2012 Chevrolet Malibu Review and Prices

Last Updated: Oct 25, 2010

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2012 Chevrolet Malibu Buying Advice

The 2012 Chevrolet Malibu is the best car for you if you’re looking for a handsome, comfortable and capable domestic sedan and don’t mind that it’s in the final year of its current design.

The 2012 Chevrolet Malibu will likely continue with only minor updates over the 2011 Malibu. The 2012 Malibu will likely represent the final model-year for the current-generation Malibu, which was responsible for rejuvenating this history Chevy nameplate when it debuted for model year 2008. With the fully redesigned 2013 Chevrolet Malibu in the wings, the 2012 Malibu probably will be treated to some minor features shuffling, maybe a new wheel design, perhaps some new color choices. Overall, this generation Malibu has aged gracefully, with its uncluttered exterior, accommodating interior, and easygoing road manners. The 2012 Malibu will continue as a midsize, front-wheel-drive, four-door with a choice of a four-cylinder or V-6 engine.

Should you wait for the 2012 Chevrolet Malibu or buy the 2011 Chevrolet Malibu? There’s no reason to wait for the 2012 Malibu. It’s unlikely to change and will be just one model year closer to the Malibu’s full redesign. The 2013 Malibu will be a more sophisticated car overall, though it’ll probably be a bit smaller than the 2008-2012 generation and offer only four-cylinder engines.

2012 Chevrolet Malibu Changes back to top

Styling: The 2012 Chevrolet Malibu should continue without noticeable exterior or interior styling alterations from the 2011 Malibu. There may be a new wheel design on one or more versions, and/or new exterior paint treatments, but that’s about it. With a full redesign on tap for model-year 2013, Chevy won’t put more money than necessary into what should be the final model year of Malibu’s current generation.

Still, the 2012 Malibu will remain a stylish midsize car with subtle uncluttered curves, trademark horizontally split front grille, and tall rear-end treatment. As before the Malibu will eschew unnecessary exterior adornment and busy body lines, a strategy that’s helped it age gracefully compared to some competitors in this segment.

The 2012 Malibu will continue to ride a version of General Motors’ European-engineer “Episilon” platform, which also is used for the Cadillac SRX, Chevrolet Traverse, and GMC Terrain crossover SUVs. One asset is a long wheelbase. Wheelbase is the distance between the front and rear axles and Malibu’s is just over 112 inches. By comparison midsize stalwarts such as the Nissan Altima and Toyota Camry ride a wheelbase that’s around 109 inches long.

Malibu’s longer wheelbase adds visual character to the car, allowing for short front and rear sheetmetal overhangs. It also helps maximize interior space. Indeed, the 2012 Malibu will again provide a rear cabin sufficient to accommodate two adults in comfort, with a third able to squeeze in as necessary for shorter trips. Cargo volume is adequate, though not class-leading, though Malibu benefits from a large trunk opening and offers a touch of versatility thanks to a 60/40-split folding rear seatback.

The 2012 Malibu’s interior design should remain largely unaltered as well, with sweeping dashboard lines, large legible gauges and easy-to-operate controls. Unless Chevy rethinks seat padding or design, expect the 2012 Malibu’s seats to be a little less comfortable than they could be, though you’ll still probably be able to dress them up with leather upholstery, including an eye-catching two-tone treatment.

We’d like to see Chevy add a proper rear center console armrest to the Malibu, though that’s not likely to happen for 2012, and the overall quality of the interior will probably continue to be hampered a bit by a propensity of hard surfaces throughout the cabin.

Chevy might commemorate the conclusion of this Malibu generation by adding a special-edition trim level, but more likely it’ll stick with the lineup that’s served well over the past few years. That would mean a four-tier 2012 Malibu roaster starting with a base LS model, elevating through 1LT and 2LT trims, and topping off with the LTZ model.

Mechanical: The 2012 Chevrolet Malibu should be unchanged beneath the skin. The base engine will remain a 2.4-liter four-cylinder and should retain its ratings of 169 horsepower and 160 pound-feet of torque. Expect all but the base LS model to be alternately available with a 3.6-liter V-6 again rated at 252 horsepower and 251 pound-feet of torque.

