2002 Chevrolet Malibu
Someone wise once said the best cars impress their owners more than their owners’ neighbors. Malibu is like that. It is designed for comfort, quietness, practicality and affordability, yet it also provides a good account of itself on the road, boasting fine power and handling, with a V6 engine standard on all models.
As a mid-size four-door sedan, Malibu competes head-to-head with Ford Taurus, Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. But even against the best-selling cars in America, Malibu makes a good showing, with more than 207,000 sold last year.
Malibu received some significant revisions and updates last year. Changes for 2002 are minimal; probably the most significant are new colors and upgrades to the stereo system.
The Malibu comes in two trim lines, base and LS. Both are powered by a 3.1-liter overhead-valve V6 engine.
The base model, priced at $17,535, offers a respectable list of standard features, including air conditioning, anti-lock brakes, four-speed automatic transmission, power door locks, rear-seat child security locks, battery rundown protection, AM/FM/CD stereo, tilt steering column and tachometer.
The LS, priced at $19,740, comes with a nicer cloth interior and a six-way power driver’s seat. It also adds a lot of equipment we take for granted nowadays: power windows with driver’s side express-down feature, dual remote electric outside rear view mirrors, cruise control, and remote keyless entry. New for 2002 is a 100-watt, two-channel sub-woofer system.
The Chevrolet Malibu is not a leader in the styling department. Malibu’s simple, functional styling may get it lost in a crowd. Its looks share more in common with Japanese sedans than, say, the more individualistic Ford Taurus.
Malibu’s front fascia and center grille take their styling cues from big-brother Impala. Handsome aluminum wheels, redesigned for 2002, reinforce Malibu’s fresh appearance. (They are standard on LS and a $375 option on the base model.) You can even add a deck-lid spoiler for $175.
At 190.4 inches, Malibu is a couple of inches longer than its primary Japanese competitors, Honda Accord and Toyota Camry, but it is more than seven inches shorter than its main domestic rival, Ford Taurus.
Three new colors have been added for 2002: Dark Tropic Teal, Medium Green Pearl and Redfire Metallic.
When it comes to interior amenities, it’s the little things that count. Malibu’s ignition switch, for example, is located on the instrument panel, where it’s plainly visible and reachable, instead of being hidden at the base of the steering wheel as it is in most cars. Also convenient are the rotating air vents at the base of the A-pillars; they can be swiveled outward to defrost the side window, so you can actually see the outside mirrors in damp weather.
Then there’s the six-way power driver’s seat, as infinitely adjustable as many we’ve seen in high-priced luxury cars. The optional leather bucket seats ($595) are firm, supportive and comfortable. There’s generous front-seat headroom and ample legroom for a six-foot driver. Also worthy of praise is the location of the stereo system. It’s higher on the dash than on many cars, making it more easily operable.
Smart car features include a delayed-headlamp function that keeps the lights on a bit longer, giving you more time to sprint from the vehicle to your house.
Handsome cloth trims the inner door panels, and the shift handle looks like ebony. A retained accessory power feature, standard on the LS, allows you to keep listening to the radio for up to ten minutes after the ignition key has been switched off, or until a door is opened. Also standard on the LS are map pockets on the backs of the front seats.
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 large double-console is spacious enough to house a half-dozen CDs and another five or six cassette tapes, each in their own notches. The T-shaped gearshift is tall and spindly.
Malibu was designed for full-size ride and quiet in a mid-size package, and on that front it delivers. Separate steel subframes for the front and rear ends protect the cabin from engine vibration and harsh bumps. Wind noise at high speeds is controlled well, using recessed door handles, a special windshield seal, and other anti-noise measures.
Malibu’s suspension is firmer than that of previous mid-size Chevy sedans. For this reason, the Malibu handles more crisply, and leans less in tuns and during abrupt lane-changing maneuvers. It feels light and agile. Its steering responds quickly when cornering hard. Overall, it rewards the driver with good feedback and sporty, predictable feel. It handles nearly as well as an Accord.
Malibu’s independent rear suspension yields a smoother ride, as each rear wheel responds individually to varying road surfaces. That definitely made a difference when we took our Malibu out onto some suburban-Detroit dirt roads, which were freshly rutted after a post-blizzard thaw. Ordinarily, this would be a molar-rattling experience, but the Malibu fended off the bumps like a bigger sedan.
Malibu provides plenty of power for merging briskly onto the freeway. The 3.1-liter V6 boasts 170 horsepower and 190 foot-pounds of torque. The highly efficient automatic transmission monitors temperature, altitude and throttle position to determine optimum shift points. It shifts smoothly, too.
All Malibus come with front disc and rear drum brakes with ABS. In both normal and emergency-stopping situations, the brakes are solid and firm, with no discernable fade or grab. ABS allows the driver to maintain steering control during severe braking situations by reducing wheel lockup.
The Chevrolet Malibu may not stand out in a crowd. But it delivers excellent handling, plenty of power, lots of headroom, and a quiet and comfortable ride.
|Model Line Overview|
|Model lineup:||Malibu ($17,650); LS ($19,855)|
|Engines:||3.1-liter ohv 12-valve V6|
|Safety equipment (standard):||ABS, dual next-generation airbags, rear-seat child locks, LATCH child-seat tethers and anchors|
|Safety equipment (optional):||N/A|
|Basic warranty:||3 years/36,000 miles|
|Assembled in:||Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; Lansing, Michigan|
|Specifications As Tested|
|Model tested (MSPR):||Malibu LS ($19,740)|
|Standard equipment:||ABS, air conditioning, tilt steering column, tachometer, AM/FM/CD stereo, power locks, rear defroster, floor mats. LS adds 100-watt, 2-channel subwoofer, power windows w/driver's-side express-down, power mirrors, 6-way power driver's seat, dual reading lamps, dual visor vanity mirrors, remote keyless entry, cruise control|
|Options as tested (MSPR):||Leather bucket seats ($595); power glass sunroof ($695)|
|Gas guzzler tax:||N/A|
|Price as tested (MSPR):||$21615|
|Engine:||3.1-liter ohv 12-valve V6|
|Horsepower (lb.-ft @ rpm):||170 @ 5200|
|Torque (lb.-ft @ rpm):||190 @ 4000|
|EPA fuel economy, city/hwy:||20/29 mpg|
|Track, f/r:||59.0/59.3 in.|
|Turning circle:||36.3 ft.|
|Head/hip/leg room, f:||39.4/52.0/41.9 in.|
|Head/hip/leg room, m:||N/A|
|Head/hip/leg room, r:||37.6/52.0/38.0 in.|
|Cargo volume:||17.3 cu. ft.|
|Towing capacity:||1000 Lbs.|
|Ground clearance:||5.5 in.|
|Curb weigth:||3080 lbs.|
|Brakes, f/r:||disc/drum, with ABS|
|Fuel capacity:||14.1 gal.|
|Unless otherwise indicated, specifications refer to test vehicle. All prices are manufacturer's suggested retail prices (MSPR) effective as of February 16, 2002.Prices do not include manufacturer's destination and delivery charges. N/A: Information not available or not applicable. Manufacturer Info Sources: 1-800-222-1020 - www.chevrolet.com|