Comfortable, practical, and affordable
by Kevin Ransom
Base Price (MSRP) $17,020
As Tested (MSRP) $21,120
Once upon a time, the Chevy Malibu was known as a sporty car for true fun seekers. But that was a long time ago. These days, the revived Malibu nameplate is known for its combination of comfort, quietness, practicality and affordability.
A five-passenger mid-size family sedan, it competes head-to-head with the Ford Taurus, Honda Accord and Toyota Camry--the best-selling cars in America. But even with that kind of competition, the Malibu makes a good showing, with more than 215,000 sold annually.
Out on the road, Malibu also provides a good account of itself, boasting fine power and handling, with a V6 engine that comes standard on all models.
For 2001, Chevrolet has revised the exterior styling, updated the interior, and added some convenience features.
The Malibu comes in two trim lines, base and LS. Both come standard with a 3.1-liter V6 engine.
The base model, priced at $17,020 (plus a $585 destination charge), offers a respectable line of standard equipment features: air conditioning, anti-lock brakes, 4-speed automatic transmission, rear-seat child security locks, battery rundown protection, AM/FM stereo, tilt steering column and tachometer. Power door locks and electric rear defogger now come standard on the base model.
The LS, priced at $19,300 (again, plus a $585 destination charge), comes with a nicer cloth interior. It also comes standard with a lot of equipment we take for granted nowadays: power windows with driver's side Express-Down feature, dual remote electric outside rear view mirrors, cruise control, 6-way power driver's seat, remote keyless entry, and custom cloth bucket seats.
Giving the Malibu's exterior a snappy new look for 2001 are the added black molded outside mirrors, black rocker moldings and optional black mudguards.
Three new colors have also been added for 2001-Monterrey maroon metallic, galaxy silver metallic and light driftwood metallic.
When the Malibu nameplate was revived in 1997, its styling was labeled plain-vanilla by the motoring press. But, while its styling means it may get lost in a crowd, it also means its lines will hold up better over time than some of the trendier designs. Though Chevrolet bills itself as being as American as baseball and apple pie, the Malibu's styling shares more in common with the (Japanese) Toyota Camry than it shares with the Ford Taurus. Indeed, the last-generation Taurus is a good example of the problem with a trendy design (plus it was just plain ugly).
Malibu's front fascia features a center grille and emblem that takes a styling cue from the Chevy Impala. Aluminum wheels or wheel covers and the new mudguards reinforce the fresh appearance. An 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 7 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. Optional leather bucket seats ($595) are firm, supportive and comfortable. 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.
For 2001, cloth has been added to seats and door panels and the shift handle now comes in ebony. A new retained accessory power feature, standard in the top-line LS model, allows you to keep listening to the radio for up to 10 minutes after the ignition key has been switched off or until a door is opened. Also standard on the LS are new cloth treatments and new map pockets on the backs of the front seats.
A few smart car features have been added for 2001 as well, including a delayed-headlamp feature that keeps the lights on a bit longer to give you time to make it from the vehicle to your house.
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 T-shaped gearshift is a point of debate; some say it's homely.
Chevrolet's goal with the revived 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 reduced wind noise at high speeds with recessed door handles, a special windshield seal, and other anti-noise measures.
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 well as an Accord. It handles much better than the previous-generation Taurus, which felt ponderous by comparison, but we haven't driven a Malibu back-to-back with the new Taurus.
Malibu's 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. The 3.1-liter V6 boasts 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 drum 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.
Sure, the Chevrolet 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.