Driving Impressions

By December 18, 2007

We drove all three versions of the new Malibu, the four-cylinder four-speed automatic, the hybrid, and the V6 with the six-speed automatic. Most of our time was spent in the V6, however.

The 2LT we drove was very pleasant, indeed. Acceleration was good, if not sparkling, with only a little over 250 horsepower from the V6 engine. Some cars in this class have 20-25 more horsepower than this engine offers, but we never felt there was a lack of power here.

The new six-speed automatic was quick to shift, up and down, smooth, lurch-free and quiet. The engine, which has nine different sound attenuators in the air intake system, never sounded anything but powerful and smooth.

In fact, everything about the car we drove was quiet and smooth. The suspension soaked up rough Mississippi cotton-farm roads with aplomb, and kept the car straight and flat without a lot of pitching and body roll.

The steering was reasonably quick and precise, but without much real road feel, although better than previous models of this same car.

With the V6 engine, the driveline exhibited torque-steer at full throttle. Stand on the gas when turning at low speed and you'll feel a tug on the steering wheel.

Braking action and performance was on par with anything else in the class of vehicles and trustworthy in panic situations.

The hybrid is considered a mild hybrid and uses a belt-alternator-starter, or BAS system, to stop and start the engine when needed. It shuts down completely at stoplights, and can add 3-4 kilowatts or about seven horsepower to the gasoline engine's output when needed.

The LS comes with an Ecotec 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine and the old four-speed overdrive automatic transmission, an economical alternative that promises cheap insurance and low operating costs. The base model also comes with electric power steering, to saved drag on the engine, while the V6-powered models come with hydraulic power steering.