2008 Chevrolet Malibu LTZ
2008 Chevrolet Malibu LTZ. Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by Laurance Yap

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2008 Chevrolet Malibu

Toronto, Ontario – Driving down to Detroit for the auto show is usually pretty monotonous. It’s a straight shot down the 401 for me, about 380 km worth of flat, boring landscape punctuated by numerous stops for coffee and bathroom breaks (typically in that order) just to keep myself awake.

Picking a decent car helps. Normally, I’ve just gone for something fast, but my ever-increasing old-man attitude toward speed, along with the prospect of losing a borrowed car and having to walk home if I’m in too much of a rush meant I went looking for something more comfortable this year – something comfortable and American – because hey, it’s the Detroit auto show. Having just spent a week in a Cadillac CTS, I decided to go for something a bit more mainstream and a lot more important: Chevy’s all-new Malibu, completely redesigned for 2008.

2008 Chevrolet Malibu LTZ
2008 Chevrolet Malibu LTZ. Click image to enlarge

You don’t need to be a car expert to tell that this is a very different car from the one it replaces. While still conservatively styled, it’s much sleeker than its blocky, truck-grilled predecessor, with strong character lines and a low, swooping greenhouse. Its stance is a lot different: the big wheels are pushed out wide, while the pointy nose has an aggressive look to it. Chevrolet has disguised the Malibu’s high-set hood (there to meet pedestrian-impact standards) better than Honda and Toyota, whose Accord and Camry both look like they need nose jobs.

To now mention the new Malibu in the same breath as Accord and Camry indicates just how much better it is. While the old Malibu was small, rough and unrefined (not to mention a bit cheap-feeling inside) compared to its established Japanese competitors, the new Malibu has the size, quality and most importantly, attitude to compete on all fronts. It’s more stylish than either and it gives up nothing in terms of performance, available features or technology. As such, it’s priced accordingly; while the old Malibu often cost thousands less, the top-of-the-line Malibu LTZ stickers right up there with a leather-lined Accord EX-L V6. Such is Chevy’s confidence.

2008 Chevrolet Malibu LTZ
2008 Chevrolet Malibu LTZ. Click image to enlarge

That confidence isn’t poorly placed. For instance, the powertrain fitted to my tester, a 252-horsepower 3.6-litre V6 coupled to an eerily-smooth six-speed automatic – can only be described as world-class. It’s buttery-smooth from idle right to redline, is vibration-free and muted even under hard acceleration and delivers its power in a seamless, refined rush. Whether you’re trickling around town, trying to pass a couple of cars on a two-lane or cruising down to Detroit on the 401, the Malibu always seems to be in the right gear, the power always seems to be right there and there’s never any jerkiness or hesitation. You just point it, push the pedal and go.

While the Malibu may not be as fun to drive as, say, a Honda Accord, which has lighter, more direct steering and more responsive brakes, its vault-like structure, well-tuned suspension and refined tuning give it the feel of a car that’s much more expensive than one that starts around $25,000 and tops out, with my V6 LTZ, at just over $35,000 fully-loaded. There’s a real teutonic feel to the suspension: it feels supple, with an impressively long travel, but is damped firmly enough that rough surfaces never upset the car’s composure; there’s never any secondary jiggling or wobbling after the initial impact. The result is a car that, with its accurate but isolated steering and firm brake pedal, seems made for long-distance touring, gobbling away the miles with ease, the conditions outside never intruding on the serenity within.

2008 Chevrolet Malibu LTZ
2008 Chevrolet Malibu LTZ
2008 Chevrolet Malibu LTZ. Click image to enlarge

A lot has been written about how nice the Malibu’s interior is – and what a huge step it is ahead of the previous-generation car. For the most part, it’s all true. Particularly on more expensive models, with the two-tone leather treatment, the twin curves of the dashboard, the convincing fake-wood trim and the subtle chrome highlights all make a very upscale impression. Some of the details, however, could have been sweated over a bit more. For instance, the instruments are beautiful to look at (with faux-carbon centres and neon-like backlighting) but are tough to read; the dash-top storage bin is lined with rubber to quell vibrations but its hard plastic cover doesn’t fit very well; and the seat heater switches are buried out of sight down on the outside corners of the seat bases.

2008 Chevrolet Malibu LTZ
2008 Chevrolet Malibu LTZ. Click image to enlarge

Such minor glitches pale in comparison, however, to the plus points. This is a very comfortable car. I did the trip to Detroit for the auto show in one sitting, which is something I don’t often do, particularly when I’m trying to obey the speed limit. But the seats are excellent, nicely shaped with a firm base and a plush layer of foam on top, while the level of wind and road noise is kept impressively low. I also really liked the stereo system, which combined an AM/FM radio with six-disc CD changer and XM satellite radio; it also had an auxiliary input jack located conveniently on the front panel. Sound quality is crisp and clear; more importantly, radio reception on both AM and FM bands was excellent, something which is getting increasingly rare in mainstream cars.

2008 Chevrolet Malibu LTZ
2008 Chevrolet Malibu LTZ. Click image to enlarge

There are numerous other practical and thoughtful attributes. The large trunk, for instance, hinges open on hydraulic struts that don’t impinge on cargo space. The map pockets in the doors are moulded to accept coffee cups at their leading edge. There’s a conventional 110-watt power outlet in the back of the centre console along with the traditional cigarette-lighter plug up front. All the switches are brightly backlit at night. A remote starter lets you warm the car up a bit on cold winter mornings; it also turns on the seat heaters if the temperature is set to high.

Indeed, the word “thoughtful” is probably the best way to describe the new Malibu. It’s clear, whether you’re packing it before a trip, driving it around town, or enjoying a long freeway haul, that Chevrolet really did its homework with this car. It has the performance and features to compete strongly with any other family sedan, but it’s the sum total of all those little touches that make it special. All that, plus its attractive styling and competitive price, make for – finally – a really strong entrant from GM in one of the most competitive segments in Canada.

Pricing: 2008 Chevrolet Malibu LTZ


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