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A Look Back at the Chevrolet Malibu


The Chevrolet Malibu made its first appearance in 1964. Named for the popular Southern California beach town, the car was designed to appeal to young buyers with growing families. Available as a sedan, coupe or sporty convertible, the Malibu was an instant hit with the public. Although it shared the same six-cylinder and V8 engine options as the Chevelle on which it was based, the Malibu offered a more upscale interior. A hot-rod Malibu SS coupe was also born in these first years, offering a 327-cubic-inch V8 with output ranging from 300 to 350 horsepower, depending on the year. In 1966, Chevrolet moved the SS badge to the Chevelle and added a station wagon to the Malibu family in 1967.

Making Changes

In 1968, the Chevrolet Malibu underwent its first major overhaul, with the new car riding on a shorter 112-in wheelbase for the coupe/convertible models and 116 inches for the sedan and wagon. The Malibu gained both size and weight, as well as new options such as a stalk-mounted windshield-washer button, a tilt steering wheel and a cloth and vinyl bench seat. The standard engine was a 3.8-liter V6, with a new 5.0-liter 307 V8 as the top powerplant. A 3-speed automatic was offered for the first time on all models. Between 1970 and 1972, the Malibu remained fairly static, with only minor styling changes to its grille and taillights. Sales started out strong, but near the end of the model run, rising oil prices and economic uncertainty caused a slight drop-off.

1973 marked the birth of the third-generation Malibu. Although the wheelbase remained the same, the car’s length and width increased. New federal crash regulations forced the adoption of somewhat ungainly, oversized chrome bumpers, as well as more interior safety features, such as shoulder belts for front-seat passengers. The Malibu lost some of its youthful appeal in these years, with less powerful engines, the discontinuation of the hardtop coupe and rather generic styling. A second gas crisis coupled with a recession hurt sales and forced a complete rethink for the fourth-generation Malibu.

Taking a Pause

For 1978, the Malibu shrank by one foot and lost nearly 500 pounds compared to the 1977 model. It was again offered as a sedan, coupe or wagon. This generation ran from 1978-1983 and included a number of engine choices, including two diesel options. While the Malibu sold well, critics were vocal about some of the weight-saving measures, most notably the fixed rear windows on the sedan model. After 1983, the Malibu was put on hiatus and would not return until 1997 when an all-new front-drive car rekindled the Malibu name. Available only as a sedan, the 1997 Malibu now offered import buyers a reason to come back to GM. Power came from a standard 2.4-liter engine or an available 3.1-liter V6, and the Malibu ran pretty much unchanged until 2004, when it again switched platforms and engines. As a low-price entry model was needed, however, Chevrolet continued to produce the 1997 version until 2005 by renaming it the Malibu Classic.

Introduced in 2004, the sixth-generation Malibu employed a European platform shared with Opel. Two body styles were offered: a 4-door sedan and a 5-door wagon dubbed the Malibu Maxx. The unique wagon featured fore and aft sliding rear seats and a generous cargo hold. The standard engine was a 2.2-liter Ecotec I4, with an available 3.5-liter V6. Later in the model run, the SS trim returned to the Malibu line and featured a 240-hp 3.9-liter V6. Unfortunately, the Malibu’s generic styling and drab interior color choices did little to help the car with the press or the public.

The Modern Malibu

2008 would mark the seventh generation to wear the Malibu name, and this time Chevy hit a home run. Now big enough to take on the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry, the 2008 Malibu was stylish, fuel efficient and affordable. Again sharing an Opel platform, the Malibu offered excellent road handling, a comfortable ride and a big back seat. Engine choices included a 2.4-liter I4, 3.5- and 3.6-liter V6s and a 2.4-liter hybrid option. Shortly after its debut, Chevy’s all-new Malibu won the 2008 North American Car of the Year award.

In 2013, the eighth-generation Malibu arrived with more aggressive styling, an available 2.0-liter turbocharged engine and a much-improved interior but with less rear-seat room and a smaller trunk. Improvements over the previous model included a quieter cabin, better fuel economy and features previously unavailable, including a navigation radio and Bluetooth audio streaming. Midway through 2014, the Malibu received a modest front-end refresh, as well as new features, such as start/stop technology, that help save gas.

For 2016, the Chevy Malibu gets a complete make-over with more interior space and a sharper exterior look. Chevrolet debuted the car at the 2015 New York Auto Show.

 

Joe Tralongo
Joe Tralongo is a longtime contributor who started in the industry writing competitive comparison books for a number of manufacturers, before moving on in 2002 to become a freelance automotive journalist. He’s well regarded for his keen eye for detail, as well as his ability to translate complex mechanical terminology into user-friendly explanations. Joe has worked for a number of outlets as... Read More about Joe Tralongo

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