2012 Chevrolet Malibu Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
January 17, 2012

It's one of GM's best-executed products of the past few years, and even in its final year on sale, the 2012 Chevy Malibu still ranks highly for its spacious cabin, smooth performance and handsome silhouette.

GM introduced the current Chevy Malibu in 2008, and since then, the big family sedan hasn't changed much. It hasn't had to: the Malibu emerged as one of GM's best-executed products in a long time, and with just minor updates, it's more than held its own against new generations of the Accord, Camry, Altima, Sonata, Optima and Fusion. Just ahead of a new, smaller sedan arriving next model year, the 2012 Malibu remains an affordable, high-quality, and very refined four-door.

It may not be daring, but the Malibu has a nicely underplayed look that's handsome, inside and out. Clean-cut might be the best way to describe the sheetmetal. The split grille and blunt nose have a smooth, clean look that trails down the doors to a semi-stubby rear end with taillights highlighted by round lamps, like those found on the Corvette. The takeaway is subtle, clean--still a refreshing change from some of the more dramatic, overwrought shapes on the market today, maybe better even than the replacement coming next year. The cabin's sedate and attractive, too, with a straightforward layout of controls, efficient design, and quite a good level of material quality and fit and finish. In that way, this Malibu was the sign of change at GM from the drab car that preceded it.

The Malibu still comes in four- and six-cylinder form, while smaller family sedans have moved to all-four-cylinder lineups. Here, the base powerplant is fairly competitive: it's a 2.4-liter four-cylinder teamed to a six-speed automatic, for a total of 169 horsepower and an EPA gas-mileage rating of 22/33 mpg. That's competitive with the Fusion, but a few digits off the 35-mpg highway figures pegged by the Sonata and Optima. It's quick enough for most uses, and neatly avoids a rental-car feel with very smooth power delivery. GM's potent 3.6-liter V-6 remains an option; its 252 horsepower provide a lot of refinement and kick for more demanding drivers, but its fuel economy numbers of 17/26 mpg are unimpressive. Neither Malibu feels very sporty, in any case, with perfectly predictable ride and handling motions that veer sharply away from the likes of the crisp-steering Fusion and Altima. The Malibu clearly puts the bias on practicality and refinement, with just a hint of driving enjoyment.

Sports-car reflexes in family sedans matter less than big interior room and supportive seats, and those the Malibu has all over smaller rivals. It's spacious, and though the seats could use just a little more lateral support, the Malibu is one of the larger cars in its class, up there with the Sonata, just shy of the Honda Accord and the latest Volkswagen Passat. The front seats are among the most comfortable in the mid-size sedan class, while the back bench has more legroom than most of its rivals, except for the Accord and that huge new Passat. Trunk space is usefully large, at 15.1 cubic feet.

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Safety is another strong suit of the current Malibu. All models have standard anti-lock disc brakes, stability and traction control, as well as dual front, side and curtain airbags. The OnStar telematics system is installed in each one. And crash-test scores put the Malibu near the top of the large sedan class, with a Top Safety Pick from the IIHS, and four stars overall from the NHTSA.

The Malibu's features list has fallen behind the competition, as it's aged. All versions--base LS, mid-range LT, and luxury LTZ--have standard power windows, locks and mirrors; keyless entry; steering-wheel audio controls; and climate control. On the LTZ, features like remote start, LED taillamps and ambient lighting are standard. Bluetooth's an option, though (it's standard on the Korean sedans), and the Malibu lacks any option for resident hard-drive navigation--GM suggests you call OnStar for turn-by-turn voice instructions, a method we've tried and found less reliable than on-board mapping.

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2012 Chevrolet Malibu

Styling

Inside and out, the 2012 Chevrolet Malibu is conservatively styled yet handsome.

The 2012 Chevrolet Malibu may not be daring, but it has a nicely underplayed look that's handsome, inside and out.

The design of the Chevrolet Malibu has now gone several years with no major changes--the current car was introduced for 2008--but it remains one of the best-looking cars in its segment. Clean-cut might be the best way to describe the sheetmetal. The split grille and blunt nose have a smooth, clean look that trails down the doors to a semi-stubby rear end with taillights highlighted by round lamps, like those found on the Corvette. The takeaway is subtle, clean--still a refreshing change from some of the more dramatic, overwrought shapes on the market today, maybe better even than the replacement coming next year. .

Inside, the two-tone themes and high-quality look to the interior really set a new direction with respect to interior design and appointments, and the Malibu was one of the first signs of change in GM interiors, compared to the drab cabins of just a few years ago.
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2012 Chevrolet Malibu

Performance

Driving enjoyment really isn't part of the 2012 Chevrolet Malibu's mission--although those with few performance expectations could be pleasantly surprised.

Comfort and refinement are clearly priorities over outright performance in the 2012 Chevrolet Malibu, but most families won't be disappointed with the fundamentals here. The 2012 Malibu handles well enough in everyday driving, and its available V-6 delivers strong acceleration.

Models with the standard four-cylinder engine in the Malibu--a 2.4-liter, making 169 horsepower--have adequate power for most needs. It's by no means quick, but it's one of the more refined base engines, and the standard six-speed automatic transmission is a willing companion. The 3.6-liter V-6 that's included in new 3LT and 2LZ equipment groups for 2012 delivers a lot more torque, with plenty of power for confident passing with a full load. 

But even with the V-6, the Malibu doesn't even try to play the part of a performance machine. V-6 models do however come with hydraulic power steering that we've found to have much better feedback than the fuel-saving electric system in four-cylinder models. Across pretty much the entire lineup, the suspension is tuned more for comfort than performance, to varying levels; handling is predictable and confident enough, but not as crisp and responsive as the Ford Fusion or Nissan Altima. 

