2011 Chevrolet Malibu LT: Third Life’s the Charm
By Mike Blake, Carlisle Events
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
From its beginnings as a mid-range trim in the Chevelle line in 1964, to its promotion as the car that replaced Chevelle in 1978, the Chevrolet Malibu has seen success in many guises. Malibu has appeared as a vinyl-topped two-tone sedan, station wagon, and coupe, while arguably gaining its most everlasting following as a muscle car. The down-sized marque ceased production after the 1983 model year when it was replaced by the front-wheel drive Chevrolet Celebrity.
Malibu was brought back in 1997 as a new front-wheel drive vehicle, built on an extended wheelbase version of the GM N platform it shared with the Buick Skylark, Oldsmobile Achieva, Oldsmobile Alero and Pontiac Grand Prix. After a six-year run, it was re-introduced in 2004 as the Chevrolet Classic, built on the Epsilon platform for a two-year stint, during which time it was restricted to rental car companies and fleet orders.
Since its re-introduction as an all-new model for the 2008 model year, the 6th-generation Malibu has been an industry award winner and a favorite among journalists as well as the buying public. Since its rebirth, its third life in the Chevrolet line, Malibu has doubled Chevrolet’s share of the competitive mid-size car market, and sales on the 2010 model have risen more than 30 percent to date, compared with 2009 sales – sales are not yet in on the 2011.
The 2011 Malibu, manufactured in Kansas City, Kansas, is available in three trim levels: LS, LT, and LTZ and all models have a standard 2.4-liter E85-compatible four-cylinder engine as base equipment. The LS includes a four-speed automatic transmission and the LT and LTZ include a six-speed automatic transmission. Optional on the LT and LTZ is a 252-hp, 3.6-liter V-6, matched with a six-speed automatic.
The re-designed family mid-size sedan has rounded Euro-lines, fit and finish reminding us of more upscale vehicles and increased power, performance and fuel efficiency.
With an aggressive, muscular, yet refined stance, Malibu offers a presence of substance. A visually lower, yet longer, greenhouse and a shorter deck suggest motion, agility and attitude. The body sides are clean and elegant with Corvette cues in the rear.
My review vehicle was in LT trim, measuring out at 191.8 inches long, 70.3 inches wide and 57.1 inches high on a 112.3-inch wheelbase. The test ride was drenched in Red Jewel Tintcoat paint, and was embellished with bright accent front fascia, body-color rocker moldings with bright inserts, 17-inch wheels with bright chrome trim and power-adjustable body-color mirrors.
My test Malibu’s power and performance came from a 2.4-liter I-4 DOHC VVT cast-aluminum engine putting out 169hp and 160 lbs-ft of torque, mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission. It was enough brawn to push the 3421-lb. vehicle from zero to 60mph in a slow-but-steady 9.1 seconds en route to a 16.9-second quarter-mile trip.
Acceleration was smooth in all gears with little kick, and handling was good for its niche. Virtually no yaw or body roll was noticed during tight, quick turns and the rack-and-pinion electric power steering feel has improved over the previous generation and was true during cornering. The 4-wheel independent suspension adequately smoothed out road irregularities and Stabilitrak stability control, electric power steering assist and tight wheel-to-body relationship all helped create a secure, confident driving experience.
EPA-rated at 22/33 on unleaded regular fuel, a week of mixed-use tests came in at 24.9mpg. We didn’t encounter any E-85 fill-up locations during the examination and were unable to test for performance and fuel efficiency under those circumstances.
Inside, the Malibu cabin is roomy and upscale, with seating for 5, measuring 39.4 inches of front headroom and 37.2 in row two; legroom measures 42.2 and 37.6 and shoulder room comes in at 55.9 and 53.9.
Interior amenities include driver power lumbar, single zone manual air conditioning, AM/FM stereo with CD player and MP3 playback, seek-and-scan, digital clock, auto-tone control, Radio Data System, automatic volume, TheftLock, auxiliary input jack and cross-band presets, XM Radio, cruise control, rear-window defogger, power door locks, driver information center, two auxiliary power outlets, remote keyless entry, adjustable seats with power driver lumbar control and tilt/telescopic steering column with steering wheel mounted controls.
The Malibu comes with such standard safety features as seat-mounted thorax airbags, side-curtain airbags, dual-stage frontal, and head curtain side-impact air bags, Passenger Sensing System, LATCH system for children, On-Star, Stolen Vehicle Assistance, theft deterrent alarm system, tire pressure monitor, trunk emergency handle, tire sealant and inflator kit and anti-lock brakes.
With an MSRP of $22,715 discounted $3000 at local dealerships, and destination charges of $750 the base car is stickered at $20,435. My test vehicle was upgraded with the Interface Package ($250) -- includes AM/FM stereo with USB port and CD player and rear power center, the Power Convenience Package ($525) -- Includes driver 6-way power seat adjuster, remote vehicle starter system and Bluetooth for phone (for select phones), Power Sunroof ($850), Rear spoiler ($385), 2-way advanced remote start ($405) for a drive-off of $22,725 plus tax and license.
In its third cycle as a Chevrolet line member, Malibu looks poised for a long run.
> Visit www.CarlisleEvents.com for more on the automotive hobby.
Mike Blake, former editor of KIT CAR magazine, joined Carlisle Events as senior automotive journalist in 2004. He's been a "car guy" since the 1960s and has been writing professionally for about 30 years.
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