The 2012 Malibu’s only available transmission should again be a smooth shifting six-speed automatic that includes steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters for the feel of manual-type gear changes.

With no major changes, the 2012 Malibu’s powertrains should continue to furnish sufficient performance, but they’ve begun to feel outdated compared to smaller, lighter, and more contemporary engines being introduced elsewhere in the segment.

The 2.4-liter four-cylinder is adequate at best, but can’t move the Malibu with authority, especially when loaded with a full complement of passengers and cargo. The V-6 will continue to provide more pleasing thrust and will be the engine to order if you want to stay in the game with six-cylinder engines offered by the competition. Overall, however, V-6s feel like a dying breed in the midsize segment as automakers turn to turbocharged four-cylinder engines for their higher output and efficient operation. For example, the optional 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder introduced in the 2011 Hyundai Sonata has 20 more horsepower than Malibu’s V-6 yet is rated at 22/33 mpg, the same as Malibu’s four-cylinder.

The 2012 Chevrolet Malibu should retain the driving character it’s enjoyed since its 2008 launch. That means steering and suspension systems tuned to deliver a smooth ride and easygoing handling rather than sharpest corning. Competitors such as the Honda Accord and Nissan Altima, and particularly the Mazda 6, deliver a more engaging driving experience that enthusiastic drivers can appreciate. On the other hand, the segment’s top seller, the Toyota Camry, dials in even more disconnect from the road, leaving the Malibu to fall somewhere in between.

The 2012 Malibu will continue its front-wheel-drive configuration, which places the powertrain’s weight directly over the drive wheels. This promotes good traction on wet roads and in the snow. All-wheel-drive will still not be offered, however, so if you want to drive a midsize sedan in the harshest winter conditions, you’ll still need to look to the Ford Fusion or Subaru Legacy – or perhaps the sporty Buick Regal GS.

The 2012 Malibu will return a fairly complete list of standard safety features, including antilock disc brakes for controlled emergency stops, traction control to help keep the car moving on slick roads at lower speeds, and electronic antiskid stability control to prevent sliding sideways in extreme or emergency steering situations at higher velocity.

Features: The 2012 Chevrolet Malibu should retain its current feature set, though there may be a shuffling of items from one trim level or option package to the other to help the car maintain a value advantage.

The 2012 Malibu will continue to cover the basics, with standard features that include power locks, windows, and mirrors, tilt/telescope steering wheel, a driver’s seat with power height and lumbar adjustments, remote keyless entry, and a CD/satellite audio system with an auxiliary input jack for connecting a portable digital audio device.

Front-, front-side, and head-protecting side curtain airbags for both rows of seats will still be included for safety’s sake. The 2012 Malibu will again come standard with General Motors OnStar telematics system that offers some clever conveniences via an in-car GPS and wireless communications system. OnStar should continue with six months’ free service and provide services that include the ability to remotely unlock a car if you’ve left the keys inside, automatically call for help if the car is involved in a wreck and the airbags deploy, and the ability to locate the car if it’s stolen and even cut the engine speed so its easier for the police to find. OnStar will also deliver verbal turn-by-turn navigation instructions, though this is not as elegant or useful as would be having a proper GPS system that displays maps, gives visual directions, and includes additional search functions and travel/traffic information (as can be found on most smartphones and portable navigation systems).

Depending on the trim level a modicum of options will likely remain available, either individually or in groups, including amenities like power adjustable brake/accelerator pedals, remote engine start, a power rear sunshade, leather upholstery, Bluetooth wireless phone connectivity and a USB connector for iPods and other MP3 players.

Unfortunately, the 2012 Malibu should continue to fall short versus the competition in terms of offering the latest in convenience features. It probably still won’t offer an in-dash navigation system or rear backup camera, which have fast become essential items in the midsize category. You won’t also likely see any of the latest in safety technology like a blind spot or lane-departure warning system for 2012 either.

