There's no question that General Motors' goal was to make the redesigned Chevrolet Malibu's styling more modern and appealing. Chevrolet has gone as far as poking fun of past Malibu styling in its commercials. One even has police officers failing to see a bank robber's getaway car that they've surrounded. (The ad shows an Oldsmobile Cutlass, which was a twin to the concurrent Malibu.)
But focusing on the Malibu's styling, or its past popularity in rental car fleets, is missing the point. The last two generations of the Malibu (introduced in 1997 and 2004, respectively) were decent, practical cars even though they lacked the refinement and performance of class-leaders like the Honda Accord or Toyota Camry. This time around, the Malibu aims higher to better compete with those family sedan juggernauts. The '08 Malibu has already won a stack of awards, being named to several Top-10 or "Best" lists by enthusiast magazines.
What do we think? We're finishing up our test of the two Malibus we bought: a LT four-cylinder and a loaded LTZ V6. Let's flip through the logbooks for an early look:
"Wow. Impressive to drive, even in the four-cylinder version."
"Best normally-aspirated Ecotec (four-cylinder engine) application out there - reasonably quiet most of the time."
"Decent enough seats, but hard to reach seat levers and manual recline sucks [on our LT]."
"Low levels of interior noise for class."
"I would be completely happy with this four-cylinder; plenty of power even for merging and passing."
"My greatest complaint is that I really liked the visibility of the squarer previous version."
"Chrome accents shine distractingly on the windshield."
"Finally a domestic four-cylinder that doesn't sound bad."
"[The LT's] handling seems a step better than the [V6] LTZ, with a lighter, more agile feel."
"Great [V6] powertrain."
"I'm disappointed with the low shoulder belt anchor, poorly placed seat heater switch, and lack of a shifter indicator in the dash. The good news: taut handling; excellent controls; nicely styled exterior and interior (rare in any car); great driving position and seat comfort; roomy rear seat; and loaded with features."
"Distinctive dashboard - definitely not a 'me-too' design."
"I like the terracotta-colored interior [in our LTZ]."
"I do not like the interior trim. The dash has a pink tone to it, whereas the other browns are more orange."
"This is a heavy hitter that competes head-on with Camry, Accord, and Altima."
"Really no reason for GM to build the G6, Aura, Impala, or LaCrosse anymore - just sell these instead."
So, while our engineers and wanna-be interior designers debate over our Malibu LTZ's "brick"-colored interior, consensus seems to be that the car is shaping up to be very competitive where it really counts. Although the Malibu came out too late for a head-to-head comparison with the redesigned 2008 Honda Accord, we'll have a full test of it in the March issue, as well as posted online soon.