That's right, you read the title correctly. Best of Brand? The Malibu line doesn't meet the criteria to live up to Camry mileage and reliability, but this Chevy deserves an award for a variety of reasons, and tops all of the GM line in innovation and economy. Since I first drove this car as a VERY welcomed replacement to the fleet-only Chevy Classic (previous generation Malibu), it was evident that this car was designed and implemented very differently.
What makes the Malibu a stand-out is its ability to use a variety of features together as an efficient vehicle, but still simple to operate. Electric power steering, push-button gear selector when in Drive, tilting and telescoping wheel, plenty of torque and mid-RPM power, and better-than-expected fuel economy add up to a nice surprise. Cargo capacity is expanded as the back seats fold flat, as does the front passenger seat. If the Malibu Maxx is selected, a longer wheelbase and a wagon-like hatchback offers rear seats that move on tracks like typical front seats to offer more space for hauling, or additional legroom (which is good in either model). Optional On-Star and XM Radio are built-into the top-tier 2LT and SS trim levels in the sedan.
The fuel economy in both the 4-cylinder and V6 consistently get better than the EPA estimates in all categories. With the torque of the V6, the vehicle feels faster than 0-60 and other published track times suggest. Controls are easy to reach and the typical sedan layout makes blind-spots minimal. The bottom line is that any new Malibu I drive, I can count on better-than-average fuel economy in a variety of speeds and conditions.
On the flip-side, the drive isn't exciting, and expected reliability isn't up to Asian makes. The transmission downshifts to 1st very oddly in Neutral, or to N from 1st (even when engine-off coasting). For example, coasting down a hill from third gear, pop it in Neutral, and coast to a stop at a traffic light. From 2nd to 1st, engine off or on, there's a hard thump and vibration, like the clutch isn't fully engaged. Just a guess, but maybe the clutch is reduced because shifting from R to D when the car is still moving is much like driving a manual -- it's an odd fault in the transmission.
The Malibu is the first of many vehicle to be built on this platform around the world. In North America, expect to see the Pontiac G6 as a badge-sharing vehicle (but of significantly less build quality and design). US Automakers and GM itself needs to take notes as to how this car was designed, and to take it as an excellent example of what folks are looking for. It's an inexpensive, domestic sedan that makes no compromises and gets tremendous fuel economy. If I'm buying the gas and taking a long trip with a rental, the Malibu is at the top of the list to choose for comfort, ease of use, and great FE every time.
Choose the 4-cylinder for less torque, better in-town FE, and a lighter foot. The V6 is the most popular and has neck snapping mid-range kick and excellent high-speed Interstate economy. All this, and it's made in my hometown of Kansas City at the Fairfax Assembly Plant. I'm usually hard on GM, but this car has earned my trust on many levels. In addition, many safety features are standard such as: excellent crash-test ratings, ABS with brakeforce distribution, front/rear head airbags, traction control, and many others.
+ Fuel Economy
+ Overall Comfort and ease of use
+ Functionality and Cargo Hauling
- Average Styling in-and-out
- Funky Transmission
- Expected Reliability
2006 Chevrolet Malibu
Trim Level: 2LT V6
EPA Vehicle Class: Midsize Car
Engine: Pushrod 3.5L V-6 rated at 217 hp / 217 ft-lb torque
Transmission: 4-Speed Automatic with torque converter and "Manumatic" shift button
EPA Mileage Estimates (City/Highway/Combined Cycle): 22/32/26
Avg. Speed: 62 MPH
Time = 9.2 hours
Miles = 578
Weather Conditions over 2-days: Fair. Temp range 60-90F
Driving Style: Average
Location Test: Tulsa Metro to Kansas City and Metro Areas
MPG = 31.8