2012 Chevrolet Malibu Prices back to top

Prices for the 2012 Chevrolet Malibu were not announced in time for this review but should be  roughly on par with 2011 Chevrolet Malibu prices.

That suggests the 2012 Malibu LS model with a four-cylinder engine should carry a base price of around $22,800, not including options. (Estimated base prices in this review include the manufacturer’s mandated destination fee; Chevy’s destination fee for the 2011 Malibu was $720.)

The 2012 Chevrolet Malibu 1LT model should feature a base price around $23,700 and will again likely add to the LS model like as alloy wheels and steering-wheel audio controls. Estimated base price for the 2012 Chevrolet Malibu 2LT is $26,000. Expect the 2LT to again add to the 1LT upgraded faux-suede upholstery, heated front seats, and upgraded wheels.

Estimated starting price for the 2012 Chevrolet Malibu LTZ is $30,000. Expect it to come standard with leather upholstery, a Bluetooth cell-phone interface, heated front power seats with eight-way adjusters for the driver, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, heated mirrors, and remote engine start.

For 2012, the V-6 engine will probably still be available only on 2LT and LTZ models, and will also add upgraded steering and chrome exhaust tips; it should cost around $1,800.

As before, the 2012 Malibu LS will only offer a handful of options, including a Bluetooth interface with steering wheel controls for around $115. The rest of the line will likely still offer popular items like a power sunroof for around $850, a USB interface package for about $250, and various feature bundles.

2012 Chevrolet Malibu Fuel Economy back to top

EPA mileage estimates for 2012 models were not released in time for this review, but expect 2012 Chevrolet Malibu fuel-economy ratings to be consistent with 2010 Malibu ratings. Expect four-cylinder 2012 Malibus to have a fuel-economy rating of 22/33 mpg city/highway. Equipped with the V-6, the 2012 Malibu should retain a rating of 17/26 mpg.

Sustaining the status quo would mean the 2012 Malibu’s gas mileage would remain unexceptional compared to most four- and six-cylinder midsize cars -- and downright inferior to competitors with more advanced powertrain technology, such as direct fuel injection. Also contributing to Malibu’s lackluster fuel-economy ratings is its relatively high weight compared to other midsize sedans.

2012 Chevrolet Malibu Release Date back to top

The 2012 Chevrolet Malibu should go on sale by September 2011.

What's next for the 2012 Chevrolet Malibu back to top

Malibu is expected to receive a major redesign for model-year 2013 that should bring it up to current standards in terms of powertrain technology and the latest comfort and convenience features. Reports indicate it will be based on the latest “Epsilon 2” platform, which forms the basis in the U.S. for the recently re-introduced Buick Regal, which is essentially an Americanized version of the well-regarded Insignia from GM’s German Opel division.

The 2013 Malibu will remain a front-drive sedan though all-wheel-drive and hatchback versions could be added to the line. It’ll be a slightly smaller and lighter-weight car than the 2008-2012 Malibu, though. Regal rides on a shorter 107.8-inch wheelbase, but is a bit taller and wider than the current Malibu, which could help Chevy maintain the car’s roomy passenger cabin. Exterior styling changes should be more evolutionary than revolutionary, with the Malibu remaining fresh though recognizable with an updated version of Chevy’s horizontal-bar split front grille; overall it should be more conservative looking than the flashier Regal.

Inside, expect a stylish extension of the attractive interior that’s featured in the Chevrolet Cruze, with higher-grade materials used throughout to afford a higher-quality feel, with generous use of sound-deadening materials to help ensure a quiet cabin. The next generation Malibu will likely see a full range of amenities, finally adding a bona fide navigation system, rear backup camera, and other indulgences to the options list, and including standard features like the power rear door child-lock system that’s featured in Chevy’s Cruze and Equinox models.

What you may not find in the next-generation Malibu is a V-6 engine. Stricter fuel economy regulations mandate that automakers boost fleetwide fuel economy by 40 percent, phased in gradually between the 2012 and 2016 model years. This is prompting car builders to develop smaller and lighter engines that utilize technology like direct fuel injection, advanced variable valve timing, and turbocharging to help boost power and reduce fuel consumption.

