2004 Chevrolet Malibu Review

2004 Chevrolet Malibu - Malibu fights foreign sedans.


Forget trucks for a moment -- General Motors is heavily concentrating on new cars such as the redesigned Chevrolet Malibu to make it a stronger rival in the auto market, which increasingly is being grabbed by foreign cars.

Chevrolet hopes the new front-drive Malibu will capture hearts and wallets of more mid-size car buyers, many of whom flock to the Japanese Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and Nissan Altima.

The 2004 Malibu starts off on the right foot by having the rigid European chassis used by cars such as GM's Saab 9-3 and Opel Vectra, besides more room, power and styling pizzaz.

The reasonably priced $18,370-$22,870 Malibu sedan has lots of standard equipment. One alluring option is a first-ever factory installed remote starting device to let a driver get a head start on the car's interior heating and cooling from a range of about 200 feet. That device is standard on the top-line Malibu LT and a $150 option on other Malibus.

J.D. Power ratings say the 2003 Malibu is the most reliable mainstream mid-size car. Alas, Chevrolet didn't promote the last-generation Malibu much, although it was roomy and economical and drove much like a nicely designed European sedan. That Malibu will be sold to auto fleets as the Malibu Classic.

The new Malibu now comes as a $18,370-$22,870 sedan with a conventional trunk, and three trim levels: base, LS and LT. Starting in December, the Malibu also will be offered as a $21,600-$24,100 sportier hatchback version called the Maxx. The Maxx has a six-inch-longer wheelbase than the sedan and is roomier, although half an inch shorter.

Only the Malibu sedan was available for testing. It has a slightly shorter wheelbase and overall length than the 2003 Malibu, although it's a bit wider and higher with more upright glass. It's thus a little roomier than its predecessor.

The base sedan comes with a 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine generating 145 horsepower. It provides decent in-town acceleration but ho-hum highway performance for the 3,174-pound car. The higher-line LS and LT are only slightly heavier and have a 3.5-liter V-6 with 200 horsepower and more torque. That smooth engine provides strong highway acceleration.

Fuel economy is becoming an issue, but the four-cylinder engine is only slightly more economical than the V-6. It provides an estimated 24 mpg in the city and 34 on highways. Figures for the V-6 are 23 and 32.

Both engines work with a responsive, carryover four-speed automatic transmission, which was the only transmission available. The Accord offers a five-speed automatic.

The new Malibu is no sports sedan, but has quick electric variable-speed steering for low- and high-speed maneuvers, agile handling during normal driving despite tires designed more for comfort and adequate brakes with good pedal feel. The ride is supple.

Transmission aside, even the base model is nicely equipped. Standard items include air conditioning, AM/FM/CD sound system, split folding back seat, fold-flat front passenger seat and power windows, locks and mirrors.

There's also a power driver's seat height adjuster and a tilt-telescopic steering wheel to help drivers of various sizes get comfortable. Power adjustable pedals are standard on the LS and LT. For the base sedan, they're in an $835 package, which also contains cruise control, remote keyless entry and upgraded sound system.

Moving to the LS gets you the V-6 and standard anti-lock brakes, traction control system, remote keyless entry and cruise control. The LT adds leather seats, remote starter, automatic climate control, heated front seats with a six-way power driver's seat, larger (60-series) tires for better handling and side curtain air bags, which are $395 for other Malibus. There's also a rear spoiler, but it has a tacked-on look.

Large door handles make it easy to enter the quiet, generally attractive interior. It's plenty roomy for four tall adults, with fairly supportive front seats.

Speedometer and tachometer numbers are too small, but the car has large, well-placed controls for the sound and climate control systems -- and a convenient dashboard ignition switch. A large console storage bin is near nicely placed front cupholders. Dual cupholders pop out from the rear of the front console for rear occupants, who can enjoy the longest, highest seat cushion in recent Chevy history.

The fairly large trunk has manual hinges, but a low, wide opening. The split rear seatbacks fold fairly flat to enlarge the cargo area, and the fold-flat front passenger seat allows even more cargo space.

The heavy hood is held open with an old-fashioned prop rod, but the engine compartment has easily reached fluid-filler areas. There's no ugly plastic covering for the V-6.

The new Malibu sedan is a solid buy and worth a good look, although the Maxx version promises more fun and better versatility.



Nicely redesigned. Roomy. Strong V-6. Supple ride. Good handling. Well-equipped. Reasonably priced.

Small base four-cylinder engine. Tiny gauge markings. Tacked-on look for rear spoiler.

Dan Jedlicka

Dan Jedlicka's Website

Dan Jedlicka joined the Chicago Sun-Times in February 1968 as a business news reporter and was named auto editor later that year. He has reviewed more than 4,000 new vehicles for the Sun-Times--far more than any newspaper auto writer in the country. Jedlicka also reviewed vehicles for Microsoft Corp.'s MSN Autos Internet site from January, 1996, to June, 2008.

Jedlicka remained auto editor at the Sun-Times until October, 2008, and continued writing for the newspaper's AutoTimes section, which he started in 1992, until February, 2009. While continuing his auto writings at the Sun-Times, he served as assistant financial editor of that newspaper from 1970 to 1973, when he began his automotive column.

He has appeared on numerous radio and television shows, including NBC's "Today," ABC's "20/20" and "The CBS Evening News." He was a host, consultant and writer for Fox-TV Channel 32's 1991 New Car Preview show and that Chicago-based station's 1992, 1993, 1994 and 1995 Chicago Auto Show Previews.

Jedlicka's auto articles have been printed in national magazines, including Esquire and Harper's. His auto columns have been reprinted in U.S. government publications and economic textbooks and he is profiled in the "World's Greatest Auto Show" history book about the Chicago Auto Show. In late 1975, Jedlicka was host and technical advisor for three one-hour television specials, "Auto Test 76," which aired nationally on PBS and were the first nationally televised auto road test shows.

In 1995, Jedlicka was the recipient of the Better Business Bureau of Chicago and Northern Illinois Inc.'s Consumer Education Award, given annually to a person who has gained distinction in the field of consumer education. He received a Lifetime Achievement Award in the Media category and inducted into the Legends of Motorsports Guild at the Carquest World of wheels custom car show in Chicago in January, 2006.

Jedlicka was a member of the North American Car and Truck of the Year jury, composed of a select number of auto journalists from throughout the country, from 1995 until 2009. From 2010 to 2012, he was a member of Consumer Digest magazine's auto experts panel that gave Best Buy new vehicle recommendations.

He is a 1987 graduate of the Bob Bondurant Race Drivers School and later of the BMW "M" and Skip Barber Advanced Driving schools. He was a member of the U.S. team that participated in the 1987 1,000-mile Mille Miglia race/rally in Italy and has been a race winner at the Chicago area's Santa Fe Speedway.

Jedlicka has owned 25 classic cars, including 1950s and 1960s Ferraris and 1950s and 1960s Porsches, a 1965 Corvette, a 1967 Maserati and a 1957 Studebaker supercharged Golden Hawk. Jedlicka resides with his wife, Suzanne, in the Frank Lloyd Wright historic district of Oak Park. They have two children, James and Michele.

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