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2012 Chevrolet Malibu

Comfort & Quality

The 2012 Chevrolet Malibu has a smooth ride, roomy interior, and tight, quiet cabin, making it one of the top mid-size sedan picks for comfort.

Sports-car reflexes in family sedans matter less than big interior room and supportive seats, and the packaging of the 2012 Malibu acknowledges that. What you get, no matter which trim, is a very well designed interior, featuring spacious seating, high-quality materials, and a comfortable, quiet ride. Trunk space is usefully large, at 15.1 cubic feet (but surprisingly, not as large as that of the smaller Cruze).

The front seats are among the most comfortable in the mid-size sedan class, while the back bench has more legroom than most of its rivals, except for the Accord and that huge new Passat. In back, you can pack three bigger-framed adults for shorter trips—something that's not true for all mid-size sedans—and contouring is also adult-sized. About the only thing we wish for is a bit more lateral support for the front seats; you'll be sliding around a bit in the corners.

Back when the current Malibu was introduced, five years ago, it earned plenty of kudos for the look and feel of its cabin materials. Even today they stand as impressive--especially at the more affordable end of the lineup. Upholstery, switchgear, and trims feel high-quality, and a deep center console, several smaller storage spaces, and a 110-volt rear outlet add usefulness.

Again, the 2012 Malibu delivers exactly what it promises, prioritizing refinement over sharpness and dynamics. And with a ride that's absorbent but not too firm, plus good isolation of engine and road noise thanks to specially laminated window glass, acoustic insulation, and composite liners for the wheel wells, the Malibu has one of the quieter cabins in its class. Consider that some V-6 models get lower-profile tires that might increase harshness, however.

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2012 Chevrolet Malibu

Safety

The 2012 Chevrolet Malibu is strong in safety, and one of the better picks for security-conscious families.

Safety is another strong suit of the current Malibu. Anti-lock disc brakes, stability and traction control, front side airbags, and side curtain airbags are all included as standard features. The suite of OnStar emergency telematics services (subscription required) is also standard and was last year upgraded to version 9.0, which now includes six months of Directions and Connections service plus standard Turn-by-Turn navigation.

Crash-test ratings have been excellent overall. The 2012 Malibu carries over its top 'good' ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) in every category, including frontal offset, side, and seat-based rear impact tests, along with the new roof strength (rollover) test; and it's earned the IIHS Top Safety Pick accolade for 2012. In the stricter federal tests that were phased in last year, the Malibu gets a combination of four- and five-star ratings.

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2012 Chevrolet Malibu

Features

The 2012 Chevrolet Malibu is looking most dated with respect to its feature and options lists, which lack connectivity and touch screens, but otherwise it's equipped well.

The Malibu's features list is respectable, but it's fallen behind the competition as it's aged, and it lacks a few of the high-end options that are now available in some rival mid-size models.

The Malibu lineup consists of three models: the base LS, mid-range LT, and luxury-packed LTZ. Within those trims their are numbered subtrims in somewhat confusing codes such as 2LT and 3LT. The base LS comes with enough goodies to suit most drivers, including power accessories, keyless entry, and steering-wheel-mounted audio controls all fitted as standard. Splurge a little extra for the range-topping LTZ and you get a whole assortment of extra features such as remote start, automatic climate control, and a universal remote, plus a number of appearance extras like LED tail lamps and interior ambient lighting.

Last year some of the Malibu lineup got new wheels—including 17-inch bright-finish alloys in the 1LT and Chrome Tech alloys with the 2LT. Now for 2012, the Malibu gets a few more feature changes, including a new Sunroof and Convenience Package for the 1LT that adds a power sunroof, a power driver's seat, Bluetooth, and a 110-volt power outlet. Bluetooth isn't standard, but it can also be added via the new LS Uplevel Package.

Otherwise, the Malibu's sound systems feel somewhat dated, as they lack some of the connectivity features that we've come to expect in this class. You have to move up to the top LTZ to get a USB port. Also, other than the OnStar-based navigation, there remains no screen-based nav option on the Malibu.
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2012 Chevrolet Malibu

Fuel Economy

The four-cylinder version of the 2012 Chevrolet Malibu is quite efficient and green, considering its interior space and comfort.

Between the four-cylinder and V-6 variants of the 2012 Chevrolet Malibu, the four-cylinder models are the obvious pick for those who want to make greener choices. While the V-6 Malibu, at 17 mpg city, 26 highway, isn't at all impressive, the four-cylinder model is quite good at 22/33—thanks, in part to the six-speed automatic, which has a tall top gear and is now standard across the line.

The Malibu is flex-fuel-capable, too. Just keep in mind that on E85 (85 percent ethanol), it's only rated at 15/23 mpg.

Relative to its class as a whole, the Malibu isn't one of the top achievers, though. Several models, such as the Hyundai Sonata, meet or exceed 35 mpg on the highway, and the Ford Fusion Hybrid and Toyota Camry Hybrid are even better.

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January 5, 2016
2012 Chevrolet Malibu 4-Door Sedan LT w/1LT

Don't buy. It's nothing but trouble.

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This car has been giving me a lot of problems. I would not been buying another one.
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April 14, 2015
For 2012 Chevrolet Malibu

Great Car for a family.

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Love this Car! Great for families from infants to college kids. Drives great on highway and in the city. Easy to drive easy to get in and out of
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