The Malibu's generic-import body styling-one that might be called neo-classic-doesn't cry out for attention. That means it might get lost in a crowd; but it also means its looks will hold up better over time than some of the trendier designs.
At 190.4 inches, the Malibu is a couple of inches longer than its primary Japanese competitors-Accord and Camry-but more than seven inches shorter than its main domestic rival, the Taurus.
The Malibu comes in two trim lines-the base model and the LS. The base model offers a respectable line of standard equipment features: air conditioning, anti-lock brakes, four-speed automatic transmission, rear-set child security locks, tilt steering column and tachometer. It is powered by a four-cylinder engine.
The LS adds a few more niceties as standard equipment: power windows/door locks/mirrors, keyless entry, electronic speed control, AM/FM stereo with cassette, pass-through rear seats, and a V6 engine.
We tested the LS, which has a base price of $19,445, including the $535 destination charge. The base Malibu goes for $16,485.
By comparison, the Accord LX V6 and Camry LE V6 sedans are both priced at about $22,000. (The 4-cylinder versions are around $19,500 and $20,000, respectively.) The Taurus LX and SE, both with V6 engines, are $17,995 and $18,995 respectively.
Our LS test model was equipped with a few options-leather bucket seats ($595), power glass sunroof ($650), CD player ($200) and mud guards ($60), which hiked the total price to $20,950.
When it comes to interior amenities, it's often the little things that count. Like, for example, the Malibu's ignition switch being situated on the instrument panel, plainly visible and reachable-instead of being hidden at the base of the steering wheel. Or like the rotating air vents, at the base of the A pillars, which can be swiveled outward to defrost the side window, allowing maximum visibility of the outside mirrors.
Then there's the 6-way power seats, which offer up as many seating positions as we've seen in some high-priced luxury cars. The optional leather seats are as firm, supportive and comfortable as we've seen in some luxury cars. There's commodious front-seat headroom and ample legroom for a 6-foot driver. Also earning our praise is the location of the stereo system-it's higher on the dash than on many cars, making it more easily operable.
Our LS cabin's decor was done up in three shades of beige-to-sienna-a scheme that will seem bland to some, comforting to others. The fabric covering the headliner and pillars is plush to the touch, and the double-console configuration is spacious enough to house a half-dozen CDs and another five or six cassette tapes-each with their own notches. The big T-shaped gearshift is a point of debate-some say it's homely, but Chevrolet says it's useful as a hand rest if the forearm is resting on the console.