By KBB.com Editors
Chevy's mid-size offerings, like most GM passenger cars, suffered corporate neglect in the 1990s and early 2000s as customers – and the company's engineering attention and budget – increasingly shifted toward trucks and SUVs. What a difference a few years make. After surviving one of the worst crisis in automotive history, GM emerges from bankruptcy with a renewed emphasis on high-quality, fuel-efficient vehicles. Nowhere is this philosophy more evident than in the company's most successful mid-size sedan, the Chevrolet Malibu. Now entering its third year of production, the Malibu has bolted from middle-of-the-road contender straight to the top of the mid-size sedan game. The 2011 Malibu looks wonderful, is solidly built and carefully crafted inside and out, offers good fuel economy, drives wonderfully and is priced to sell in serious volumes. If there is one weakness in the Malibu game plan, it is the lack of a proper hybrid model to challenge the Ford Fusion and Toyota Camry.You'll Like This Car If...
The 2011 Chevrolet Malibu's bold, attractive sheetmetal and stylish interior touches are backed by confident handling, a quiet ride and an overall level of refinement competitive with the category's best. Unlike some competitors, the fuel-efficient four-cylinder engine is available on all Malibu trims, not just the entry-level model.You May Not Like This Car If...
The 2011 Chevrolet Malibu hasn't been around long enough to challenge the impressive resale values of the Honda Accord or Toyota Camry. Certain high-end features available on competitors, like DVD navigation (OnStar Turn-by-Turn does not feature a map display), music streaming and keyless start and entry, are not offered on the Malibu. And Chevrolet has nothing to counter Ford's SYNC voice activated audio system.What's New for 2011
For 2011, Chevrolet adds its fuel-saving six-speed automatic transmission with TAPshift manual shift control to all Malibu trims.Driving It Driving Impressions
The 2011 Chevrolet Malibu's long wheelbase, wide stance and stiff structure combine for a pleasing balance of ride and handling that's not at all common in this class, particularly for a domestic brand. The energy-efficient electric power steering on four-cylinder models – though better than earlier GM electric power steering applications – feels a bit artificial on-center; the conventional hydraulic power steering on V6 cars offers more precise feel. The Malibu is amazingly well behaved on uneven pavement, absorbing all but the most stubborn bumps and never giving in to wheel hop or chatter. The cabin is also luxury-car quiet, with no perceptible wind noise around the pillars or mirror caps. GM's fuel-efficient six-speed automatic is a welcome addition to the Malibu lineup and offers paddle shifters for more spirited driving.Favorite Features
Available on 1LT models and standard on 2LT and LTZ, this terrific feature lets you start the engine and warm or cool the interior from a distance, with the car still locked, well before departing.
A GM OnStar feature, this service provides precise verbal directions through the car's audio system without the need to program in a destination.
The 2011 Chevrolet Malibu's beautifully crafted interior uses premium materials throughout. The "dual-cockpit" instrument panel's major gauges are backlit in blue, ambient lighting provides a warm environment and overhead LED floodlights project subdued light on the console area between the front seats. The deep center console's sliding cover opens to accommodate large items, there's a handy storage compartment atop the instrument panel and an available "rear power center" provides a 110-volt AC power outlet. Two available two-tone trim combinations – Ebony and Brick and Cocoa and Cashmere – offer a choice of metallic-look or wood grain accents, while an all-Ebony combination is accented with tasteful wood grain. Rear seat legroom for tall passengers is exceptionally good, and the high roofline allows enough head room for all but the super long-bodied, who probably will be more comfortable up front.Exterior
The 2011 Chevrolet Malibu hits a high-water mark for its size and price with taut proportions, elegant lines and a crisp, clean profile. Its split grille represents the new global face of Chevrolet cars, and its twin round tail lamps are traditional Chevy cues. The Malibu feature a large, deep trunk with a low lift over height for easy loading, and the car's elongated rear doors make entry and exit comfortable even for tall passengers. LTZ models feature front fog lamps and clear-lens LED tail lamps, while V-6-powered Malibus sport twin chrome exhausts. With tight panel gaps and rich-looking details, this mid-size Chevy looks like $40,000 while starting at half that price.Notable Standard Equipment
Malibu's comprehensive list of standard safety features includes four-wheel disc brakes with ABS and traction control, StabiliTrak stability control, front seat-belt pretensioners, OnStar 9.0 and six air bags: Dual-stage front, front seat-mounted thorax (side) and two-row head-curtain bags. Also standard are a six-speed TAPshift automatic transmission, 17-inch painted steel wheels, XM Satellite Radio and (surprisingly) a choice of interiors that includes two-tone trim combinations. The range-topping LTZ offers front fog lamps, 18-inch aluminum wheels, dual chrome exhausts and clear-lens LED taillamps.Notable Optional Equipment
2011 Chevrolet Malibu option and equipment packages include such features as power-adjustable pedals, up level interiors, leather seats, power equipment groups and a premium audio system. A touch screen GPS navigation system is not available (partially because the center stack design doesn't provide room for a screen), but Turn-by-Turn verbal directions can be easier to use (you call in destinations to an OnStar operator rather than program them in) and you may not miss the screen.Under the Hood
The 2011 Chevrolet Malibu offers a choice of a standard 169-horsepower 2.4-liter ECOTEC four, or a 252-horsepower 3.6-liter V6; both engines feature dual overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder and variable valve timing. Chevrolet's fuel-efficient six-speed automatic is standard across the line, and features a manual shift mode to aid when passing or merging. The 2011 Malibu does not offer a manual transmission option.
169 horsepower @ 6400 rpm
160 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4500 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 22/33 (six-speed), 15/23 (E85, six-speed)
252 horsepower @ 6300 rpm
251 lb.-ft. of torque @ 3200 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 17/26
This 2011 Malibu's only significant competitive disadvantage to rivals Honda Accord and Toyota Camry is projected residual value; Kelley Used Car Blue Book residual values indicate that those long-term segment leaders will fare much better years down the road. Malibu's roughly $22,500 Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Value (MSRP) is nearly the same as its Fair Purchase Price, about equal to that of a comparably equipped Camry and Honda Accord with four-cylinder engine and automatic. The Ford Fusion, Malibu's natural domestic competitor, offers a four-cylinder/automatic combination that starts just under $21,500 and has slightly higher projected five-year residual values.