The Bottom Line
When I first tested the new-for-2008 Malibu, Chevrolet had three powertrains (4-cylinder/4-speed automatic, V6/6-speed auto, and hybrid) with a fourth in the works: The 2.4 liter 4-cylinder engine coupled to the 6-speed automatic, which would supposedly boost acceleration and fuel economy over the 4-speed. My original review included only a brief spin in a pre-production 4-cyl/6-speed car, so when the production cars hit the media fleet, I rang GM for a full week-long test drive. Does the 6-speed deliver on its promises? Read on.
- 6-speed automatic lets you get the most out of the four-cylinder engine's power
- Handsome two-tone interior
- Remarkably quiet and refined
- Vague steering
- Low roofline over the back seat
- No optional navigation system
- New 4-cylinder/6-speed automatic is standard in Malibu LTZ; available on LT for 2009
- Price range: $20,550 - $29,165
- Price as tested: $26,915
- EPA fuel economy estimates: 22 MPG city/32 MPG highway/26 MPG combined
- Observed fuel economy: 22.1 MPG
Guide Review - 2008 Chevrolet Malibu LTZ follow-up test drive
As of mid-2008, the 2.4/6-speed powertrain comes standard in the top-of-the-line Malibu LTZ; for 2009 Chevy will extend its availability to the mid-line LT. Why go for the six-speed? On paper, it bumps up highway fuel economy by 2 MPG. But in real-world driving, the difference is more noticeable. The Malibu's 169 horsepower four-cylinder engine gets along well enough with the 4-speed automatic, but there are some flat spots -- situations where you give the gas pedal a little prod but the car doesn't quite hustle the way you want it to, like when you're cruising on the highway and need to quickly pick up speed to change into a faster-moving lane. The six-speed automatic fills in those gaps quite nicely. The six-speed also comes with steering-wheel-mounted paddles so you can change gears manually, though you have to move the shift lever into "M" for them to work -- a seemingly unnecessary step.
On the fuel economy side, the 6-speed Malibu's EPA estimates of 22 MPG city/32 highway are comparable to or slightly better than most of its rivals. I averaged 22 MPG, a little less than most 4-cyl mid-sizers I test, though the Malibu and I spent less time on the highway than usual.
What about the rest of the car? I loved the smooth ride and was amazed by how quiet and refined it is. I liked the two-tone cabin, though my wife Robin disagreed ("Who designed this interior? Rubbermaid?"). The Malibu's three biggest faults: Lifeless steering, lack of an optional navigation system, and the low roofline -- tall passengers have to be careful not to hit their heads when getting into the back seat. My test car cost about $1,500 less than a comparably-equipped 2009 Toyota Camry XLE, but $3k more than an equally-lavish '09 Hyundai Sonata Limited. Faults notwithstanding, I really like the Malibu -- and the new powertrain makes it even better. -- Aaron Gold