2011 Chevrolet Malibu Review and Prices

Last Updated: Feb 8, 2011

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2011 Chevrolet Malibu Buying Advice

The 2011 Chevrolet Malibu is the best car for you if you’re a midsize-sedan shopper inclined to buy American and disinclined to compromise on styling or spaciousness.

The 2011 Chevrolet Malibu returns little changed from the 2010 Malibu except for Chevy’s wise decision to drop an antiquated four-speed automatic as the car’s entry-level transmission. Every 2011 Chevrolet Malibu comes standard with the superior six-speed automatic gearbox. Introduced for model-year 2008, this Malibu generation launched to critical raves for its clean good looks, roomy cabin, and competent road manners. It continues for 2011 as a front-wheel-drive four-door that offers four- and six-cylinder engines. Malibu’s next major engineering and appearance changes are likely for model-year 2013.

Should you buy the 2011 Chevrolet Malibu or wait for the 2012 Chevrolet Malibu? Buy the 2011 Malibu. The 2012 Malibu might gain a feature or two but no substantive alterations are in store for what’s apt to be the current generation’s final model year. If the redesign comes for model-year 2013, the 2012 Malibu will essentially be a “lame duck” that’ll look current for a relatively short time and will likely suffer a sharper decrease in resale value once the redesigned 2013 Malibu arrives.

2011 Chevrolet Malibu Changes back to top

Styling: The 2011 Chevrolet Malibu is essentially a visual repeat of the 2010 Malibu with the only cosmetic differences being 17-inch bright-finish wheels newly standard with one-up-from-the bottom 1LT trim level and 18-inch Chrome Tech aluminum wheels added to the one-down-from-the-top 2LT V-6 package.

Four model-years after its introduction, the 2011 Malibu this is still among the handsomest sedans on the road. Malibu’s distinctive big-bar Chevy grille wears just enough jewelry to compliment its strong, clean body lines and the styling overall is uncommonly sophisticated; this car looks like it should cost more than it does.

Part of the 2011 Malibu’s character derives from a long wheelbase and short sheetmetal overhangs. The wheels are near the edges of the car, a legacy of a design with origins in GM’s European operations. A version of this so-called Epsilon platform in fact underpins the Opel Vectra from GM’s German brand. In the U.S., the Epsilon platform also underpins three compact crossover SUVS, the Cadillac SRX, Chevrolet Equinox, and GMC Terrain.

Wheelbase, the distance between the front and rear axles, is key to determining a car’s passenger space. The 2011 Malibu’s wheelbase is among the longest of any midsize car, giving it a generously sized interior flawed only by some shortcuts in seat padding and the absence of a center rear armrest. Trunk space is a bit leaner than in the top midsize rivals, but standard folding rear seatbacks and plenty of bins and pockets compensate some.

Malibu’s sense of style extends to its modern cabin design; a highlight is leather upholstery available in tasteful two-tone color schemes. Gauges and controls are driver-friendly, and though nothing looks low-budget, a paucity of padded surfaces keeps Malibu from truly distinguishing itself among similarly priced family sedans.

The 2011 Chevrolet Malibu returns with a four-level lineup that consists of the entry-level LS model, volume-selling 1LT and 2LT models, and the top-of-the-line LTZ model.

Mechanical: The 2011 Chevrolet Malibu again offers a choice of two engines. Standard on all models is a 2.4-liter four-cylinder that returns at 169 horsepower and 160 pound-feet of torque (think of torque as accelerative force and horsepower as the energy that sustains momentum). Again optional only on the Malibu 2LT and LTZ models is a 3.5-liter V-6 rated at 252 horsepower and 251 pound-feet of torque.

A smooth-shifting six-speed automatic is the only transmission for the 2011 Malibu; last year’s LS model came with a four-speed automatic. The six-speed more efficiently extracts power from the four-cylinder and provides a 3-mpg improvement in highway driving. The six-speed also comes with steering-wheel paddle shifters that allow the driver to mimic manual-type gear changes.

Every 2011 Chevy Malibu comes with four-wheel disc brakes with anti-lock control to fight lock-ups in emergency stops. Traction control that aids off-the-line grip also is standard, as is an antiskid system (also called electronic stability control) to fight sideways slides.

The 2011 Malibu is among the heaviest cars in its class and feels only adequately powered with the 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, which is down a few horsepower compared to most every other four-cylinder in the class. The livelier V-6 brings the 2011 Malibu’s performance in line with that of V-6 editions of the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, and Nissan Altima.

