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.