Background: General Motors' volume-leading Chevrolet division re-introduced the Malibu nameplate in March of 1997. The name had been dormant for a decade until Chevrolet selected the sun-and-fun name for its all-new, 1997, mid-size sedan introduced in late 1996. From 1964 to 1978, Malibu was associated with the rear-wheel-drive Chevelle line. In 1978, Malibu debuted as its own stand-alone product line. Now entering its third year of production, the updated front-wheel-drive Malibu shares little with its 1970s and 1980s predecessors. Malibu comes standard with such popular items as air conditioning and automatic transmission, appealing to shoppers looking for a well-equipped, moderately-priced mid-size sedan from a domestic automaker. General Motors' Oklahoma City, Okla. and Wilmington, Del. plants churn out the five-seat Malibu and it's automotive twin, Oldsmobile's Cutlass sedan. For 1999 Malibu offers a thicker windshield, helping to decrease road noises. Otherwise, not a whole lot changes from 1998.
Trim level and Price: Chevrolet offers two Malibu trim levels: Base and uplevel LS. Base Malibus included a manufacturer's suggested retail price of $16,485 while it's more elaborate counterpart starts at $19,445. Both prices include a $535 destination charge. General Motors provided the Daily Herald with an LS edition including a $650 sunroof, $595 leather bucket seats and a bottom line of $20,950.
Safety equipment: Malibu offers dual front airbags, high-strength steel safety cage, four-wheel anti-lock brakes, five-mile-per-hour impact bumpers, child security rear-door locks and daytime running lamps. Traction control is not offered.
Standard equipment: Both editions include: power assist rack-and-pinion steering, air conditioning and four-speed automatic transmission. Fog lights are standard in LS editions only. Standard fare in Base editions is the AM/FM radio while an AM/FM/cassette unit graces LS Malibus.
Options: Rear window defoggers, power door locks cruise control, power side-view mirrors, power locks, optional in Base, are standard fare in LS. Optional in both are mudguards and sunroofs, Malibu offers some preferred option packages when ordering multiple selections. Compact disc players add $200 to both editions.
Engine: Malibu includes two distinct engine selections. Base editions include a 2.4-liter, twin cam, fuel injected, 16-valve four cylinder engine delivering 150 horsepower; one of the more potent four-cylinders in its class. Optional in Base, but standard in LS is the 3100, V-6 also delivering 150 horsepower and more torque than its four-cylinder counterpart.
Interior: Malibu's dashboard and instrument panel layout is one of the most driver-friendly in the business. For convenience, driver's have their own cup holder that retracts from the dashboard left of the steering column. Also in this region is the trunk release button. A second, permanently-molded cup holder is positioned between the front bucket seats, in front of a deep, flip-top storage bin which itself flips back and reveals a second storage region. The stereo, with large preset, easy-to-find-in-the-dark buttons, is positioned above the climate control center featuring three large, color-coded dials for temperature, fan speed and fan direction. The radio frequency display doubles as the digital clock. Most General Motors offerings combine cruise control functions on the turn signal stalk. But Malibu positions two large cruise control function buttons on the steering wheel for easier access. Headlight controls are part the turn-signal stalk while the windshield wipers operate from a right-hand-side stalk. Malibu includes a second gear-shift indicator in the instrument panel in addition to the vertically lighted, floor-mounted automatic transmission shifter. The large, analog speedometer gauge is centrally located in the instrument panel, which also includes a large fuel-tank gauge. Only the odometer readouts are digital. The dashboard is also home to the ignition key outlet. The glove box is good sized for a mid-range automobile. Our LS included power window, lock and mirror functions on the driver's door.
Seating comfort: The relative high positioning of both front and rear seats makes slipping in and out a breeze, especially for drivers use to low seating positions of many coupes. Headroom in front, even with the optional sunroof, is generous. Many mid-size sedans claim three adults can squeeze comfortably in the rear, but few deliver on this promise. Malibu's generous interior volume helps three riders fit reasonably comfortably in back. Relatively thin rear C-pillars help reduce blind spots for drivers. Front bucket seats, standard in all Malibus, include standard cloth seating surfaces. Leather seating surfaces are available in LS editions only. Six-way adjustable power seats, standard in LS, cost extra in Base. Back-seat riders have access to dual cup holders that retract from a console between the front bucket seats. A fold-down arm rest retracts down from the backrest.
Target audience: Malibu attracts slightly more female than male buyers. Females make up between 50 and 60 percent of shoppers. Buyer's median ages fall between 35 and 44 years of age with a median income of between $55,000 and $70,000. Forty-to 45 percent are families with small children. Exterior: Front headlights wrap around to side fenders. All four doors feature flush-mounted, lift-up body-colored door handles. Also body-colored are the side view mirrors. Both the circular, non-locking fuel tank and removable radio antenna are found on the rear right fender. Both editions include 15-inch tires standard. Base Malibus include bolt-on wheel covers while LS showcases machined-surfaced aluminum wheels. Medium bronze mist metallic joins the list of exterior colors available. The palate also includes: black, opal blue metallic, dark cherry metallic, dark jade green metallic, sandrift metallic, medium malachite metallic, silvermist metallic and bright white.
Dimensions: Wheelbase: 107 inches Overall length: 190.4 inches Overall width: 69.4 inches Overall Height: 56.7 inches Interior headroom: 39.4 inches Rear headroom: 37.6 inches
Trunk: Malibu's flat-floored trunk includes 17.1 cubic-inches of volume, more room than Ford's Taurus. The temporary spare tire stores under the floor. The trunk lid's low-liftover design makes loading and unloading a bit easier. When not using the interior's trunk release button, the ignition key opens the trunk lid from a right-side keyhole. Uplevel LS editions include a 60/40 backrest split for gaining access to the trunk. Base Malibu's don't include this handy feature standard, but its available when ordering up-level cloth seating.
Fuel economy: Our six-cylinder powertrain delivered 20 miles per gallon in city traveling and 29 m.p.g. highway. Four-cylinder powertrains up mileage figures to 23 m.p.g city and 32 m.p.g. highway. The tank holds 15.0 gallons of unleaded, regular, 97 octane gasoline.
Final thoughts: Chevrolet struck a chord when reintroducing Malibu a couple years back. Sales have been stronger than originally projected and many buyers have come from untraditional GM backgrounds, such as Toyota and Nissan. Pundits first observed exterior styling was too conservative. But like its Toyota Camry rival that also took a conservative road to outer styling during a recent redesign, sometimes less flashy sells more cars.