The Chevrolet Malibu was launched to compete with the mid-size imports from Japan. Like the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry, the Malibu emphasizes civilized road manners, quality construction, and buttoned-down practicality wrapped in innocuous if not anonymous styling.
The driving performance of the Malibu exceeded our expectations. We were surprised by the acceleration performance from the V6 and delighted by the crispness of handling on winding roads. It feels firmer than the Camry, but softer than the Accord, a good balance, in other words. Malibu's solid structure is based on GM's new Epsilon platform used by a couple of highly successful European sedans. Along with its compliant suspension, this gives the Malibu a smooth, comfortable ride, yet allows for spirited driving. This is no mush-mobile. Steering effort is light at low speeds, so the Malibu is easy to maneuver through crowded parking lots and park.
The cabin offers roomy accommodations for five passengers with comfortable seats and logical controls that are easy to use. It's quiet underway. And you can start the car remotely, a great feature on cold, winter mornings. No question, this is a highly competent sedan that's practical and easy to live with.
Where the Malibu needs work is in the appearance department. Introduced as an all-new model for 2004, the Malibu is better looking than the plain-looking previous model, but it's no raving beauty. That silver band across the front is designed to clearly identify this as a Chevy, but it won't go down in history as a great design.
The Malibu has something the imports don't: the Maxx. Maxx is a longer-wheelbase variant, whose extended roofline and rear cargo hatch suggest a sporty station wagon. While Malibu seems destined to disappear into a crowd, Maxx looks just as determined to stand out and be noticed.
Starting at just a hair under $19,000 and topping out below $25,000, Malibu base prices are extremely competitive with the prices of the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry, which can approach $30,000 with options. The previous Malibu ranked tops in the midsize car class in the J.D. Power Initial Quality Surveys for two consecutive years; we expect the 2005 model to offer quality construction.!!
Malibu is available as a conventional four-door sedan, or as the longer-wheelbase Malibu Maxx. The sedan comes in three trim levels: base ($18,995), LS ($21,060), and LT ($23,855). The base model is powered by a 2.2-liter dual overhead cam four-cylinder engine. LS and LT versions come with a 3.5-liter overhead-valve V6. All models come with a four-speed automatic transmission.
Standard features at all levels include: air conditioning; a power vertical height adjuster for the driver's seat; power windows, door locks and outside mirrors; tilt/telescoping steering column; four-speaker stereo with compact disc player; dual-stage front airbags; and 205/65R15 touring tires on 15-inch steel wheels. Anti-lock brakes (ABS) with traction control are optional ($400). A Preferred Equipment Group ($835) for the base sedan consists of: cruise control; remote keyless entry; power adjustable pedals; driver manual lumbar seat adjuster; front seatback map pockets; a cargo net; and the audio system that is standard in the LS.
The mid-level LS comes standard with anti-lock brakes (ABS); traction control; cruise control; remote keyless entry; front-reading lights; map pockets in the backs of the fronts seats; power adjustable pedals; manual lumbar adjustment for the driver's seat; six-speaker stereo with Radio Data system (which displays the kind of station you are listening to); 15-inch aluminum wheels; a cargo net; illuminated driver's side vanity mirror and non-illuminated vanity mirror on the passenger side; and body color moldings. Side-impact airbags and head curtain airbags are optional for base and LS models ($690) and we recommend them highly. A package ($1,095) for the LS sedan includes: side curtain airbags; remote vehicle starter; carpeted floor mats; and six-way power driver's seat.
LT adds: automatic climate control; seat-mounted side-impact and side curtain airbags; front and rear reading lights; remote vehicle starter; leather seats; heated front seats; 6-way power driver's seat; seat cushion storage pockets for outboard seating positions; leather-wrapped steering wheel with steering wheel-mounted audio and cruise controls; leather-wrapped shift knob; two illuminated vanity mirrors in front; fog lamps; power and heated outside rearview mirrors; body-color rocker moldings; a rear spoiler; 16-inch tires and wheels. An optional package for the LT ($1,230) includes a Homelink transmitter for opening garages and security gates; a light-sensitive auto dimming rearview mirror, XM Satellite Radio and a power sunroof.
Maxx is built in the same three trim levels: base ($20,760), LS ($21,260), and LT ($24,405). But the base-level Maxx is better equipped than the base-level sedan, and comes with the V6, cruise control, traction control, anti-lock brakes (ABS), 16-inch steel wheels, power hatch release, and other highline features. Similar options packages are available for Maxx. A DVD entertainment center with wireless headphones and a monitor that flips up from the front console ($995) is available.
Options for Malibu sedan and Maxx include: XM Satellite Radio ($325 plus the $9.99 monthly subscription fee); GM's OnStar communications system ($695); a power sunroof ($725); and a rear spoiler for the sedan ($175) or Maxx ($300). Three levels of audio are available, from the base AM/FM stereo and CD player to the top-of-the-line system with an in-dash, six-CD changer, six speakers, and automatic volume and tone controls ($300). A unique option is the remote starter ($150), useful both in cold climates to warm up the car before the driver climbs in and in extremely hot climates to cool it down.