The 2011 Chevrolet Malibu has moved down to the mid-ranges of the affordable mid-sized car class after showing the competition how things should be done in the genre. Alas, the lessons were learned too well, and some of the competition now outstrips the Malibu in pricing, finishing, and performance. Noteworthy contenders for buyers’ dollars include the Ford Fusion for $2,000 less and the Hyundai Sonata, which has excellent fuel economy (24/35).
The Malibu has an opening MSRP of $21,975, climbing to $27,165. Its fuel ratings are 22 mpg city and 33 highway. There are four trims and two engine choices, each with a six-speed automatic. With few changes from 2010, if you can locate last year’s model on the dealer lots, you should be able to get a lower price with equal value. If you can afford to wait, and your heart is set on this model line, the Malibu will be redesigned in 2012 for the 2013 model year.
The four-cylinder engine choice produces 169 hp and will manage the 0-60 jump in less than 10 seconds. The more powerful unit is a 3.6-liter V6 with 252 hp, available as an option on the 2Lt and LTZ trims. Reviewers agree that the Malibu handles well, with crisp steering. The ride is quiet and smooth, with excellent passing performance on the highway.
There’s really nothing new to say about the Malibu’s exterior. It’s a clean, sharply elegant look that compares favorably with the European sports sedans. The Malibu’s backseat has never won praise, but the driver and front passenger will feel absolutely coddled in the cabin. It’s hands down one of the most comfortable, ergonomic, and best-looking interiors around, even if others are starting to edge it out. The build quality is high and the two-tone treatment remains distinctive.
There is, however, no option for navigation, with Chevrolet maintaining that OnStar turn-by-turn is good enough. For some drivers it won’t be, and the only choice will be to go with a stand-alone unit. Cargo space is well above average at 15.1 cubic feet, and the trunk allows for easy access. There’s a pass-through into the backseat, which adds more versatility.
With a five-star government rating for the 2010, and a “Top Safety Pick” designation for the 2011 by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, there are no concerns about the Malibu’s performance in that arena. The Malibu has a full array of airbags, anti-lock brakes, and stability and traction control systems.
The 2011 Malibu may no longer sit at the absolute top of the affordable mid-sized genre, but this is still one of the best sedans on the highway today. With excellent performance, a high-safety profile, better-than-average interior, and crisp handling, the Malibu is a must-test-drive car and very likely a model that will go home with you. Highly recommended.