Yesterday I had to hit the road and my car was in the shop, so I got a rental - a 2011 Malibu LS from Enterprise. I had driven the Malibu when it was introduced as a 2008 model but didn't like a few things about it at the time. This car really impressed me, however.
I think a big part of it was the 6-speed automatic. It made the 2.4L engine seem pretty zippy around town and it worked well on the highway. The only time it seemed a bit over matched was one time when I was merging onto an expressway where the road had a pretty good uphill grade - there was a lot of added engine noise as the 2.4 revved, but not a whole lot of extra push. But that was the only time it seemed underpowered. The rest of the trip, both on expressways and on 2-lanes, it was more than adequate in combination with the 6-speed.
My traveling companion commented on the amount of interior room and it really did seem quite commodious. This car was black on the outside with the light gray interior which made it seem bright and airy. The interior quality was good, especially the dash with its aluminum trim, and I quite liked it. The seats could have used a better adjustment mechanism (or maybe there was an adjustment I couldn't find) because the bottom cushion seemed a little flat and needed the front edge raised a bit for me to be fully comfortable. I also found it a bit low to get in and out of. But on the plus side, I liked the overall dash design, the control layout, and the gauges.
The driving dynamics were the best part. A good part of the trip was on 2-lane country roads and it carved the turns very well. Ride was comfortable and quiet. Steering was nicely weighted and I had no complaints at all. On the expressway the car felt stable at speed and was easy to maneuver. Overall, the car was a pleasure to drive.
I surprised myself by being impressed so much by the car. I imagine a nicely equipped model like an LT or LTZ would be even more pleasant to drive. I will have to give the new model consideration when the time comes if it is as good as this car is.