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Walkaround and Interior
Chevrolet has followed an industry-wide trend with the Malibu, stretching the wheelbase a full six inches compared to the previous model, to get more interior room for the occupants and a smoother, quieter ride, with an overall length that's only three inches longer, which means the all-new body has the preferred wheels-at-the-corners look.
The Malibu looks masculine, brawny, yet clean and crisp. In our opinion, this is one of the best overall designs that GM design boss Ed Welburn has supervised since he's had the top design job.
The new body design is bold, long and sleek, with an especially appealing roofline that looks like it belongs on a luxury car. The bodysides are completely clean and uncluttered, and the twin round taillamps pay homage to the Corvette. The dual-port grille is a contemporary Chevrolet design cue. We think it works better on the Silverado, but it gives the Malibu a distinctive look, and distinction is the goal of the midsize sedan designer. Look closely and you'll see tiny bowtie emblems imbedded in the headlights, one of several small surprise-and-delight features the designers included in the hope owners will discover them one pleasant day while washing the car.
Malibu rides on the Epsilon platform, with MacPherson strut front suspension and multi-link rear suspension with front and rear stabilizer bars of varying diameters, depending on model.
The four-cylinder models will likely represent 70 percent of sales. The mid-level LT trim levels are expected to be the most popular, say GM executives, though the entry level LS-2 is also expected to be popular. Naturally, our favorite is the LTZ, perched at the top of the line.
The 2008 Chevy Malibu cabin is beautifully done, with tight fits, no gaps, and everything within easy reach and easy to operate. The instruments are very easy on the eyes.
The most noticeable interior feature of the new Chevrolet Malibu other than the new roominess front and rear is the dual-cowl dashboard and instrument panel layout inspired by vintage Corvettes. This design is brought into the 21st century with wood and metallic trim and a very pleasing blue-on-white instrumentation graphic treatment that's flooded with blue light at night.
Less noticeable are thoughtful features such as the ambient lighting. A feature associated with expensive luxury cars recently popularized by Mercedes and BMW, ambient lighting helps the driver and front passenger find secondary controls and items around the center console. A cubby on top of the dash is convenient for wallets and such, a useful feature Subaru has used for years.
Cloth, suede and leather interior options are available. The standard interiors are single color, but several new two-tone interior combinations are available, including a dramatic black-and-saddle leather combination that's very attractive.
We found the leather seats in the LTZ quite comfortable. Piping in a contrasting tone dresses them up. The front bucket seats are somewhere between sumptuous and luscious in the way they look and the way they sit, very comfortable and supportive.
The stretch in wheelbase affords each occupant plenty of room, and there is ample headroom and legroom in the rear compartment for six-foot-plus passengers. The backs of the front seats are dished out to add knee room. The rear seatbacks flip down to provide a pass-through to the trunk.
The new cabin includes a dashtop storage bin, door cubbies, and seatback pockets, standard ambient lighting for the overhead console and door-pull pockets. We've never cared for the look of rolled-up sliding covers on center consoles due to their ability to attract crumbs.
Overall, the Malibu interior is attractive and comfortable. The quality of the interior materials is good. It doesn't bowl you over but nor does it reek of cheap plastic. We think it compares well to the cabin of the all-new 2008 Honda Accord. The quality of the hard plastic on the lower dash in the Chevrolet isn't as nice as the material in the Honda, and the material on the steering wheel hub is a little nicer on the Honda, but it's still nothing to behold. The Chevrolet has an attractive leather shift boot on cars with leather interiors is not found in the Accord.
Every Malibu comes with XM satellite radio and the latest version of OnStar with Turn-by-Turn navigation. However, there's no GPS navigation system nor is there a back-up camera. Chevrolet says people prefer to use their portable GPS units and relatively few want to pay for an OEM navigation system, but we're a little skeptical of this.
Big knobs and buttons and an elegant design make operating audio and climate functions easy. In fact, we found it easier and less confusing to make adjustments in the Malibu than in a comparably equipped (non-navi) Honda Accord; the Honda seems less intuitive and convenient. Unlike the Honda, the Chevrolet has the audio controls at the top, better because people tend to fiddle with their stereos more than their temperature controls.
Climate controls in the Malibu are very easy to operate utilizing big knobs for fan and vent modes and simple, clearly labeled buttons. Honda splits the climate controls up, forcing the driver to examine them more closely before pressing a button. In short, the Malibu audio and climate controls are, in our opinion, better than the controls on the Accord. Window switches are conveniently mounted on the doors. Redundant controls on the steering wheel are available.
Remote starting is available. This lets the driver start the car by pressing a button on the key fob from the comfort of the house on