You know that things are getting good when a vehicle critique is reduced to picking nits. That’s how we felt when reviewing our notes on the 2010 Chevrolet Malibu 1LT we recently tested. Along with the usual overall comments about the car were petty remarks about the edges of the map pockets of the front door and about how close the color matches were between different materials in the interior.
Not that those aren’t important items in their own way, but the 2010 Chevrolet Malibu is now eyeball to eyeball with the rest of the mid-size family car class. The model we tested was a Malibu 1LT, which puts it in the meat of the Malibu range. The base LS has “fleet vehicle” written all over its black outside mirrors (though it comes with XM satellite radio and cruise control) and the premium Malibu LTZ has leather seats and LED taillights. The Malibu 1LT and Malibu 2LT both have the “LT” badge on the trunk lid, Bluetooth, heated front seats and more. Think of it as a 1LT with a luxury package.
All Chevy Malibu models share the 2.4-liter Ecotec four-cylinder engine as standard equipment; Chevrolet allows the premium trim model to come with its most fuel efficient power train. Cheaping out with the LS, however, also sticks one with a four-speed automatic transmission rather than the six-speed automatic standard on the higher trim levels. The six-speed, with its wider range of gear ratios, gives the four-cylinder Malibu better acceleration, and thanks to a taller top gear, more fuel-thrifty highway operation.
Another difference between the 1LT and the 2LT is that only the latter has the 3.6-liter V-6 as an option. The six is also available on the LTZ.
Whatever the model, the Chevrolet Malibu is a handsome car, well proportioned even if the styling is a bit tame compared to, for example, the new Hyundai Sonata. The crossbar grille identifies it as a Chevy while the steeply inclined windshield and rear window keep the simple exterior from crossing over into frumpy.
The slant of the glass, however, requires front and rear seat passengers to mind their noggins when getting in or out, though there’s adequate headroom in both the front and rear seats. Calling the Chevrolet Malibu a five passenger sedan, however, will be scoffed at by passenger number five, who not only gets the notorious hump in the middle of the back seat but must straddle a high center tunnel. The Malibu is not the way to win friends and influence passenger the fifth passenger.
The dash and interior trim is impressive, however, as someone somewhere said fie to the accountants. The double wave dash is classic Chevy and distinctive. The “wood” trim is genuine “wood”–note: the quotes indicating that it really isn’t wood or anything else that comes from an actual tree, but it doesn’t look phony. The steering wheel isn’t leather but rather soft-ish artificial material that feels good nevertheless.
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The ride is firm almost to the point of being hard and while the handling is mostly undistinguished, the steering is accurate. On our rough road test–and this road is really rough–there was an unnerving rattle from the front suspension. We’ve heard this on other Malibus so in this case they all really do that. Not that they should. However, nothing fell off so perhaps it doesn’t matter other than it just isn’t confidence inspiring.
The four-cylinder engine sounds workmanlike but it’s short on torque when heavy acceleration is required. We all have to merge sometimes and when getting the most out of the engine the four gets thrashy on the upper end. Our fuel use came to 24.7 mpg, below the optimistic EPA highway 33 mpg. It’s above the 22 mpg city, however, and as they say, your mileage may vary. Our driving includes a lot of hills, which we have found does a number on fuel economy numbers.
The six-speed transmission shifts smoothly, as a modern transmission should. Not expected in this price range is steering wheel-mounted paddle manual shifting. It’s standard on all models with the six-speed transmission, which means that most Malibu models will have it. However, we expect most Malibu owners will seldom use it–the novelty wore off quickly even for us–but it was probably cheaper and easier to include it rather than have two different wheels. It requires placing the center console-mounted shifter into “M” where the shift quadrant is PRNDM.
A few other niggles. The cupholders, which reside under a sliding cover, are too close together for two fast food soft drink cups. On the other hand, there’s a pop open bin atop the dash with a rubberized liner. It’s not big but most owners will find a use for it.
The trunk has holds a respectable fifteen cubic feet, but the slope of the rear window results in a small trunk opening which makes it difficult to load even medium-sized boxes. And even harder to get them out. Ask us how we know.
If it seems like there are a number of negative comments about our test 2011 Chevrolet Malibu 1LT, consider that we really found little to gripe about. And it’s our job and responsibility is to kvetch and moan. Sorry if you think you didn’t get your money’s worth with the review. You will with the car.
Illustration: 2010 Chevrolet Malibu 1LT, photo copyright GM Corp.
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2010 Chevrolet Malibu 1LT selected specifications, as tested
Front engine/front-wheel drive, unitbody 5-seat 4-door sedan
2.4L/1169 hp DOHC 16-valve I-4
Material, block / head
aluminum / aluminum
sequential port injection
Horsepower @ rpm
169 @ 6200
Torque, lb-ft @ rpm
158 @ 5200
Suspension, f / r
MacPherson strut w/ L-shaped control arm / four-link
rack-and-pinion elecrtric power steering
Turning circle, ft.
Front and rear disc brakes
Rotor diameter, in., f / r
11.65 / 10.87
Wheels, size, type
17-in., chrome trim
Tires, size, type
Dimensions & capacities
Curb weight, lbs
Cargo volume, cu. ft.
Fuel tank, gal.
Trailer towing max, lb.
0-60 mph, sec.
Top speed, mph
Fuel econ., EPA city / hwy, mpg
Fuel econ., observed, mpg
2010 Chevrolet Malibu 1LT, price and features as tested
Safety: front/front side/side curtain airbags, ABS, stability control, traction control, OnStar w/ automatic crash response and turn-by-turn navigation
Exterior: 17-inch “Fascia” wheels w/ chrome trim, power outside mirrors
Interior: air conditioning, power locks w/ keyless remote, power windows w/ driver express down, power trunk release, AM/FM/CD/Sirius-SM, driver power lumbar, floor mats, split folding rear seat, driver information center, tilt/telescope steering wheel w/ cruise control and audio controls, sealant & inflator replacing spare tire
Power Convenience package: power 6-way driver seat, remote start, Bluetooth
Interface package: USB port, rear 110V outlet