Warren Clarke, Automotive Content Editor
The 2010 Chevrolet Malibu gives sedan shoppers most of what they're looking for. As we walk up to the car, the first thing we're struck by is its sheet metal. With its polished good looks, this sedan offers an unusually elegant take on the family four-door. When you walk up to a Malibu, there's no sense of embarrassment.
We get inside. With intuitive controls and supportive seats, the Chevy's interior also scores high marks. As we start the engine and pull out of the driveway to merge with traffic, we find the car's ride and handling to be every bit as refined as its exterior. The 'Bu is communicative on the road, without thumbing its nose at comfort.
Still, our time with the Malibu reveals a couple of chinks in its armor — issues that prevent this strong contender from claiming victory as a top pick in the family-sedan wars. With a width of just 70.3 inches, the Malibu is one of the narrowest choices in its segment. This translates into rear seats that are fine for two, but a tight squeeze for three. Those who want genuine five-passenger capacity would be better served by the relatively palatial Honda Accord.
For reasons that have to do with omission, the 2010 Chevy Malibu also doesn't quite measure up to its great-looking image, since a navigation system isn't on the options list, leaving you with OnStar and a glovebox of maps as your only recourse. And while the Malibu's trunk has a decent size, its utility is compromised by its narrow opening.
Shoppers in this segment will want to test-drive the stellar Ford Fusion; relative to the Malibu, it offers a wider range of features and goes down the road with a more visceral personality. The much-lauded Hyundai Sonata is also worth a look, on the strength of its pleasant driving dynamics and superior fuel economy. Still, the Malibu's impressive sales figures are testimony to the fact that this car definitely has an audience — likely those who appreciate quality fronted by a handsome face.
Our 2010 Chevrolet Malibu test car is motivated by a 2.4-liter inline-4 good for 169 horsepower and 160 pound-feet of torque (note that a more muscular 252-hp V6 is also available with more expensive trims). The Ecotec engine is one of the least powerful four-bangers in the segment; you'll get more juice from rivals like the Sonata (198 hp), the Accord (177 hp) and the Fusion (175 hp). Still, you're not likely to feel short-changed behind the wheel, since this sedan offers ample power for urban maneuvers, effortlessly weaving through traffic on city streets and easily getting up to speed on the freeway.
Track testing yields a 9.1-second time to 60 mph from a standstill, a time that ties with the comparable Honda Accord but places it behind the Hyundai Sonata (7.7 seconds). In brake testing, a stop from 60 mph requires 133 feet, placing the car fractionally behind the Sonata (131 feet) but fractionally ahead of the Accord (137 feet). The car's brake pedal felt a bit soft, but the brakes delivered consistent performance.
Slalom cones were navigated at a speed of 64.4 mph. As such, the 'Bu was quicker around the cones than the Sonata (62.5 mph) and the Accord (62.1). Still, its overall performance in this area is tarnished somewhat by its lifeless steering, a trait that did little to inspire confidence in the driver as the car's limits were approached.
With an EPA rating of 22 city/33 highway mpg and 26 mpg combined, the 2010 Chevrolet Malibu is one of the more fuel-efficient choices in its segment of sedans. It's more frugal than the Accord (21 city/31 highway) and the Fusion (22 city/29 highway), but less so than the segment leader, the Hyundai Sonata (24 city/35 highway).
For the most part, jolts and bumps are kept at arm's length by the Malibu's forgiving suspension. The front seats are comfortable and pleasantly supportive, though wider passengers may find the seat bolsters somewhat intrusive. The seats offer a multitude of adjustments, making it easy to optimize the seating position.
Its backseat is one of the Malibu's primary weaknesses. It's one of the narrowest in the segment; unlike the Accord, for example, it doesn't fit three passengers comfortably in back. This Chevy also comes up short on rear headroom relative to the competition.
Those seeking a family sedan with a truly quiet cabin will want to check out the 2010 Chevrolet Malibu. The double-paned glass of the windows helps banish road and wind noise. With the doors shut and the windows rolled up, the car's interior is as still and peaceful as it gets in this segment, and this holds true both on highways and on surface streets. If you've ever struggled to have a conversation above wind and road noise in much noisier sedans like the Accord, you'll appreciate the Malibu.
Most people will have no problem deciphering the Malibu's controls. Climate controls are governed by two knobs managing fan intensity and mode, and buttons that allow you to adjust temperature. Unfortunately, dual-zone climate control isn't available. The layout of the audio controls is similarly familiar. Large knobs allow you to manage volume and tuning, while large, flat buttons allow you to toggle between presets and bands. Overall, the car's controls are a lot less confusing than those seen in rivals like the Accord.
What you won't find are controls for the navigation system. An in-dash navigation system isn't available, though the 2010 Chevrolet Malibu offers OnStar's Turn-by-Turn navigation. Turn-by-Turn is actually more user-friendly than we'd imagined. To get directions, you simply press a button that allows you to contact an OnStar representative. The rep then provides you with automated voice-guided directions; street names and upcoming turns are also downloaded to your radio or Driver Information Center.
Still, Turn-by-Turn comes with a few drawbacks that you won't find in most in-dash nav systems. First of all, it's a bit of a bother to call a live representative every time you need directions, especially if you have to repeat the call later in the trip. This happened to us when we pulled over for a break. Once we killed the ignition, OnStar logged the trip as being completed, which necessitated another call to the rep once we were ready to continue the journey.
Finally, though Turn-by-Turn offers a display that guides you from one landmark street to the next, it doesn't offer a map display. Having access to a map showing your highlighted route makes the navigation process a lot easier; without it, the journey can be pretty confusing. For all these reasons, we think that Turn-by-Turn is a step down from an in-dash nav system.
A rear-facing child seat is easily accommodated in the rear seat. What's more, the Malibu has no fewer than three pairs of LATCH anchors (most family sedans offer only two pairs on the outer seats), and this means that you can use LATCH to place a child safety seat in the middle seat — a location deemed by experts to be the safest place to position a child.
With 15.1 cubic feet of room, the Malibu's trunk is larger than that of an Accord (14 cubic feet) but smaller than that of a Sonata (16.4 cubic feet) and a Fusion (16.5 cubic feet). The Chevy's trunk accommodated a golf bag and a standard suitcase, but its narrow opening made it challenging to load larger items.
Design/Fit and Finish
From its graceful nose to its crisply angled back end, the Malibu is one of the more attractive members of the family sedan tribe. Its sheet metal manages to look distinctive without being showy. We were especially fond of its stylish, bifurcated honeycomb grille. Fit and finish within the cabin was a mixed bag. It was mostly decent, but we noticed some exposed seams in the area above the dash.
Who should consider this vehicle
The 2010 Chevrolet Malibu is a good choice for those seeking a stylish, comfortable family sedan that comfortably seats up to four passengers. It's a family sedan with more style than you usually expect from this market segment. But those seeking more passenger capacity and a wider range of technology features will want to investigate rivals such as the Ford Fusion and Hyundai Sonata.
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