Since its debut way back in the 1960s, the Chevrolet Malibu has gone through several iterations — from affordable, popular rear-drive family sedan and high-horsepower SS-badged muscle car to little-noticed, little-powered front-wheel-drive rental. The original Malibu was discontinued in the early ’80s and was finally revived in 1997 as Chevrolet sought to once again give customers a competitive, value-packed midsize sedan for thousands less than the import competition.
The current Chevrolet Malibu now rides on GM’s global Epsilon platform and can be equipped with either four-cylinder or V6 power. Functional and roomy but still a bit bland inside and out, the Malibu works best as a family vehicle. Ride quality is soft and comfortable, with predictable cornering response and satisfying performance overall — though oddly calibrated electric steering can sometimes make Chevrolet’s midsize sedan feel less adept than some of its competitors.
While it’s not necessarily exciting to look at or drive in non-SS form, the current Malibu is more than competent. If you’re a mainstream shopper searching for a solid, roomy and well-equipped new or used midsize sedan without too many frills, the Chevrolet Malibu may be for you. On the other hand, if you’re looking for a little more performance or pizzazz, you might be happier with one of the imported class leaders and their superior ride and handling dynamics and greater overall refinement.
The Chevrolet Malibu is a midsize five-passenger sedan available in four trim levels. The base LS has air-conditioning, CD player, tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, powered accessories and a 60/40-split folding rear seat. The well-equipped LT adds a unique remote vehicle starter and upgraded trim and audio. Luxury-lined LTZ models have leather seating, automatic climate control, power-adjustable pedals and OnStar. There’s also the performance-oriented SS featuring a more powerful V6, 18-inch alloy wheels, a sport-tuned suspension and more supportive sport seats. (The Malibu Maxx is a separate model; its hatchback body style lends itself to added versatility.)
Under the hood, one of three power plants awaits: a 2.2-liter four-cylinder rated at 144 horsepower in LS and LT models; a 217-hp 3.5-liter V6 standard on the LTZ and optional on LT; and a top-dog 3.9-liter V6 with 240 ponies for the SS. All are hooked up to a proven four-speed automatic transmission, and the SS features a manual-shift mode. Unless you’re especially economy-conscious, we advise you to stick with one of the V6 engines.
Inside, the Chevy Malibu offers broad, flat seats with plenty of room in all directions, front and back. The standard fully adjustable wheel and optional adjustable pedals allow drivers of any size to get comfortable behind the wheel, and the spacious cabin design is functional, with a straightforward control layout. Trunk space is roomy at over 15 cubic feet, and the 60/40-split rear seat and fold-flat front passenger seat make it easy to expand cargo space when needed.
Again, if you’re looking to get people and their stuff comfortably, reliably and safely from point A to point B without many more demands, the affordable Chevrolet Malibu should on your shopping list. Those looking for a bit more in terms of amenities, driving satisfaction and style may want to also consider other more refined midsize competitors to better suit their more exacting requirements.
The Chevy Malibu was totally redesigned for 2004 on a new global GM platform with a more powerful V6 engine, a roomier layout and state-of-the-art safety features like available side-curtain airbags and adjustable pedals. We noted balanced, predictable ride and handling characteristics, plenty of passenger and cargo space, ample safety and convenience features and an innovative new remote start feature for preliminary warm-up/cool-down. The lack of manual transmission-style performance was partially addressed in 2006 when the lineup was freshened with a couple of new, more powerful V6-powered models: the leather-trimmed LTZ and high-performance SS.
Used Malibu shoppers will also find lots of previous-generation vehicles to consider, spanning the years 1997-2003. Following its introduction, the midsize Malibu went upscale with optional leather trim and a sunroof in 1998. In 2000, the front styling was modified to be more Impala-like and the 3.1-liter V6 was improved with more power. Minor detail changes like exterior/interior trim revisions, automatic headlamp control, new audio systems with CD player and new colors carry the Chevrolet Malibu through its next few years. In general, late-model, low-mileage examples in excellent condition should serve as useful second cars or for commuting duty.
Exterior design cues:
– Dual-port grille introduces the new face of Chevy
– Quad-beam halogen headlamps are given a jewel-like treatment
– Chrome accent trim
– Five-spoke wheel designs available in 16- to 18-inch sizes
– Interior comforts and conveniences:
– Available leather seating surfaces on select models set the stage for refinement
– Center console with adjustable armrest and over eight liters of storage
– Covered storage bin in the instrument panel
– XM Satellite Radio(1) is standard on all trim levels
– Available eight-speaker premium sound system
– Premium cast skin material on the instrument panel
– Acoustic laminated glass that helps keep road noise out
– Subtle, ambient interior lighting
Safety and Security
– Dual-stage frontal air bags(1)
– Head-curtain side air bags(1)
– Front seat-mounted thorax side-impact air bags(1)
– StabiliTrak Stability Control system standard on select models
– OnStar with a one-year Safe & Sound Plan(2) including OnStar Vehicle Diagnostics
– Antilock Braking System
– Traction Control
– Reinforced unibody structural integrity with safety cage construction
– Driving Dynamics
Here are a few of the other new features:
– Standard 2.4L four-cylinder DOHC engine
– Available 3.6L V6 DOHC engine
– Available six-speed automatic transmission with both engines
– Drive Information Center with readouts for engine oil life, tire pressure and more
– Factory-installed remote vehicle starter system with climate control available