Having experience with the last generation Malibu, I can easily say this Malibu is a step above the previous generation.
The 2006 Malibu LT V6 is a more refined model than years past. My model was equipped with the V6 200hp Chevy Engine which powers the car smoothly and without effort through all of your every day needs.
The most apparent difference with this model is the exterior styling. The sides and front of the car are gracefully delineated with what seems to be an above-par paint job, decently-gripping factory tires, and an attractive front grill and hood.
However, I probably won't be the first person to mention that the back of the car is downright ugly, and an afterthought on the part of Chevrolet designers. This would be a very attractive car if the taillights sloped nicely and met the bumper, however, there is a very unattractive void between the tail lights, and the bumper. This makes the car look unattractive in my opinion.
Whatever team designed the Interior needs to be commended, promoted, and deserves a payraise. Although the interior has always been a strong point on the Malibu, this year's interior is incredibly aesthetic, comfortable, and of high quality.
The seats in the car, although lacking big in the driver side adjustments, is comfortable, of high quality thick black cloth, as are the back seats.
The instrument panel, although a bit different than the older generation in functionality and aesthetics is quite ergonomic. The steering wheel adjusts and telescopes perfectly to suit any dimension driver, and, on my model, came with full radio/cd controls, including cruise, and the etcetera. Although I encountered a few debacles with the radio controls while turning, I am sure this is due to the rare way I hold the wheel while making turns.
The all-black interior of my rental was put together quite well. Everything in the interior was solid, with no rattles, or vibrations when cranking up the musically suited 6-speaker system as high as it would go.
When speaking of the engine, and transmission, I have nothing but good things to say. The engine, as stated above, is a 200hp V6 (there is also a 4-cyl, and larger 3.9L V6 available.)
The V6 is equipped with Chevy's Variable Valve Timing system, although the particular name for Chevy's VVT technology currently eludes me. The V6 is mostly a low to midrange engine which will give you a nice screech from the stop light, and incredible response and acceleration throughout the 2000rpm to 5000rpm range.
Transmission wise, the Automatic mode is decent. Through normal and economic driving, the transmission knows what the driver wants (moderate acceleration or a smooth ride,) and shifts effortlessly (almost noticeably) throughout all speed ranges.
However, the Transmission doesn't quite know know how to optimize the horsepower in the higher rpm range, and wastes valuable acceleration while going full throttle. All things considered, however, this isn't a race car, and serves its purpose quite fine.
The boo-boo with this transmission happens to be the manual mode shifter, in which one can put the shifter in the "L" position, and shift up and down as needed with a "+ -" toggle on the left side of the gear shifter. When shifting in the manual mode, the shift goes through a full second after you tell it, and downshifting is truly horrible. I downshifted for a while with the manual mode only to get the feeling I would break the transmission if I continued.
The main draw with this, is that you can keep it in gear for a higher rpm throw through gears until redline, when the engine governs itself to the acceptable rpm range.
Unfortunately, when I was riding low on gas, I found out the manual mode will not save gas whatsoever. I compared what the manual mode would let me do with what the Automatic mode did, and I couldn't keep the rpm's consistantly lower to any extent. This is an insult to the manual abilities of the tranny, yet a compliment to the Automatic mode, which is quite exceptional.
The issues I have with the 2006 Malibu LT V6 involve handling, and highway driving. Although the Malibu performs perfectly in all aspects of every day driving, it doesn't quite stand up to the racecar-suited highway driving in the Northeast USA.
Above 85, the car begins to want to fly up in the air like an airplane. Obviously this is because of an aerodynamic issue which, I'm sure, will improve in later models.
The car governs its speed at around 110-115 mph.
I was literally afraid to take the car on some of the back valley roads we have here in Northern Delaware. The car has a huge amount of body roll, torque steer, is aerodynamically suited to going off the side of a hill more than riding curvy roads as a safe, modern car should do.
Greatly disappointed in the first 1/4 mile of venturing on to a back road, and fearing for my welfare, I immediately turned around back to city driving, where this car surely excels.
Lastly, but not leastly ;) Brakes.
The Brakes on the car consisted of four disc brakes which stopped the car adequately under city conditions. I, personally, had no issue with the brakes, but I believe they could enlarge/vent the discs and pads on the following models. It is a shame to have incredible power, yet disappointing stopping power.
All in all, the Malibu is an incredibly classy car with a bit of a styling issue on the back end. For everyday, normal driving, the car will do anyone justice.
However, if you work your cars out a bit more, or have a more refined taste in cars akin to most Japanese and European cars, you will be disappointed in the sports abilities of this car.
By driving the car, I'd imagine Chevy targets the Malibu demographic as a 40-65 year old man, however it has taken quite a few steps toward the 20-40 year old male range in terms of acceleration, the manual tranny mode, the sound system, and interior styling.
However, the exterior styling will put a strict age limit on this car above 45 years old.