New Malibu is a worthy midsize contender

October 17, 2003|by KEN CHESTER, JR./Motor News Media Corporation

With all the attention paid to trucks, truck-based SUVs and the emerging market shift to crossover vehicles, it might seem as if the lowly four-door sedan might go the way of the station wagon. Not so. For 2004, General Motors turned its attention back to sedans in a major way.

As the second domestic sedan off GM's global Epsilon platform architecture in the United States, (the first was the 2004 Pontiac Grand Prix), the Chevrolet Malibu four-door is a shining testament to the "Chevrolet Renaissance" in sedans. The new Chevrolet Malibu is an honest contender for the hearts and dollars of the Toyota Camry/Honda Accord crowd. Yes. It is that good!

Built in the corporation's Kansas City, Kan., manufacturing complex, the Chevrolet Malibu hits all the hot buttons important to families considering new wheels. Available in Malibu, Malibu LS and Malibu LT models, the new midsize, front-drive Chevrolet sedan is powered by the Ecotec 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine (std. Malibu) or the all-new 3.5-liter V-6 prime mover (std. Malibu LS, LT).


Torque is transferred to the road via a smooth-shifting electronically controlled four-speed automatic transmission. A five-speed manual gearbox is not offered.

On the road, the new V-6 is smoothly responsive. The robust architecture of the new platform delivers a comfortable, controlled ride. The transmission shifts are seamless. The basic chassis dynamics that carry the Malibu were developed in conjunction with GM's Opel subsidiary in Germany. The result is the best of both worlds: precise, linear steering feel, confident road manners, predictable handling and controlled ride motion coupled to a comfortable, smooth, quiet ride.

The Malibu is the first midsize sedan in North America to feature electric power steering (EPS). With no belt-driven power steering pump, EPS offers improved fuel efficiency, reduction of noise and improved cold-weather performance. An electric control unit determines the amount of steering assist needed for current driving conditions. This electrical assist is especially helpful in low-speed parking maneuvers. On the road, as the speed increases, the assist tapers off.

A compact independent gas-pressurized MacPherson front suspension works with a four-point isolated front cradle with tuned bushings, a four-link rear suspension, and front and rear stabilizer bars designed to enhance ride and handling.

Inside the cabin is where this new Malibu really shines. The interior design is fresh, modern, and uncluttered - quite unlike GM designs in the past. The Malibu is equipped to the gills, and consumers will think it costs thousands more.

The midrange LS model comes equipped with power steering, brakes, mirrors and windows, adjustable pedals, automatic headlamps and power door locks, rear window defroster, cruise control, air conditioning, four-wheel disc brakes and a split rear seat that folds flat with the cargo floor.

If that is not enough, the Malibu features a front passenger seat that folds flat to add to the sedan's cargo-carrying abilities.

Displays and controls are well-laid out and easy to use and operate.

The driver enjoys a commanding view of the road. The driver's seat is equipped with a power height adjustment and manual fore/aft adjustment with adjustable lumbar support. The center console features a comfortable armrest with a large storage bin and power point.


Wheelbase: 106.3; overall length: 188.3; width: 69.9; height: 57.5 - measurements in inches

Engine: Ecotec 2.2-liter four-cylinder - 145 hp at 5,600 rpm and 155 lbs-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm; 3500 3.5-liter V-6 - 200 hp at 5,400 rpm and 220 lbs-ft of torque at 3,200 rpm

Transmission: Hydra-Matic 4T45-E four-speed automatic with overdrive

EPA fuel economy: 2.2-liter four-cylinder: 24 city/34 hwy.; 3.5-liter V-6 - 23 city/32 hwy. Both engines use regular unleaded gasoline.

Cargo capacity: 15.4 cubic feet


Dual front air bags, daytime running lamps, power programmable door locks with lockout protection and delayed locking. LS adds power-adjustable pedals, remote keyless entry and four-wheel anti-lock brakes with electronic traction control. LT adds fog lamps, remote vehicle starter system, head curtain side air bags and four-wheel disc brakes.


Basic: 3 year/36,000 mile, bumper-to-bumper

Corrosion: 6 year/100,000 mile

Roadside assistance: 3 year/36,000 mile, 24 hour


The base Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) for the 2004 Chevrolet Malibu sedan starts from $18,370 for Malibu, $20,370 for Malibu LS and $22,870 for Malibu LT. Destination charge adds $625.

As tested

2004 Chevrolet Malibu LS sedan

Exterior color: white

Interior color: gray

Base price: $20,370

Destination charge: $ 625

Remote vehicle starter: $150

Floor mats - front & rear: $80

Subtotal: $21,225

Dealer installed pinstripe: $69

Total as tested: $21,294

Copyright 2003, Motor News Media Corporation

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