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Malibu leads pack of new Chevy models

November 21, 2003|by JASON STEIN/Wheelbase Communications

Not that long ago, General Motors' largest division was more than the "heartbeat" of an automaker. Chevrolet was the soul.

At its peak, Chevy had a larger market share than GM as a whole holds today. More cars from more competitors have slowly chipped away at it over the years.

How ambitious, then, is General Motors' latest strategy to retake what it once had? Over the next 20 months, the company intends to roll out nine new products - or about one every two months - and introduce two dozen mid-size sedans, coupes, crossover vehicles and convertibles.

As the first in a long line of new or revamped entries, the 2004 Malibu will be one of the most important Chevy vehicles in terms of sales volume. For that reason, GM has decided to use the Malibu, and its Malibu Maxx wagon stable mate, for the North American debut of its new worldwide platform known as Epsilon. The Malibu arrives with an architecture that is already in use on the 2003 Saab 9-3 and the Opel Vectra currently sold in Europe.

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Why should you care about the Epsilon? GM says it is a stiffer, firmer and better-handling platform than what previous Malibus were based on. At its core, it is intended to give the Malibu a European-style ride.

But the new mid-size four-door sedan is more than the sum of its parts. It's all about different parts that work better for the buyer. General Motors says the Malibu delivers the "comfort and style of tailored-to-fit clothing for an-off-the-rack price." The only difference? This is a one-size-fits-all approach. Chevy makes it easy.

With an overall package that adapts to needs that can change from day to day, the new Malibu has a lot going for it. There's a split-folding rear seat and fold-flat front passenger seat that allow a wide variety of cargo to be transported.

Chevy has also used what it terms as a "personalized-fit package," allowing drivers of all sizes to tailor the position of the seat, steering wheel and pedals to their comfort. Since everyone is built a little differently, it makes sense.

The combination of a power driver's seat with a height adjuster, a tilt steering wheel and power adjustable pedals are available on all models - a first for its class. Another first is a remote starter than can fire up the engine from 200 feet away.

The new Malibu will be available in three levels (standard, LS and LT) with two engine choices. Base models deliver 145 horsepower from a fuel-efficient 2.2-liter, dual-overhead-cam four-cylinder engine (called the Ecotec), while the Malibu LS and LT models get a 200-horsepower, 3.5-liter, overhead-valve V-6. All Malibus come with a four-speed automatic transmission.

On the outside, it's also more daring. With updated styling, the Malibu now features a chrome bar across the front grille, tying it together with the Chevy truck/sport-utility look. Inside, the Malibu is spacious and quiet with loads of space for passengers and the stuff they haul. With a wider stance than its predecessor, a comfortable interior gets roomier.

At its core, the new Malibu is fresh, exciting and invigorating for a brand that is looking for a lift. And more is on the way.

Six months after the Malibu goes on sale, GM will come to the market with the Maxx, which will be slightly shorter and wider than the sedan, and have a longer wheelbase. The versatile machine will arrive with a versatile interior, including rear seats that will slide forward, a fixed rear skylight and a rear cargo tray that can double as a picnic table.

Mostly, it will be fresh.

With nine new products to roll out in 20 months, Chevy's heartbeat will definitely have a new rhythm. Which is exactly the point.




© 2003, Wheelbase Communications

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