- The Washington Times - Friday, June 5, 2009

All-new last year — as well as the 2008 North American Car of the Year — the Chevrolet Malibu has minimal changes for the 2009 model year, but those few changes are considerably important and attractive to new buyers.

For starters, StabiliTrak with Brake Assist and Traction Control is standard equipment on all four models, the fuel-saving six-speed automatic linked to the 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine is now standard on the LTZ top-tier trim (while the V-6 becomes an option), and Bluetooth is available with GM’s new OnStar version 8.0 system.

The standard power plant on the front-wheel drive midsize sedan is the 16-valve, 2.4-liter Ecotec four-cylinder engine with variable valve timing. Mated with a four-speed automatic, the four-cylinder returns fuel efficiency of 22 miles per gallon city and 30 mpg highway. The optional six-speed automatic linked to the I-4 does better with EPA estimates of 22/33 mpg.

The base price for the 2009 Malibu starts at $20,745 for the four-cylinder LS. The Chevy Malibu is also offered in LT, LTZ and Hybrid models.

My tester was the LTZ with a base price of $26,020. This price reflects the new-for-2009 four-cylinder/six-speed automatic equipment. However, as an added option on the tester, the LTZ sported the available 3.6-liter V-6 for an extra $1,595. The V-6 equipment package includes dual-chrome exhaust tips and hydraulic power steering. The four-cylinder models feature electric power steering.

The Malibu strikes me as being on the larger size of the midsize category. The fuel economy returns on the V-6 are more in line with full-size sedans at EPA ratings of 17 mpg city and 26 mpg highway. By the design of Chevrolet stylists, the sedan looks big due to bold proportions and wheels that are pushed to the corners for an aggressive stance.

One of the driving characteristics of the LTZ tester that left me perplexed was its cumbersome maneuverability into parking lots. With a curb-to-curb turning circle of 40 feet I would have expected an easier time gliding the sedan into parking slips, but I felt fitful at times turning the steering wheel into a tight spot, as though I were maneuvering a heavy-duty pickup.

Because of this initial impression with the 3.6-liter V-6 I would recommend that the new car buyer sampling the Malibu drive the 2.4-liter with the electric power steering system to determine if he or she would be more comfortable and more successful in negotiating the Malibu in turns and spaces.

Chevy’s 2.4-liter four-cylinder is rated at 169 horsepower and 160 lb.-ft. of torque. The Malibu’s 3.6-liter V-6 has a horsepower rating of 252 and torque at 251 lb.-ft.

The 2009 Malibu has a four-wheel independent suspension system with a MacPherson strut in front and a multi-link in the rear. The Malibu offers a pleasant and quiet ride for those seeking refined driving in the midsize category. GM uses noise-reducing materials in the construction and body build of the Malibu.

My tester featured a really attractive and rich-looking two-tone trim combination. The Cocoa and Cashmere combo on the dash and leather seating gave an ultra upscale interior look to the Malibu.

The Malibu LTZ has a pretty good sound system with XM satellite radio, premium eight-speaker, 210-watt equipment. Blue backlit instrument gauges and ambient lighting in key portals, such as the door pull pockets, overhead console and center console show considerable thought by the Malibu’s interior design team.

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