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Buying Used: 2008 Chevy Malibu falls flat

2008 Chevrolet Malibu

General Motors

In 2008, the Chevrolet Malibu came as a four-door sedan only, but was available in five different trim levels, including a hybrid.

Engine choices were General Motor's ubiquitous Ecotec 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine or a lively 3.6-litre V6. Two transmissions were offered initially: four- and six-speed automatics, but the former was eventually phased out. The six-speed featured a manual shift mode.

Built on the same platform as the Saturn Aura, this generation of the Malibu had all the usual modcons, such as air conditioning, cruise control, heated front seats, a 60/40-split folding rear seat, power windows, remote keyless entry, tilt/telescoping steering and power-adjustable pedals, and you could order things like a rear window sunshade and XM satellite.

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With a unique Corvette-style curving dashboard and airy interior design, the 2008 Malibu felt upscale, and was so different from its rather stodgy predecessor - re-introduced to the market in 1997 and revamped in 2003 - it might as well have come from a different manufacturer. The station-wagon-like Maxx was gone by this time.

Although there was a price jump from the four-banger to the V-6, this version of the Malibu was actually a reasonably quick automobile, with a robust 3.6-litre dual overhead cam engine powerplant and 252 horsepower on tap, compared to the 169 available on the four-cylinder version. Although easier on gas, the smaller engine was adequate, but less refined than the V-6, and a bit louder during highway driving. The Hybrid also utilized the Ecotec engine, albeit in a different state of tune.

This iteration of the Malibu was also infinitely better-looking than the one that came before it, which was significant, as most other manufacturers in this segment were also putting forward stylish, coherently designed models; the Honda Accord, Nissan Altima and Mazda6, to name three. Trunk space was a healthy, but not category-leading 444 litres, which was about par for the course for this market.

One safety recall to report with Transport Canada. The ignition switch can be fussy in this vintage of Malibu, and may get stuck if the driver mistakenly tries to rotate the ignition key to shut the car off without first putting the transmission into Park. In this scenario, everything shuts down and the driver will no longer be able to put the car into Park and/or remove the key. Furthermore, an audible warning will sound when the driver exits the vehicle.

A hefty 73 technical service bulletins are on file with the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and, predictably, they run the gamut from low oil pressure concerns, to various switches sticking in cold weather, to a "clunk, knock or rattle noise" emanating from the front suspension, to the usual assortment of electrical glitches and service advisories. Lots of diagnostic updates for service personnel, but interestingly, no TSBs from NHTSA specific to the Hybrid model.

Consumer Reports is less than thrilled with this particular year of the Malibu, giving it a "worse than average" used-car prediction. Problem areas are the suspension and brakes, with body hardware and the climate control system also getting less than favourable reviews.

Some comments from owners include: "Spends a lot of time in dealership for clunkiness," "Hybrid gas mileage is nowhere near estimates," "Nice styling for a family sedan" and "Very comfortable road car." Lousy fuel economy and a small trunk opening are common gripes and praise for the styling job are a common thread. Things also improve in 2009.

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Market research firm J.D. Power is equally unenthusiastic, giving the 2008 Malibu an "about average" rating for vehicle dependability. That said, most areas of this car receive above-average grades, with powertrain quality and overall quality design getting the best ratings this organization can bestow. Where the 2008 Malibu falls short is in overall dependability. If you go by J.D. Power and Consumer Reports, this is not a reliable automobile.

Resale values for a three-year-old Malibu have dropped significantly from its original base sticker price of $23,000. The entry-level LS is in the $13,000 neighbourhood these days, with the Hybrid fetching $2,000-$3,000 more. A loaded top-of-the-line LTZ will run you $15,000-$16,000.

Tech specs

2008 Chevrolet Malibu

Original Base Price: $22,995; Black Book: $13,725-$17,600; Red Book: $13,000-$15,975

Engine: 2.4-litre four-cylinder and 3.6-litre V-6

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Horsepower/Torque: 169 hp/160 lb-ft for four; 252 hp/251 lb-ft for V-6

Transmission: Four- and six-speed automatic

Fuel Economy (litres/100 km): 9.6 city/6.5 highway (four-cylinder); regular gas

Drive: Front-wheel

Alternatives: Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima, Hyundai Sonata, Subaru Legacy, Dodge Avenger, Ford Fusion, Mazda6

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