Malibu wearing halo from last year’s Car of the Year title

May 30, 2009/Steve Tackett

MOTOR MATTERS KEANE ON WHEELS BY CONNIE KEANE

All-new last year — as well as the 2008 North American Car of the Year — the Chevrolet Malibu has minimal changes for the 2009 model year. But those few changes are considerably important and attractive to new buyers.
For starters, StabiliTrak with Brake Assist and Traction Control is standard equipment on all four models; the fuel-saving six-speed automatic linked to the 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine is now standard on the LTZ top-tier trim (while the V-6 becomes an option); and Bluetooth is available with GM’s new OnStar version 8.0 system.
The standard powerplant on the front-wheel drive midsize sedan is the 16-valve, 2.4-liter Ecotec four-cylinder engine with variable valve timing. Mated with a four-speed automatic the four-cylinder returns fuel efficiency of 22 miles per gallon city and 30 mpg highway. The optional six-speed automatic linked to the I-4 does better with EPA estimates of 22/33 mpg.
The base price for the 2009 Malibu starts at $20,745 for the four-cylinder LS. The Chevy Malibu is also offered in LT, LTZ and Hybrid models. My tester was the LTZ with a base price of $26,020. This price reflects the new-for-2009 four-cylinder/six-speed automatic equipment. However, as an added option on the tester, the LTZ sported the available 3.6-liter V-6 for an extra $1,595. The V-6 equipment package includes dual chrome exhaust tips and hydraulic power steering. The four-cylinder models feature electric power steering.
Malibu strikes me as being on the larger size of the midsize category. The fuel economy returns on the V-6 are more in line with full-size sedans at EPA ratings of 17 mpg city and 26 mpg highway. By design choice of Chevrolet stylists, the sedan looks big due to bold proportions and wheels that are pushed to the corners for an aggressive stance.
One of the driving characteristics that left me perplexed of the LTZ tester was its cumbersome maneuverability into parking lots.

With a curb-to-curb turning circle of 40 feet I would have expected easier times gliding the sedan into parking slips, but I felt fitful at times turning the steering wheel into a tight spot, as though I were maneuvering a heavy-duty pickup.
Because of this initial impression with the 3.6-liter V-6 I would recommend that the new car buyer sampling the Malibu drive the 2.4-liter with the electric power steering system to determine if he or she would be more comfortable and more successful in negotiating the Malibu in turns and spaces.
Chevy’s 2.4-liter four-cylinder is rated at 169 horsepower and 160 lb.-ft. of torque. The Malibu’s 3.6-liter V-6 has a horsepower rating of 252 and torque at 251 lb.-ft.
The 2009 Malibu has a four-wheel independent suspension system with a MacPherson strut in front and a multi-link in the rear. The Malibu offers a pleasant and quiet ride for those seeking refined driving in the midsize category. GM uses noise-reducing materials in the construction and body build of the Malibu.
My tester featured a really attractive and rich looking two-tone trim combination. The Cocoa and Cashmere combo on the dash and leather seating gave an ultra upscale interior look to the Malibu.
The Malibu LTZ has a pretty good sound system with XM satellite radio, premium eight-speaker, 210-watt equipment. Blue backlit instrument gauges and ambient lighting in key portals, such as the door pull pockets, overhead console, center console show considerable thought by the Malibu’s interior design team.
Send e-mail to keane@motormatters.biz

Next week: Subaru Forester
Next week 3-Pack: Infiniti FX

SPECIFICATIONS
2009 CHEVROLET MALIBU LTZ
VEHICLE TYPE_________________ 5-passenger FWD midsize sedan
BASE PRICE___________________ $26,020 (as tested: $29,610)
ENGINE TYPE__________________ 24-valve DOHC V-6 w/SFI
DISPLACEMENT_________________ 3.6-liter
HORSEPOWER (net)_____________ 252 at 6300 rpm
TORQUE (lb.-ft.)_____________ 251 at 3200 rpm
TRANSMISSION_________________ 6-speed automatic
WHEELBASE____________________ 112 in.
TRACK (front/rear)___________ 60/60 in.
OVERALL LENGTH_______________ 192 in.
OVERALL WIDTH________________ 70 in.
HEIGHT_______________________ 57 in.
TURNING CIRCLE (curb-to-curb) 40 ft.
CURB WEIGHT__________________ 3,649 lbs.
FUEL CAPACITY________________ 16 gal.
EPA MILEAGE RATING___________ 17 mpg city, 26 mpg highway

Spare Parts
M.BENZ S400 HYBRID: Mercedes-Benz will soon launch the all-new 2010 S400 Hybrid sedan. It combines environmental compatibility with superior performance: the internal combustion engine and the hybrid module develop a combined output of 295 horsepower, and a combined maximum torque of 284 lb.-ft. Its estimated combined fuel consumption is 29 mpg. “Our first series-production hybrid passenger car exemplifies the long-term, sustainability-oriented development strategy of Mercedes-Benz,” said Dr. Dieter Zetsche, chairman of Daimler AG and CEO of Mercedes-Benz Cars. (Source: Mercedes-Benz)
CRUSHING RATINGS: Roof-crush accidents in vehicular roll-overs account for 10,000 deaths a year. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has started its own roof-crush testing beginning with small SUVs. The Kia Sportage and Hyundai Tucson got “poor” ratings. The Ford Escape/Mercury Mariner/Mazda Tribute and Honda CR-V got “marginal” ratings. The Suzuki Grand Vitara, Chevrolet Equinox/Pontiac Torrent, Toyota RAV4, Nissan Rogue and Mitsubishi Outlander got “acceptable” ratings. The top performer was the Volkswagen Tiguan followed by the Subaru Forester, the Honda Element and the Jeep Patriot. All got “good” ratings. (Source: Down the Road, Motor Matters)
ASK AUTO DOCTOR: Sally asks: My 2003 Toyota Avalon was getting 25-to-28 miles per gallon last spring. Then in the summer it dropped to 19-to-22 mpg. I love the car but why is my gas consumption is out of range? Answer: Gas blends change with seasonal weather, as do driving conditions. Lazy oxygen sensors, dirty air filters and worn spark plugs also contribute to poorer gas mileage. (Source: Ask the Auto Doctor, Motor Matters)
Copyright, Motor Matters, 2009