Practical and affordable mid-size comfort.
by Kevin Ransom
Base Price (MSRP) $16,445
As Tested (MSRP) $21,010
Chevy's Malibu is popular for its combination of comfort, quietness, practicality and affordability. This is Chevy's five-passenger family centerpiece. It has to compete with the Ford Taurus, Honda Accord and Toyota Camry, the best-selling cars in America, but the Malibu makes a good account of itself among mid-size cars. Chevrolet sold more than 218,500 of them last year.
The Malibu provides a good account of itself on the road, with good power and handling. More power is on tap for 2000 as a new V6 engine comes on all models. The 2000 Malibu is distinguished by freshened appearance.
The Malibu comes in two trim lines, base and LS. Both come standard with a 3.1-liter V6 engine that replaces last year's 3.1-liter V6 of a different design.
The base model ($16,445) offers a respectable line of standard equipment features: air conditioning, anti-lock brakes, 4-speed automatic transmission, rear-seat child security locks, tilt steering column and tachometer.
LS ($19,215) comes with a nicer cloth interior. It also comes standard with a lot of equipment we take for granted nowadays: power windows/door locks/mirrors, remote keyless entry, electronic speed control, AM/FM/CD/cassette and split, fold-down rear seats.
Malibu's styling does not cry out for attention. That means it might get lost in a crowd; but it also means its looks will hold up better over time than some of the trendier designs. Though Chevrolet is as American as baseball and apple pie, the Malibu's styling shares more in common with the Toyota Camry than it shares with the Ford Taurus. The last-generation Taurus is a good example of the problem with a trendy design.
For 2000, the Malibu's front fascia features a new center grille and emblem that takes a styling cue from the all-new Chevy Impala. New aluminum wheels or wheel covers and new mudguards reinforce the fresh appearance. A new optional spoiler ($175) is also available.
At 190.4 inches, the Malibu is a couple of inches longer than its primary Japanese competitor, the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry, but it is more than seven inches shorter than its main domestic rival, the Ford Taurus.
When it comes to interior amenities, often the little things count. The Malibu's ignition switch, for example, is located on the instrument panel; it's plainly visible and reachable, instead of being hidden at the base of the steering wheel as it is on most cars. Another nice touch is the rotating air vents at the base of the A-pillars that can be swiveled outward to defrost the side window, allowing maximum visibility of the outside mirrors.
Then there are the six-way power seats, which offer up as many seating positions as we've seen in some high-priced luxury cars. The optional leather bucket seats ($595) are as firm, supportive and comfortable as we've seen in some luxury cars. There's commodious front-seat headroom and ample legroom for a six-foot driver. Also earning our praise is the location of the stereo system. It's higher on the dash than on many cars, making it more easily operable.
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 double-console configuration is spacious enough to house a half-dozen CDs and another five or six cassette tapes, each with their own notches. The big T-shaped gearshift is a point of debate; some say it's homely. Interior door trim was redesigned for 2000.
Chevrolet's goal with the Malibu was to provide full-size ride quality and quietness in a mid-size car. On that front, Chevrolet succeeded. Separate steel subframes for the front and rear ends protect the cabin and its inhabitants from engine vibration and from harsh bumps. We were impressed with how well Chevrolet has damped wind noise at high speeds with little touches like recessed door handles and a special windshield seal.
Chevrolet engineers also gave the Malibu a suspension that's significantly firmer than that of previous mid-size Chevy sedans. That means the Malibu handles more crisply-and minimizes body roll-in corners and during abrupt lane-changing maneuvers. The Malibu feels light and agile. Its steering responds quickly in hard-cornering situations. Overall, the Malibu rewards the driver with good feedback and sporty, predictable handling response. It handles as well as a Toyota Camry and nearly as good as an Accord.
The independent rear suspension is attached to a rear subframe, which yields a smoother ride as each rear wheel responds individually to varying road surfaces. That definitely made a difference when we took the 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.
The Malibu provides plenty of power for merging briskly onto the freeway. For 2000, Chevrolet has replaced last year's 3.1-liter V6 (the L82) with a 3.1-liter V6 of a different design (the LG8). This engine not only reduces emissions, but also increases the output by 20 horsepower to 170 horsepower and 190 foot-pounds of torque.
The automatic transmission that comes on both Malibu models shifts smoothly. This highly efficient transmission monitors temperature, altitude and throttle position to determine optimum shift points.
Both models come standard with front disc and rear 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 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.
© New Car Test Drive, Inc.