2009 Chevrolet Malibu LT: Mid-size changes over the decades
By Mike Blake, Carlisle Events
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
The Chevrolet Malibu story began in the 1960s. Named after a trendy beach colony in Southern California – I surfed there during my teen-age years, and several surf movies were filmed there – Malibu was a mid-sized subseries of Chevelle from 1964-1978. Some Malibu SS models galloped out 350 horses and were full-fledged muscle cars – the Chevy SS (Super Sport) era began in 1961 with its Impala 409, and Malibu followed Impala, Nova and Chevelle with an SS version in 1964; Camaro SS hit the scene in 1967 with Monte Carlo SS 454 emerging in 1970.
By 1978, Malibu lost its power and became a more formal car, though some extra brawn was added to police fleet Malibus in the late ’70s. Losing its zest and its share of the market, Malibu left the GM line in 1983, but was reintroduced in 1997. Following a redesign in 2008, the seventh generation of Malibu has become a refined, economical mid-size that sits on the same long-wheelbase Epsilon platform that it shares with the Pontiac G6, Saturn Aura and Opel Signum.
Assembled in Kansas City, with 80 percent of its parts coming from the United States and Canada, the all-American sedan with European styling boldly proclaims its heritage with a criss-cross grille and large golden Chevy Bowtie emblem in its center.
Malibu’s architecture is clean and self-assured, with wheels pushed to the corners, and a perceptually lower stance than earlier generations. The rear profile borrows faintly from Corvette and the front fog lamps and clear-lens LED-lit taillamps as well as the grillework are the current face of Chevrolet.
My Dark Gray Metallic press fleet Malibu’s exterior was also enhanced by Firestone FR710 touring tires, power outside mirrors and a chrome exhaust tip.
Selling well for GM, changes in the ’09 Malibu are slight from the 2008 model with a number of previously optional items becoming standard. Among those are a fuel-saving 2.4-liter/6-speed automatic powertrain combination, StabiliTrak electronic stability control with brake assist and traction control, Bluetooth connectivity available with the new OnStar 8.0 system and 17-inch fascia spoke wheels with golden Bowtie insignia in the center. All of the above are now standard on LS and 1LT models, and four new exterior colors are available: Silver Ice Metallic; Summit White Metallic; Gold Mist Metallic and Silver Moss Metallic
Powered by a 2.4-liter dual overhead cam MFI (Multi-port Fuel Injection) engine, coupled with a 6-speed automatic transmission, the Malibu trots out 169 horses and 160 lbs.-ft. of torque. Weighing in at a sturdy and confident 3436 lbs. the 2.4 moved the Malibu from zero to 60mph in 9.7 seconds, with a quarter-mile taking 17.4 seconds during my tests, as the ‘Bu hits its stride at higher speed. The body remains straight and true through most maneuvers and steering is light, but responsive. Cornering is solid and consistent, and the cabin is relatively quiet, while the vehicle’s 4-wheel independent suspension sufficiently takes the bumps out of post-winter potholes.
The Malibu is EPA rated at 22 mpg in city driving and 33 mpg on the interstate, and a week of testing in and round Pennsylvania and Maryland achieved an average of 28.0 mpg for my test ride.
From a safety perspective Chevrolet did its work well with Malibu, which was awarded a perfect five-star rating by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in frontal and side crash tests for driver, passenger, front seats and rear. Malibu also received four stars out of five in rollover tests.
Standard safety elements include dual frontal air bags with a passenger sensing system, head curtain side air bags, front/outboard rear air bags, side impact air bags, anti-lock brake system, 4-wheel disc brakes Stabilitrak stability control with traction control, rear child seat LATCH system and one year of Onstar with turn-by-turn navigation.
The cabin is roomy and comfortable, but poor rear vision hampers the driving experience. Cosmetically, the Titanium interior offers flashes of Corvette with its dual-cowl dash design, but while interior equipment is upgraded, the 1LT trim level still employed some material that appeared to be on the economy side rather than of the upscale variety.
Interior attributes incorporate manual lumbar adjustment in the driver seat, air conditioning, power door locks, power windows, power trunk release, AM/FM stereo CD player, XM Satellite Radio with the first three months service included, driver information system, rear window defogger, tilt and telescope steering wheel with cruise control and remote keyless entry.
Malibu’s hushed interior ride can be credited to the body construction which uses noise-reducing materials such as liquid spray-on sound deadener, laminated steel and composite wheel liners. Laminated “quiet glass” also contributes to a quiet environment.
Malibu is base priced at an aggressive $21,645, and my test ride, outfitted with such options as power 6-way driver seat and remote start ($445), 6-speed automatic transmission with tapshift manual shit control ($695) and destination charges of $650 brought the price as tested bottom line to $23,435.
Malibu might not be the muscle car it was in the ’60s, but it is a solid mid-size choice for ’09.
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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