MEMPHIS, Tenn. ó For the past 15 minutes Iíve been staring at a blank page on the computer screen trying to find a comparison that would help convey the impact of the new 2008 Chevrolet Malibu.

The fact of the matter is that there is no comparison to the new mid-size sedan that looks and feels like a $40,000 car, delivers great performance and fuel economy, is loaded with premium features but yet has a base price starting below $20,000.

The styling is striking. The appointments are upscale and craftsmanship of this vehicle is absolutely top notch.

The point that I really want to convey is that if you are one of those consumers who has long turned your nose up at American-made passenger cars, the new Malibu is a game changer.

Itís no secret that the mid-size sedan segment has been dominated of late by Japanese imports.

No question, Toyota and Honda build great cars. They are reliable cars. They are well-crafted cars. They are cars that deliver great fuel economy.

Mark my words, the 2008 Chevrolet Malibu ó which began arriving in Chevy dealerships in early November _ will make car buyers re-evaluate their opinion of American cars.

Available in three trim lines, the five-passenger, front-wheel drive 2008 Malibu is also available in a hybrid platform that combines performance and fuel economy.

The base Malibu is powered by a 2.4-liter I-4 engine (169 horsepower/160 lbs.-ft. torque) and mated to a four-speed automatic transmission. Later in the model year, buyers will also have the option of a six-speed automatic with the I-4 engine.

Using regular unleaded gasoline, it has an EPA fuel economy rating of 22 mpg city, 30 mpg highway.

The Malibu Hybrid is equipped with the GM Hybrid system using an electric motor/generator mated to the 2.4-L I-4 engine (164 hp/159 torque) and has an EPA fuel economy rating of 24 mpg city, 32 mpg highway.

Buyers can also opt for the 3.6-liter V-6 engine (252 horsepower, 251 lbs.-ft. torque) mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. Also using regular unleaded fuel, it has an EPA fuel economy rating of 17 mpg city, 26 mpg highway.

During the product launch held earlier this month in Memphis, I had the opportunity to drive all three powertrain options on both city and highway driving conditions.

What impressed me most was the quiet interior ó something you donít normally find in this segment, even with the popular-selling import models.

Performance was also exceptional. While I expected the V-6 to deliver rapid response, I was completely blown away by the acceleration and torque of both the base I-4 and the Hybrid version. Even during rapid acceleration conditions, this powertrain responded on demand ó without engine whine or strain.

While impressed with both engines, please, be sure to test drive the I-4 (or Hybrid) before automatically jumping into the V-6. You will likely discover it meets (if not exceeds) your needs. For those in the market for a mid-size sedan, the 2008 Chevrolet Malibu is an absolute must for your test drive list.

Neal White has been covering the automotive industry for more than 15 years and is affiliated with the Texas Auto Writers Association and the Midwest Automotive Media Association. Comments may be sent to Neal at neal.white@waxahachiedailylight.com.