We’ll probably see one or both of the Regal’s engines carry over to the next Malibu. That means Chevy buyers can expect a 182-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder and a 2.0-liter turbocharged version with 220 horses and plenty of torque for quick launches, but with similar fuel consumption. The compact Chevy Cruze’s 138-horsepower 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder could be included in an economy-leading Malibu model, though it might feel overmatched in the larger, heavier car. As in the current Malibu, a sophisticated six-speed automatic transmission should remain the only available gearbox.

Expect a redesigned Malibu to furnish a reasonably smooth ride, but gain handling precision as a byproduct of the platform’s European roots. It’s possible Chevy could offer a package that includes a slightly stiffer suspension and tire upgrades to ratchet up the car’s cornering abilities a notch, or at the least one that adds few styling tweaks and ground effects (as it does with the Cruze) to help lure those looking for something more enthusiastic and/or expressive.

And Chevrolet will probably bring back a hybrid version of the Malibu for a future model year. At least initially, this won’t be a “full hybrid” in which an electric motor/generator is used to power the car under certain situations and otherwise augment a gasoline engine. Reports suggest this will be an updated version of the short-lived “mild-hybrid” technology that was offered in the Malibu for model years 2008 and 2009. Here, an electric motor would be used to only modestly augment a gasoline engine, say for added passing power at highway speeds, with most fuel economy gains coming from an automatic stop/start system that shuts down the engine upon deceleration and while at idle. While the previous-generation’s system was costly and provided only minor gains in fuel economy, the new system is said to be more affordable and boost the car’s efficiency by as much as 20 percent. A full hybrid that uses GM’s “2 Mode” hybrid system or a variation thereof may follow, but reports suggest the automaker will likely first apply that technology to its crossover models instead of its passenger cars.

2012 Chevrolet Malibu Competition back to top

Honda Accord: A bit larger than the midsize competition, enough so that the EPA officially classifies it as a “large” car, the Accord continues to please with solid overall performance, an attractive exterior, and a roomy interior that’s hampered only by some poor dashboard design choices. As always its reputation for quality and its resale values are first rate. In addition to a practical sedan, the Accord comes in more expressive and slightly sportier coupe versions. Four-cylinder Accord sedans start at around $22,000 and are EPA-rated at 23/34 mpg with an automatic transmission. Accord V-6 sedans are priced from around $28,000 and net 20/30 mpg. Coupes are priced slightly higher. It’s expected to receive a major redesign for model-year 2013.

Ford Fusion: Continuing with only elemental changes, the Fusion runs a but ahead of the Malibu in terms of ride and handling sophistication, and it comes in a fuel-saving Hybrid model. Its base four-cylinder engine delivers adequate power and is rated at 23/33 mpg with the standard automatic transmission; its base price is around $20,500. V-6 versions that generate either 240- or 263-horsepower, depending on the model, can be fitted with traction-enhancing all-wheel-drive and are estimated at 18/27 and 17/24, respectively. A V-6 Fusion starts at around $24,750. The Fusion Hybrid leverages its 191 horsepower four-cylinder engine to deliver V-6 like power and obtain an estimated of 41/36 mpg, starting at around $29,000. As with the Malibu and Accord it’s due for a full makeover for model-year 2013.  

Toyota Camry: The top-selling car in the industry’s top-selling segment is due for a model-year 2012 redesign. Toyota hasn’t released details about the next generation Camry, but don’t expect the automaker to tinker too much with a winning formula. Reports suggest the car will remain similar in size to the 2007-2012-generation Camry, though it could become a bit wider for the sake of added stability and a larger interior. Styling changes will likely follow the expressive path taken by the Toyota Venza wagon. A base four-cylinder engine is a certainly, and an improved V-6 may continue, with six-speed automatic transmissions offered across the line. Toyota will likely continue to offer a Camry Hybrid as well, though it, too, is likely to have advanced technology compared to today’s version.

UPDATED BY LARRY E. HALL

2012 Chevrolet Malibu Next Steps