Since its debut back when the Beatles were singing about holding hands, the Chevrolet Malibu has gone through several iterations. The initial lineup consisted of rear-drive midsizers that included coupes, sedans, wagons and the legendary, high-horsepower SS-badged muscle car. After a downsizing in the late 1970s and a quiet death in the early ’80s, the Malibu was reincarnated as a smaller, anonymous, front-wheel-drive favorite of rental fleets.
A fresh redesign, however, has brought the Chevy Malibu back into good graces and it’s well deserving of some “Love Me Do.” It now boasts a level of refinement and overall competence that puts it head and shoulders above its past generations and on par with other top midsize family sedans. Traits such as a comfortable and quiet ride, a roomy cabin, satisfying performance, handsome styling and value pricing make Chevrolet’s latest Malibu a strong choice.
Current Chevrolet Malibu
With its crisp, tailored lines, the current Chevrolet Malibu looks more like a luxury sedan than a fleet car. And along with the upscale styling is a similarly handsome cabin in terms of materials and build quality. Two-tone interior schemes, even on base models, further the effect.
The Malibu comes in four trims: base LS, midlevel 1LT and 2LT and luxury LTZ. Even the LS comes with full power features, air-conditioning, satellite radio, side curtain airbags, traction control and OnStar. The LT versions upgrade with stability control, alloy wheels and (on the 2LT) heated seats and more power features. Highlights of the LTZ include foglamps, 18-inch alloys, leather seating and an upgraded audio system.
The front-wheel-drive Malibu offers competitive power with a choice of a 169-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine or a 252-hp 3.6-liter V6. All Malibus come with a six-speed automatic except the four-cylinder base LS, which comes with a four-speed automatic.
Our staff has been impressed with the Chevrolet Malibu. Priced considerably less than a comparably equipped Accord or Camry, the Malibu’s combination of handsome looks, a spacious and well-finished cabin, competent performance and a quiet ride finally gives Chevy a serious player in this tough segment. Subpar rear seat space and hit-or-miss interior construction are notable drawbacks.
Used Chevrolet Malibu Models
The present-generation Malibu debuted for 2008. Initially, the four-speed automatic was standard with the four-cylinder, and the top-of-the LTZ could be had with the V6. Also, stability control that first year was not available on the base LS trim, though it became standard for all trims the following year. For 2009, the four-cylinder became standard across the board and the six-speed auto became standard on all but the LS and 1LT. The latter got the six-speed for 2010.
The previous version of the Chevy Malibu was offered from 2004-’08. As there was that one-year overlap, Chevrolet distinguished the two different Malibus by calling the retiring version the “Malibu Classic.” In addition to a sedan body style, the outgoing Malibu was also offered in a longer-wheelbase hatchback version called the Malibu Maxx. Compared to earlier Malibus, this one came with more powerful engine choices, a roomier layout and state-of-the-art safety features like available side curtain airbags and adjustable pedals. We noted balanced, predictable ride and handling characteristics, plenty of passenger and cargo space, ample safety and convenience features and an innovative new remote start feature for preliminary warm-up/cool-down.
Base LS and midlevel LT models made up the bulk of the Malibu’s production. The lack of style and performance was addressed in 2006 when the lineup was beefed up with the leather-trimmed LTZ and high-performance SS. For power, that generation offered a 2.2-liter four-cylinder rated at 144 hp (LS and LT models), a 217-hp 3.5-liter V6 (standard on the LTZ and optional on LT) and a top-dog 3.9-liter V6 with 240 ponies for the SS. All were hooked up to a proven four-speed automatic transmission, and the SS featured a manual-shift mode. We’d suggest choosing one of the V6 engines, which provided an agreeable combination of performance and fuel economy. In reviews, we commented favorably about the car’s smooth ride quality, fuel economy, roomy interior and top safety scores. Noted downsides included a lackluster interior design and subpar braking and handling.
Previous to this, there was the Chevrolet Malibu from 1997-2003. Following its introduction, this midsize Malibu went upscale with optional leather trim and a sunroof in 1998. In 2000, the front styling was modified to be more Impala-like and the 3.1-liter V6 was improved with more power. Minor detail changes like exterior/interior trim revisions, automatic headlamp control, new audio systems with a CD player and new colors carried the Malibu through its next few years. In general, late-model, low-mileage examples in excellent condition should serve as useful second cars or for commuting duty.