For over 40 years, the Malibu has been a mainstay of the mid-size car market and one of the most popular cars in Chevrolet’s lineup. It offers more cargo space and power than a compact car while being less expensive to own and operate than a full size car.
However, times have changed since the Malibu was first introduced in 1964. Today, the mid-size car segment is one of the most competitive in the auto industry. The Malibu is up against the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Nissan Maxima, Hyundai Sonata, Ford Fusion, Dodge Avenger, Kia Optima, Mazda 6, and dozens of others. What sets the Malibu apart from the rest, and where does it fall short?
I’ve had the chance to spend some time behind the wheel of a 2012 Chevrolet Malibu as my mom just bought one a few months ago. For those looking to Buy American, the Malibu is a great choice as 75% of its parts come from the USA.
From the outside, the Malibu doesn’t do anything flashy to grab your attention – and that’s a good thing. You know that it’s not going to look horribly out of date a few years down the road. It has the same 3-bar grille that most of the rest of Chevrolet’s cars have now, along with a high beltline and tiny, bunker-like windows. The five-spoke wheels are a nice touch, too.
The long, sloping roofline gives the impression of speed and aerodynamics, even when standing still. The panel lines are smooth and level with no weird angles, save for the taillights. The gap between the inner and outer taillights is one of the few “hard edges” on the car’s body and it really stands out.
There are two engine choices for the 2012 Malibu: a 2.4L ECOTEC 4-cylinder and a 3.6L V6. Our car has the 4-cylinder engine, which provides ample power for getting around town and better fuel economy than the V6. Still, that extra power would be nice when merging onto the highway or passing other vehicles.
That’s not to say it is a total slouch, but it fails to put a smile on your face when you mash the pedal to the floor. Much of this can be attributed to the 6-Speed automatic transmission which shifts so smoothly and quietly, you’d swear it was a CVT. The only way to tell the car has changed gears is to watch the tachometer.
Inside, the Malibu offers a no-nonsense interior with the ubiquitous “waterfall” center stack for the dashboard. The controls are well laid out and easy to reach. All of the surfaces have a good tactile feel. Nothing comes across as feeling “cheap.” This car is two levels above its brothers the Sonic and the Cruze, and it shows.
Our car has the 1LS package which includes floor mats, steering wheel controls, Bluetooth, and a compact spare tire. The car also comes with a free three month trial of Sirius XM and six months of OnStar.
The Malibu comes standard with cruise control, keyless entry, power windows and locks, and a surprisingly good 6-speaker stereo. There’s also a height-adjustable seat with power lumbar (but strangely, manual sliders) and six airbags. I especially like the Driver Information Center below the speedometer, which shows things like the trip odometer, oil life, tire pressure, and average/instant fuel economy.
Road and engine noise are virtually nonexistent with the car, even at highway speeds. The lack of road noise combined with imperceptible shifts meant that I often found myself speeding without realizing it. There’s plenty of legroom in the back, though taller adults will probably not want to sit in the middle.
There are a lot of things about the Malibu that make it a great driver’s car. While other cars offer more power or fancier styling, the unpretentious “get in and go” attitude of this car delivers just what it promises.
I love the stereo, the smooth quiet ride, and the good fuel economy. However, I think the lack of feedback from the 6-speed automatic transmission takes some getting used to. One other thing I noticed is that when braking, it feels like the stopping distance is longer than it should be. Perhaps this is because I am used to driving a lighter car, but I think that it’s a minor issue which could easily be corrected with a good set of ceramic brake pads.
Quick Facts and Figures:
Price As Tested: $23,430
Engine: 2.4L I4 DOHC 4V ECOTEC
Transmission: 6-Speed Automatic w/Manual Shift Control
Power: 169 HP, 162 ft-lbs torque
Fuel Economy: 22 city / 33 highway
Weight: 3,432 lbs
If you’re looking for a family car, a daily driver, a commuter car, or simply a good American made vehicle, the 2012 Chevrolet Malibu is an excellent choice.