If you bought a Chevrolet Malibu prior to 2008 you most likely did it for practical reasons rather than emotional ones. It is highly unlikely that the Malibu from that era would evoke any kind of emotion beyond a certain sense of security because you knew what you were getting: value, reliability and of course it was a sensible decision. Nowadays the Malibu is still a sensible decision, it just isn't as boring. In 2008 the Malibu was totally re-designed to be much more visually appealing, as well as a host of technical improvements. It was so good at the time in fact that it was awarded North American car of the year. But that was 2008, the question a car buyer asks in 2012 is; how does it stack up now?
On the inside the Malibu is appealing to look at. The dash has a nice flow to it that leads down to the centre console. The materials are soft to the touch and appear well put together. The manual heating and ventilation controls along with the generic GM stereo unit look a little dated but are functional and easy to use. The switch gear on the doors could also use an update. Seats are comfortable and look great when equipped with the leather and suede option. Head and leg room is good for taller people and everything can be adjusted for all most any size of driver. The back seats have adequate leg room but not class leading. For safety the Malibu has thorax and head curtain airbags as well as the standard ones in the steering wheel and dash in front of the passenger. Overall the interior of the Malibu is nice, but not the best on the market.
On the road the Malibu has a nice ride that you would expect from a more expensive car. This is thanks in part to the fact that the Malibu has one of the longest wheel bases in its class at 112". This allows the car to take the bumps very smoothly. You will also be struck by how quiet the interior is. GM has laminated the windshield and front side windows to reduce noise coming from the outside. The car feels solid over most bumps not rattling like many GM sedans that came before it.
Most Malibu's are being bought with the 2.4L 4 cylinder engine with 169 horsepower because of fuel prices. The engine is good enough when hooked up to the 6-speed automatic. Originally the 4 cylinder came hooked to a truly awful 4-speed automatic that was bad on fuel and worse at acceleration. Whether in the city or on the highway the 4 cylinder/6-speed combination gets good fuel economy. The optional 3.6L V6 engine with 252 horsepower is considerably quicker than the 4 cylinder is. It is actually quite fun to drive. The V6 however is a little too thirsty on fuel to appeal to the commuters that typically purchase midsize cars. V6 sales in this segment have dipped to low that they seem to getting phased out. The Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima have ditched the V6 option from their model line ups, instead opting for a 2.0L turbo 4 cylinder engine. GM has its own turbo 2.0L 4 cylinder that should find its way into the next generation of Malibu.
Steering is lazy and unresponsive, but then again this isn't marketed as a sport sedan. Handling is reasonably good with little body roll. When pushed hard in the corners the conservative Malibu feels reluctant but doesn't make you feel like it's about to lose control. Buyers looking for a sporty drive will want to consider the Buick Regal or Honda Accord.
Exterior styling is nice enough and looks like a more expensive car when you glance at it. There are many choices for wheels. Any buyer with a modicum of taste will want to do their best to avoid the tacky "chrome clad" wheel option. Simply put this is a plastic chrome finish pressed over a standard alloy wheel. The result is a wheel with a lip that hangs the better part of an inch over the edge of the rim. Not only does it look bad but it is prone to getting scraped on curbs.