A silent, unspectacular motoring offering from General Motors akin to its saloon segment competitors.
2010 Chevrolet Malibu
In my experience, some of the General's Motors have a tendency to put one to sleep. And Ed Welburn would agree. He is GM's design boss - within just 10 minutes of him sitting as my passenger on a test drive in the GMC Acadia, he fell fast asleep, his head lolling, and so he remained for the rest of the journey. I like to think that was more about the car than my ability to enthral.
Then there was the time of the launch event of the Chevrolet Epica in Melbourne when one of the cream of our nation's free press slept through the product walk-through in the display car's driving seat. He didn't surface until GM's lovely-yet-stern communications chief knocked on the window and wagged her finger. He would never do that again, but I nearly did, at the Middle East launch of the second edition Malibu. Although luckily I started the journey in the passenger seat and next to one of Dubai's most loquacious companions; otherwise I would have slumbered through the journey from Dubai to Ras al Khaimah and missed out on all the fun.
These cars share a soporific nature, not because they are any duller than their competitors, but because they are so incredibly quiet and comfortable. GM designers have worked extremely hard to remove almost all the noise associated with motoring. The Malibu is extremely important for GM, so the attention to detail they have put into it is understandable. The challenge for Chevrolet was to craft an offering for this mid-snooze saloon segment that stood out from the herd.
Just imagine a world with nothing other than Camrys, Altimas, Galants and Accords on uniform driveways. It would be a hire-car nightmare. But that doesn't stop the people from buying them. The reason why this category of car is so popular the world over is that it produces safe, reliable cars that are bereft of ostentation and as uninspiring as most of the people you meet at work each day. It provides the hand that slips snugly into the glove of conformity.
But then along comes the Malibu to fit snugly in the segment. The spec sheet tells us that everything's in order: dual frontal air bags, head-curtain side bags and front and outboard rear side impact bags; it rides just as you would imagine with front-wheel drive and plenty of space; there are a couple of engine variants, the 2.4-litre, four-cylinder unit producing 169hp and the 3.6-litre V6, which we drove, ramping out 252hp.
Then there's the drivetrain you need a stethoscope to hear, thanks to all the damping this and soundproofed that. In the Malibu, counting the kilometres is like counting sheep. Worthy as it all sounds, though, this is about as far as the quiet man of motoring goes, because the second perspective it presents is altogether different: it's left-field looks. While nobody would describe the Malibu as daring like Scott of the Antarctic, Ibn Battuta or Adrian Hayes, it's certainly cut from a different cloth to the Camry. What Honda started with the Accord, with greater chiselling and a more upmarket look, Chevrolet has moved forward.
GM is always very keen for us to talk about the "signature grille that boasts the bold new global face of Chevrolet" in those exact words, and this is because the car maker has hit on a design triumph that works on every size of car. Mesh radiators are always alluring, while the crossbar, which houses an oversized gold Chevrolet bow tie, marks this as a very different looker from its competitors.
While not as clean-cut as the Traverse, which has very little getting in the way of its sleek lines and lissom curves, the Malibu still has plenty of grace and maybe the next facelift will take some of the complication out of the front light cluster and move the disruptive bonnet join elsewhere. As the view progresses towards the rear, the curves continue and break into a more angular structure that encompasses the rear-light cluster and high waist line. Very premium indeed.
Inside, you either love or hate, depending - in the case of the test car, at least - on your love of brown. Saying that, though, the underlying design was tasteful and minimalist, if not particularly well put together. For me, the instrument binnacle was far too reminiscent of Dodge's three-part cluster, but the gauges speak out clearly, especially with the blue backlight, as do the bits and pieces of the centre stack and incredibly useful iPod deck.
This is a car that comes loaded with gadgets, another example of GM's "let's get them tempted" business plan. Just about the best of these dangles from the key: once you try the remote start, which gets the air conditioning working while you're still in your villa, you won't like the alternative. The Malibu occupies a class of car that provides safe and unspectacular motoring, which, allied with interior room, is why this is the segment of choice for taxi firms and hire-car companies all round the world. But while it does have extremely competitive - and in some respects, class-leading - figures, this Chevy is more safety than slinky.
Even with the V6 engine, my Malibu wasn't as willing as its output would suggest, and even though the transmission was smooth, the powertrain was not in a hurry to hand me a fine. But it was smooth in the way only Americana can be, and perfectly agreeable when it came to corners. And was it quiet, oh so quiet. Quiet like something a few hundred thousand dollars more expensive. firstname.lastname@example.org