The front-drive Malibu is a fairly large, roomy four-door with a revered Chevy name used from 1964 to 1983. While styling of the reasonably priced sedan is fairly bland, it's at least as good as that of most rivals.
The Malibu essentially replaces Chevy's tired old Corsica and fills the gap between the automaker's subcompact Cavalier and mid-size Lumina.
Actually, the Malibu *also* is a mid-size car, with a wheelbase that nearly matches that of the Lumina. Chevy fears the Malibu will steal sales from the Lumina, although the Lumina can seat six adults and the Malibu's limit is five.
The Malibu comes as a $15,470 base model with a 2.4-liter, 150-horsepower four-cylinder and as an $18,190 LS model with a 3.1-liter, 155-horsepower V-6.
With a larger size and more cylinders, the V-6 naturally is smoother and quieter and generates more torque and slightly better throttle response. But the dual-overhead-cam four-cylinder is more sophisticated and offers plenty of punch for swift merges into fast traffic and for passing on highways.
The four-cylinder is fairly quiet during most driving and delivers an estimated 23 m.p.g. in the city and 32 on highways; the V-6 lags behind at 20 and 29. Don't jump at getting the V-6 until you've tried the four.
Both models have lots of equipment. The base Malibu has a smooth four-speed automatic transmission, anti-lock brakes, air conditioning, power steering, AM/FM, tilt wheel and tachometer. Standard on the LS and optional for the base model are items such as power windows and locks, remote keyless entry, cruise control and split-folding rear seat.
All the equipment in the world means little if the basic car is marginal. Happily, the Malibu is above-average.
Passenger space is very impressive, and the big trunk is designed for easy loading. Seats are supportive, and the nicely designed dashboard contains conveniently placed controls and instrumentation that can be read at a glance. Even door pulls have been shaped for an easy grip, with indents for fingers and thumb--and the ignition switch has been moved from the steering column to the instrument panel so a key fob doesn't hit your knee in turns. Such small touches make a car more endearing.
While Malibu controls have a plasticky feel, the car is commendably quiet and is rigidly built. An all-independent suspension easily soaks up bumps and allows good handling. The rack-and-pinion steering is sharp, and the easily modulated brakes stop the car quickly and surely. Mom and dad can have some fun with this one.