(first posted 12/14/2015) Car and driver tested a Malibu Classic with the F41 suspension, and they were quite effusive in their praise.
Part of the Malibu’s magic was its quiet competence. The 1978 downsizing brought a trim new design with a better emphasis on functionality. While the performance variants of Malibu’s A-body corporate siblings (Olds 442, Pontiac Grand Am) took a flashy route to show-off their newfound performance, Chevy opted to offer the “sleeper” of the group.
Sleepy, however, was the adjective to best describe the performance. The top engine option for the 1978 Malibu was Chevy’s 305 2V. Even paired with a 4-speed manual, acceleration was leisurely at best.
What really made this Malibu Classic shine was its suspension tuning, with the then-legendary F41 handling package option. The 1978 Malibu Classic that Car and Driver tested was actually a Chevrolet Engineering evaluation car, which had been modified with the planned 1979 upgrades to the F41 package. So this particular car had an even better version of F41, with more structural reinforcement and better wheels and tires (for the time at least—we’d view the “performance” wheel/tire combo as comically small today).
Brakes and steering were critiqued for their numbness, but actual response was pretty good. That, in general seemed to be the essence of the downsized Malibu. There was a lot of potential, though the all the counterpoints agreed that work was still needed to make the F41 Malibu into a genuine world-beater.
I am assuming Car and Driver’s editors wanted to throw a bone to the rapidly failing Chrysler Corporation when they included the Dodge Challenger in the comparison table with the Malibu. Somehow a 2 + 2 from Japan doesn’t seem to fit well with American mid sized coupes, but there it is.