Chevy Malibu Review
The General is in a tough spot in the car part of their business. They sell a boat load of trucks, but they've essentially surrendered the car business to the imports to focus on their truck and SUV business. The result has been some incredibly mediocre cars that basically exist to fill fleets (like rental car company fleets). Major quality problems, incredibly cheap materials, weak performance and handling, and straight out ugly design has been the hallmark of the General's car line for the past decade, with very few exceptions. Oldsmobile had the nicest cars in the GM lineup, and they got axed. GM has had a history of getting things right in concept form, and then destroying them as they go to market. Bob Lutz is supposed to change all of that, and, by the looks of the Solstice, he's going to deliver. Unfortunately, enough of their product was developed before he arrived for him to really help the situation any time soon.
Enter the Malibu. A twin of the Olds Cutlass, Chevy revived an old nameplate when it introduced the first Malibu a few years back. It was a fine looking car outside, was an excellently priced car, but was corporate and cheap looking inside. The mechanics underpinning it were nothing to be proud of, and the car quickly lost its strength in the marketplace due to heavy rebating (as was the case with the Cavalier that needed a whole new name (Cobalt) to try to save it), and large volume sales to fleets. The car became a rental car, and nobody will take pride in buying a car that's considered a rental car.
So, something had to change. GM redesigned the car, moved it to a larger platform (the wonderful Epsilon platform shared by the Saab 93), and gave it sharp new styling. In my opinion, the styling just doesn't work. They essentially took the new Chevy Truck face and tried to apply it to a sedan. Looking at the total package, this isn't the only place where truck DNA has seemed to sneak in, and, in my opinion, this is not for the better.
What you've got in the new Malibu sedan is an incredibly upright car. This is part of where I feel truck themes came into play. The greenhouse does not flow well at all, either in and of itself, or with the rest of the body. I feel like I am looking at a truck that's been stretched in some areas (cabin) and pinched in others (trunk). The rear deck is essentially flat, and the rear facia is nearly a perfectly vertical plain. The front facia employs the Chevy truck now-signature swash of chrome bisecting the lights and grille. It's not ugly per se, but it certainly isn't a sleek or desirable look, either. Chevy also threw in some character lines that really look to me like the type of creasing you'd see on truck fenders.
I will give GM kudos for restricting fleet purchases of the new Malibu to try to help protect the brand. Instead, they are continuing to make the old Malibu, but have renamed it Classic (Chevy Classic). Oddly enough, though, they've left the Malibu badge on it (a blue wave with the Chevy bow tie in the middle of it). If you're not going to call the thing a Malibu, how about not putting a Malibu badge on it? To me, that's bad marketing, and was totally unnecessary. Who knows, maybe GM had to buy a million of those badges, and needed to use them up somehow.
GM didn't rest with just creating this odd looking Malibu sedan. They took the Epsilon platform, stretched it a couple of inches, and created the Malibu Maxx. Now, as a marketing guy, I have to say, the name is corny. Like the Dodge Neon Expresso, Ford Escort Trio, and a host of other silly names, Malibu Maxx is dumb. Chevy already had created a convention with the XL nomenclature in its stretched trucks, so why not use that here?
OK, name aside, the Maxx actually works. The reason, less slabs of verticality. The Maxx is, dare I say, a wagon version of the Malibu. It has a slanted D pillar, giving a nice angle to the back. This really takes out the truck look from the shape of the car. It's funny, that little change really seems to remake the entire body for me. What's even funnier is that similar attempts by much more stylish brands failed miserably. Look at the Lexus IS 300 SportCross. That thing was hideous, and was a complete disaster in the marketplace. It had a very similar angle to its D pillar, but the front end was too sloped to support the extra mass in the rear. Here, the truck-like front of the Malibu sedan actually helps make the Maxx rear end work. Overall, I think the Maxx is the only way to go with the Malibu.
Less Than Meets The Eye
Now, whether you like the exterior or not, you cannot like the interior. It's just not possible. Another truck cue comes in the awful steering wheel shape. It's so bulky and cheap looking. In fact, the entire interior, from the dash to the switch gear to the seats looks cheap. It's better than past GM efforts, and the gaps between panels are much tighter, but it's still cheap and ugly. My favorite comment on the interior is best seen in this image on the right. The center vents look, to me, like the symbol for the Autobots, from the 80s cartoon "The Transformers".
The Final Review
While it rides on a superb platform with great ridgitity, and the Maxx version is versatile and not completely heinous, the Malibu falls short in so many ways that I could never recommend it to anyone. Do yourself a favor and get an Accord. With their high residual value, you can get a great lease on an Accord, whereas the lease on a Malibu includes a big hit for depreciation, and the other option, zero percent financing, leaves you with a 6 year old car worth next to nothing. While the Transformers were more than meets the eye, I'm sad to say that the same isn't true of the Malibu. It's either exactly what meets the eye, or far far less.