- Rigid structure.
- Good handling.
- Quiet ride.
- Decent fuel economy.
- Low price for a V6.
- Bland styling inside and out.
- Tight rear legroom.
- Not the smoothest engine.
- Nowhere near as much power as Japanese V6 midsizers.
- Only comes with a four-speed automatic.
Press Coverage :
The all-new Chevrolet Malibu is based on GM's European Opel/Vauxhall Vectra. The Malibu and Vectra are both built on the solid Epsilon global front-wheel-drive platform, which is also shared with the new Saab 9-3. The new Malibu is vastly improved over the simple and overly dull older model, which has earned the distinction of being a favorite among fleet buyers and rental car companies. Coincidentally, GM will continue to manufacture the old Malibu expressly for fleet buyers, dubbing it the Chevy Classic and packing a 4-cylinder Ecotec.
The base Malibu model will also pack a standard 4-cylinder Ecotec, but the real performers are the overhead-valve V6 models. The 200 hp V6 engine will be standard on the higher-trim LS and LT models, while being optional on the base model. The torquey engine is good for 220 lb-ft, but acceleration is hindered by the standard Hydramatic auto gearbox, with no manual option. The 3.5L engine itself is not that impressive, in an age when 3.5L V6 motors are good for at least 240 hp. Not a good start for a car planning to gain ground on new-age Japanese powerhouses. However, gas mileage is decent - on par with the V6 Camry and V6 Accord, and better than the Stratus R/T, Nissan Altima 3.5 SE, Mazda 6 s and GM's own Saturn L300.
Performance-wise, the Malibu is quicker than the old model, but still barely keeping up with the bottom of the midsize pack. Needless to say, the best acceleration is achieved by flooring the throttle to the point of no return. The engine itself is not the smoothest out there. But the real news is the handling. The new European Vectra is lauded for its improved handling over the old Vectra, adding a hint of sportiness to an otherwise non-remarkable car. On a side note, the Saturn L300 is based on the old Vectra, so now you know which American GM product is the better handler. Standard are 15-inch wheels, while the LT gets 16-inch wheels. The Epsilon base is exceptionally rigid, thus all but eliminating body vibrations and chassis flexing. However, understeer intrudes at the limit and the comfort-biased suspension doesn't help. Also, besides traction control and ABS, the Malibu does not come with any of the electronic driving aids that litter the Vectra. In the end, the handling is better than the Saturn L300 and Camry SE, but falls behind the standards set by the Mazda 6.
Interior room has increased, although the design leaves much to be desired. The dasboard styling is a throwback to 1980s Japanese cars. The materials are of a decent quality, but fit and finish are still not comparable to that of the big names. The cabin is quiet on the highway and trunk space is good. But the interior space is not utilized efficiently, so rear legroom is somewhat tight for a car this size. The comparably-wheelbased VW Passat, Mazda 6 et al seem to treat rear passengers much better. To overcome this shortfall, Chevy is cunningly offering a hatchback-style long wheelbase version, called the Malibu Maxx, which adds about 6 inches to the wheelbase, but style and performance suffer as a result.
With a 60/40 split/folding rear seat and a fold-flat front passenger seat, the Malibu can be a cavernous cargo carrier by day and a refined, comfortable people-hauler by night, or the other way around. Every Malibu sedan features standard and optional equipment allowing drivers to customize their driving experience. A power driver's seat height adjuster, tilt/telescoping steering column, power windows, door locks and mirrors are standard on all Malibus. Power adjustable brake and accelerator pedals and manual lumbar support are standard on the Malibu LS and LT and available on the base Malibu sedan.
The Malibu sedan also will be the first car in its class to offer an optional factory-installed remote vehicle starter system, allowing the driver to get a head start on the car's interior heating and cooling from a range of about 200 feet.
The main characteristics of the Epsilon architecture were developed with GM's Opel subsidiary in Germany, which accounts, in part, for the European flair in Malibu's ride and handling. But each Epsilon vehicle is adapted regionally to meet local conditions and tastes. The new Malibu is spacious and quiet, with 101 cubic feet of space for passengers and superb acoustical characteristics. In addition to the vibration-reducing properties of the Epsilon architecture itself, the car has a host of noise-elimination features, including a cast foam-rubber barrier covering the dash panel; a modular noise-dampening plate in the dash panel; a compression-molded fiberglass-composite hood insulator; and front and rear "glove-fit" carpet floor modules.
The Epsilon body structure gives the Malibu a high degree of structural stiffness, greatly enhancing both vehicle handling and interior acoustics. A fully isolated powertrain cradle with tuned bushings further contributes to the Malibu's quiet ride. Rounding out the package is an independent front suspension with MacPherson struts and a four-link independent rear suspension.
Comfort for rear-seat passengers is enhanced with a heating/air conditioning system designed for their needs. In addition to airflow to the feet, two vents on the center of the dash are designed to pour generous amounts of heated or cooled air directly into the back seat. The headliner console in the LS and LT models has reading lights for front and rear passengers and offers the Homelink system for programming garage door openers and other electronic home-based functions.
Four levels of radio offerings are available on the Malibu, starting with the base model with AM/FM stereo and CD player up to an uplevel radio with an in-dash, six-CD changer, six speakers, automatic volume and tone controls, and XM Satellite Radio (continental U.S. only) compatibility. XM Satellite Radio provides 100 coast-to-coast, digital-quality channels of original music, news, sports and talk. Consumers can subscribe to the basic service for $9.99 a month - less than the cost of a single CD. In addition, GM customers with GMAC financing can choose to include the XM subscription in their car payments.
Engineers made extensive use of high-strength steel in strategic areas of the body and developed energy-absorbing front and rear crush zones to help obtain impressive structural performance for safety. Other safety features in the Malibu include dual-stage frontal air bags and optional head curtain side-impact air bags.
All Malibu models will be equipped with electric power steering (EPS) with variable assist for low- and high-speed steering maneuvers and power brakes. Other standard features include a driver information center integrated into the radio display. Options include heated front seats and OnStar.
1997-2003 Chevrolet Malibu
3,136 cc / 170 hp / 190 lb-ft / 3106 lbs / 0-60 mph 10.0 sec.