We've driven all four versions of the Malibu, the four-cylinder four-speed automatic, the four-cylinder six-speed automatic, the hybrid, and the V6 six-speed automatic.
The Malibu 2LT V6 we drove was very pleasant, indeed. The thoroughly modern V6 has 252 horsepower and delivers performance that is good, if not sparkling, and is certainly as much as most families will ever need. There is certainly no shortage of power or performance.
With the V6, the six-speed automatic is quick to shift, up and down, smooth, lurch-free and quiet. The engine, which has nine different sound attenuators in the air intake system, sounds powerful and smooth.
In fact, everything about the V6 is quiet and smooth. The suspension soaked up rough Mississippi farm roads with grace and competence, and kept the car straight and flat without a lot of pitching and body roll. On pockmarked Chicago streets, though, we did experience some jolts in the rear suspension, but they were pretty rough streets.
The steering is reasonably quick and precise, but without much real road feel. And, for our preferences, the steering wheel is a bit too large in diameter; a smaller steering wheel would give a sportier feel.
With the V6 engine, the driveline exhibits some torque-steer at full throttle. Stand on the gas when turning at low speed and you'll feel a tug on the steering wheel. But, overall, the braking action and performance is on par with anything else in this class of vehicles and trustworthy in panic situations.
The hybrid is considered a mild hybrid and uses a belt-alternator-starter, or BAS system, to stop and start the 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine when needed. It shuts down completely at stoplights, and can add 3-4 kilowatts, or about seven horsepower, to the gasoline engine's output when needed. We found it works as advertised. The engine restarts immediately when you hit the throttle, and it does so smoothly. While the motor adds only seven horsepower, electric motors offer a lot of low-rpm torque, so the hybrid has a little more power and acceleration away from a stop than the base four-cylinder.
The base engine is the Ecotec 2.4-liter. In base trim, it has a four-speed overdrive automatic transmission. It also has electric power steering, to save drag on the engine, which helps both fuel economy and performance, while the V6-powered models come with hydraulic power steering.
The six-speed automatic is a much better choice with the four-cylinder engine. It increases fuel economy by three mpg on the highway, and its gear ratios allow the engine to operate in its power band more often. Plus, it comes with steering-wheel shift paddles that allow drivers to shift down to a lower gear manually when planning to pass. That's a nice option, because the four-cylinder is no world beater, and is not as torquey or spritely as the four-cylinder engines offered by Honda or Nissan.