With the weight of its engine and transmission over the driving wheels, this front-wheel-drive sedan has good traction in snow. And while handling in general is competent and secure, the large, weighty Malibu never feels as athletic or composed as comparable versions of Accord, Altima, or even the Ford Fusion. Malibu regains points with fine bump absorption and a notably quiet bearing.

Features: The 2011 Chevrolet Malibu’s list of comfort, communications, and convenience features remains competitive, though other midsize cars are outpacing this Chevy in terms of gadgetry. For example, the 2011 Malibu offers neither an on-board navigation system nor a rear backup camera, which are two items that are fast becoming family-car fundamentals.

On the upside, even the least-expensive 2011 Malibu comes standard with a tilt/telescope steering wheel, a driver’s seat with power height and lumbar adjustments, remote keyless entry, and power windows, locks, and mirrors. Satellite radio and an auxiliary-plug port for digital audio players also are standard. Depending on model, Malibu is available with remote engine start, power adjustable pedals, a power rear sunshade, and leather upholstery. Also available is Bluetooth wireless phone connectivity and a USB interface for iPods and other MP3 devices.

GM equips every 2011 Malibu with the latest 9.0 version of the OnStar assistance system, though it now comes with only a six-month free subscription instead of a year’s worth. OnStar automatically notifies authorities if you’ve crashed, can remotely unlock the doors, can help locate your car, and even slow it to a crawl if it’s stolen. OnStar operators can send turn-by-turn verbal directions to the system, which play back as needed according to the car’s built-in GPS receiver. Unfortunately, a conventional navigation system with a dashboard screen that displays mapping, real-time traffic, and other travel information is not part of Malibu’s design.

Standard safety features for the 2011 Malibu include torso-protecting front side airbags and head-protecting curtain side airbags for both seating rows. Malibu does fall a bit short in safety-related tech to competitors such as the Ford Fusion, which now offer blind-spot warning systems for added safety while changing lanes or backing out of parking spaces.

2011 Chevrolet Malibu Prices back to top

Base prices for the 2011 Chevrolet Malibu are only slightly higher than model-year 2010 prices. Base-price range for the 2011 Malibu is $22,695-$27,735. (All prices in this review include the manufacturer’s mandated destination fee; Chevy’s destination fee for 2011 is $720.)  

The 2011 Chevrolet Malibu LS base price is $22,695, not including options. This model costs $150 more than the 2010 Malibu LS, but that’s a laudably modest increase considering it now comes with the more-advanced six-speed automatic transmission instead of the four-speed.

The 2011 Chevrolet Malibu 1LT model has a base price of $23,595. It again adds to the LS model such features as steering-wheel audio controls and aluminum wheels. The 2011 Chevrolet Malibu 2LT’s base price is $25,955. Among standard features it adds to the 1LT are heated front seats with pseudo-suede upholstery and flasher Chrome Tech aluminum wheels.

The 2011 Chevrolet Malibu LTZ has a base price of $27,735. Leather upholstery – available in two-tone – is standard. So is Bluetooth, heated front seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, eight-way power driver’s seat, power front passenger seat, heated mirrors, and remote engine start. Many of these features are options on Malibu 1LT and 2LT models.

For 2011, the V-6 engine remains optionally available only on 2LT and LTZ models. Priced at $1,795 it also brings quicker steering and chrome exhaust tips. LTZ Malibus and V-6 2LT models also come with 18-inch tires on Chrome Tech aluminum wheels. Other Malibus retain 17-inch wheels and tires.

The 2011 Malibu LS is the only model that’s not available with such options as the power sunroof ($850), USB iPod interface package ($250), and various option groups. Bluetooth is a $115 add-on for the LS version and included activation buttons on the steering wheel; it’s bundled with a power driver’s seat and remote starter for $525 on the 1LT version and is included with 2LT and LTZ models.

2011 Chevrolet Malibu Fuel Economy back to top

The 2011 Chevrolet Malibu fuel-economy ratings are unchanged from the 2010 Malibu’s --s, adjusted for the absence of the four-speed automatic transmission. Unfortunately 2011 Malibu fuel-economy ratings remain unexceptional compared to the four- and six-cylinder competition. Blame Malibu’s relatively high weight.

