on a daily base that disconnect equates into ease of steering and that means less stress.
Its seats were great. There was plenty of lumbar support and the side bolsters kept us solidly planted in the seat. What's more, the seats had thick cushions and backs. Our test vehicle had a cloth interior that was nicely done. The polymers were textured and pleasing to the touch. The Malibu offers several combinations of two-toned interiors. The interior also had ambient lighting.
This Malibu was a good bit bigger than the model it replaced. Its wheel base was six inches longer and the overall length of the car had been increased by three inches. This gave the 2008 Malibu a solid stable feel on the road, more head and leg room in the rear seat and ample cargo space that was expandable when the rear seat backs were folded.
We were very pleased with the Malibu's suspension. It gave the cars' ride substance. But it was relaxing to drive. After 65 miles of two-lane roads, we didn't' feel like we'd driven that far or that much. We had no road fatigue.
But before anybody will drive this car they have to want to get in it. And design is where the Malibu excels. It looks as though it costs twice as much as its $20,000 base price. It had a long hood, short deck lid and wheels at the corners. Clean side body panels give it a sleek, slender look and they made the 2008 Malibu look low and long.
The Malibu sports the new face of Chevy which is a split grille with chrome surround and a bar between the two that houses its bow tie badge.
The new Malibu has also picked up a few styling cues from the Corvette, like its sheared off rump. And it has Chevy's signature dual round tail lamps and a dual cockpit, another hallmark of the Corvette.
The car can be equipped with 16, 17 or 18-inch wheels, a 210 watt audio system, satellite radio, tire pressure monitoring system and OnStar with turn-by-turn navigation. For cold or really hot days, the Malibu has remote start. It also has rear window shades and adjustable pedals.
Prices range from $19,995 to about $28,500 for a fully loaded 2008 Malibu which is on sale now.