The 2004 Chevrolet Malibu lineup would have been a snoozer if not for one oddball addition: the Malibu Maxx, a quasi-wagon that was distinctly different than its 4-door counterpart. It may also have been the strangest car aimed at a mainstream audience to ever be green-lighted for production at General Motors, besting even the Pontiac Aztek.
The Malibu Maxx was offered for just four model years, and today it’s an all-but-forgotten glimpse into the era when GM was throwing ideas at a wall and hoping (maybe praying) that they’d stick. Yes, the Aztek was ugly, but it wasn’t all that innovative. The GMC Envoy XUV was an interesting idea, but it never had mass-market intentions.
The Malibu Maxx, however, was supposed to be a mainstream model. It may have been the weirdest idea in recent GM history.
The standard Malibu that arrived for 2004 was not an exciting car, but neither was its predecessor. The new model rode on a platform shared with the Saab 9-3, but while the Swedish version was fairly zippy and stylish, the bowtie brand’s 4-door was a bit of a dullard. Its styling was utterly conventional to the point of almost looking unadorned. Under the hood, the base 4-cylinder puts out just 145 horsepower, and even the 200-hp 3.5-liter V6 wasn’t exactly thrilling.
And then came the Malibu Maxx.
It rode on a 6-inch longer wheelbase than the sedan, and yet bizarrely its overall length was half an inch shorter than the 4-door model. You read that right. The Malibu Maxx boasted a truly luxurious rear seat with a reclining back and an available rear-seat entertainment screen that sprouted from the back of the center console.
That luxurious second row was topped only by its cavernous cargo area. Chevy quoted the Malibu sedan’s trunk capacity at 15.4 cubic feet, while the Maxx could lug 68 cubic feet of stuff.
And thanks to a standard glass roof panel over the back seat, the Maxx felt even more spacious than that. Sun lovers could even select a $725 glass sunroof option on most versions of the Malibu Maxx for an especially airy feel.
The Malibu Max actually wore its proportions somewhat well from the rear three-quarter angle, though its front end and interior was decidedly bland. The look was vaguely European, with all the authenticity of the British-style pub at Chicago’s O’Hare airport where I once ordered enchiladas on a long layover.
For 2006, Chevy tweaked the Malibu line’s styling for a slightly less bland look, but the bigger news was an expansion of the lineup with new LTZ and SS trim levels. LTZ versions tossed in standard leather, while the SS saw the addition of the automaker’s venerable 3.9-liter V6, which pushed 240 hp to the front wheels through a 4-speed automatic transmission. The SS also had a slightly firmer suspension and rode on low-profile 18-inch wheels in a delightful nod to Mercedes-Benz’s AMG “Monoblock” wheels.
That’s not to say that anyone confused the Malibu Maxx SS with a Mercedes, but at $24,000 it could have been a compelling buy back then. Saab asked the better part of $10,000 more for its 9-3 Aero SportCombi wagon, though it boasted a distinctly different flavor than the all-American Malibu.
The Malibu Maxx lasted through the 2007 model year and was soon forgotten. Today, there aren’t too many left, but the good news is that the survivors I found on Autotrader are pretty compelling wagon-like cars. Here’s a white first-year LT that amazingly only has 29,000 miles on it for $5,500 at a used car dealer in suburban Chicago.
Personally, I’d spend the extra for a Malibu Maxx SS, though, like $7,800 for this silver 2006 in the San Francisco Bay Area with under 74,000 miles. Just look at the size of that back seat.
And if you’re looking to win big at the next Malibu Maxx concours d’elegance, you’ll need to find one like this silver 2006 SS with just 44,000 miles in the Seattle area. This has to be one of the best left, and at $10,500, it’s a pretty versatile and unique choice. Find a Chevrolet Malibu for sale