With the four-cylinder engine, the 2011 Malibu has EPA fuel-economy rating of 22/33 mpg city/highway. (With the four-speed automatic, four-cylinder Malibus were rated at 22/30 mpg.) Equipped with the V-6, the 2011 Chevy Malibu is rated 17/26 mpg.

2011 Chevrolet Malibu Release Date back to top

The 2011 Chevrolet Malibu went on sale in September 2010.

What's next for the 2011 Chevrolet Malibu back to top

Most industry observers peg model-year 2013 for Malibu’s next major engineering and styling changes. The 2012 Malibu will likely advance to the latest “Epsilon 2” platform that underpins the 2011 Buick Regal. That’s also Opel-derived German engineering, which bodes well for road manners, and it means the next-generation Malibu will be slightly smaller than today’s model, which would reduce weight and benefit fuel economy.

The shrinkage likely will involve a briefer wheelbase and shortened overall length. Chevy will fight hard to maintain good cabin space. And it seems committed to increasing trunk room. Styling probably won’t change radically. Today’s look is a winner, and the wise path seems to lead to an evolution of today’s grille and tail and to a body of roughly the same shape and proportion.

Reducing size and weight are keys to improved fuel economy. So are more efficient powertrains. A trimmer Malibu will justify use of smaller, less-thirsty engines. Following the Buick Regal’s lead, the 2012 Malibu will likely be powered entirely by four-cylinder engines, with a power-boosting turbocharged version supplanting a V-6, but with better fuel economy. More advanced transmissions could also be part of the mix.

Chevy offered a gas-electric version of the current Malibu discontinued it during 2009 because of slow sales. The Malibu Hybrid used very elementary hybrid technology and didn’t save enough fuel compared to the conventional four-cylinder Malibu to justify its $4,000 price premium.

A return of a Hybrid as part of the next-generation Malibu lineup seems likely, but the question is what form it will take. GM recently announced it would reintroduce a more sophisticated version of its mild hybrid technology for midsize sedans. As before, an electric motor would be used to only modestly augment a gasoline engine, with the bulk of fuel economy gains – GM’s claiming up to 20 percent this time around -- coming from an automatic stop/start system that depowers the engine when possible. A future Malibu Hybrid could further adopt GM’s “2 Mode” hybrid setup that was originally planned for the stillborn Saturn Vue Hybrid before that brand was phased out. That would be a “full” hybrid capable of running the car at slower speeds on battery power alone. GM has not confirmed when that system would become available and in which models, however.

2011 Chevrolet Malibu Competition back to top

2011 Honda Accord: Defined by poise, engineering precision, and rock-solid resale values, Accord continues to set the benchmark for all-around midsize-car design. One of America’s best-selling cars, the Accord is updated for model-year 2011 with minor cosmetic enhancements. This roomy Honda is offered in sedan and coupe body styles. Four-cylinder Accord sedans start at $21,930 and are rated 23/34 mpg with automatic transmission. Accord V-6 sedans are priced from $27,830 and rate 20/30 mpg. Coupes are priced slightly higher. The Accord’s next full redesign is slated for model-year 2013.

2011 Ford Fusion: A thorough model-year 2010 refresh edged this sedan past the Malibu as the best domestic-brand alternative to the top imports. Solid and composed, Fusion comes with a four-cylinder engine rated 23/33 mpg with automatic transmission and a starting price of $20,420. V-6 versions add the option of all-wheel-drive to Fusion’s standard front-wheel drive and come in 240- and 263-horsepower versions rated 18/27 and 17/24, respectively. They start at $24,590 and range to nearly $30,000. The star of the show is the Fusion Hybrid with 191 horsepower and a rating of 41/36 mpg; starting price is $28,825. Fusion’s next full redesign is on tap for model-year 2013.

2011 Toyota Camry: This is the only midsize car that outsells the Honda Accord. It does it with an unmatched combination of refinement, room, and reputation for reliability. Sporty handling isn’t on the list, but V-6 versions are surprisingly fast, rate 19/28 mpg, and start at $25,650. Most Camrys are sold with the four-cylinder engine, which brings a starting price of $20,480 and a 22/33-mpg rating. The 2011 Camry Hybrid has 187 horsepower, rates 33/34 mpg, and is priced from $27,335. The current-generation Camry was introduced for 2007, got a midcycle freshening for 2010, and is on track for a full model-year 2012 redesign.

UPDATED BY JIM GORZELANY