There was a time when four-cylinder versions of midsize sedans were sluggish and underpowered, but advances in engine technology make smaller engines, and good fuel economy, appealing at a time when gasoline is expensive.
Chevrolet's Malibu is a good case in point. The top LTZ is available with the 2.4-liter engine so customers don't have to sacrifice comfort and convenience for fuel economy.
The front-wheel-drive Malibu is built alongside the Saturn Aura at GM's Fairfax plant in Kansas City, Kan. This handsomely designed sedan gives no quarter to competitors such as the Toyota Camry or Honda Accord.
The 2.4-liter engine delivers 169 horsepower and 169 pound-feet of torque, figures that are very similar to the Honda Accord's. Pair this engine with the six-speed automatic transmission and you get fuel mileage ratings of 22 miles per gallon in the city and 32 on the highway. Compared to the Malibu Hybrid, those figures are two miles per gallon less in the city and two more on the highway.
Like most contemporary four-cylinder engines, Chevy's has four valves per cylinder, dual overhead cams and variable valve timing. This engine doesn't accelerate away from a stop quite as strongly as the V-6, but for most folks this package provides a nice combination of performance and economy.
The six-speed automatic has a manual-shift function that can be operated with paddles on the steering wheel.
The Malibu, one of GM's most attractive cars, has styling that is simple, clean and elegant. The dark-blue test car was an LTZ with leather seats, 17-inch chrome wheels and premium equipment. The test car's sticker price was $26,620.
The Malibu's grille reflects the global face of Chevrolet, while the rest of the body's styling is clean and uncluttered, with elegantly simple lines and tight panel gaps.
The 112.3-inch wheelbase is 6 inches longer than the previous Malibu's, while overall length is up only 3 inches. The longer wheelbase results in a large cabin and room for five people.
The front seats were covered in a handsome combination of two-tone leather.
The Malibu looks, feels and drives solidly. The steering feels artificially heavy, but the overall ride quality is smooth and tight without being harsh. The lack of noise can be attributed to the use of spray-on sound deadener, laminated steel, composite wheel liners and laminated 'quiet glass.'
The LTZ also has buttons on the steering wheel for operating the cruise control and audio system. Sound quality is nice, and the radio has a jack for an MP3 player.
Inside, Chevrolet designers gave the interior the same attention to detail as they did the exterior with an ergonomic design that has nice texture surfaces. The instrument panel is a dual-cockpit design. Three gauges, trimmed with chrome, sit in a large pod. Blue backlighting is easy on the eyes at night, and tiny blue LEDs shine on the center console and light up the door handles at night.
A storage compartment atop the dash is good for sunglasses or maps, while the center console is deep enough to hold large items.
The LTZ test car had an interesting strip of thin woodgrain trim that ran across the doors, onto the dash and around the top of the center stack. While it didn't look like real wood, it was a handsome accent that was cleverly executed.
An available rear power center provides a household-style 110-volt AC power outlet.
The back of the split-folding rear seat is covered with a hard surface for wear protection. The opening between the trunk and cabin is not overly generous, but it is wide enough for many large objects. The trunk has a lot of space.
Side airbags and side-curtain airbags are standard, along with anti-lock brakes, traction control and tire-pressure monitoring. The brake assistance feature provides full braking power when a panic-braking event is detected.
The LT and LTZ models come with GM's electronic stability control.
The test car's base price was $25,970. A rear power outlet, rear window shade and destination charges brought the sticker price to $26,620.
Three years or 36,000 miles with a five-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty.
2008 Chevrolet Malibu LTZ
Engine: 2.4-liter, 169-hp 4-cyl.
Wheelbase: 112.3 inches
Curb weight: 3,649 lbs.
Base price: $25,970
As driven: $26,620
MPG rating: 22 city, 32 hwy.
To contact Tom Strongman, send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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