2006 Chevrolet Malibu Review

2006 Chevrolet Malibu - Chevy hatches new Malibu.


The regular Chevrolet Malibu is a conventional front-drive sedan, but the Maxx hatchback is a functional blend of sedan, station wagon and hatchback -- although the back end resembles the stern end of Winston Churchill's bulldog.

Chevrolet thinks most Americans dislike hatchbacks, equating them with "cheap'' cars, so it calls the front-drive Maxx a "five-door extended sedan.'' That's silly, because it can be plainly seen that the Maxx is a hatchback. Why not just call it a "crossover'' vehicle? Chevy says regular and Maxx versions of the Malibu "are adaptable to different individuals and lifestyles.''

Both versions of the mid-size Malibu are offered in new high-performance SS (Super Sport) form for 2006, with a 3.9-liter, 240-horsepower V-6 with variable valve timing. It moved my test Maxx SS with authority in town and on highways.

The SS also has a sport suspension, large 18-inch alloy wheels with wide 50-series tires and unique interior and exterior appointments, including a rear spoiler.

The entry Malibu engine is a 144-horsepower four-cylinder best suited for in-town use, but there's a potent 201-horsepower V-6 for mid-range models. All work with a responsive four-speed automatic transmission, with the one in SS versions having manual shift capability.

Estimated fuel economy is 24 mpg city, 35 highway for the four-cylinder, 22-24 city and 30-32 for the 201-horsepower V-6 and 18-19 city and 26 highway for the SS models. Only 87-octane gasoline is needed for all engines.

The Malibu is rigidly built, riding on the General Motors' Epsilon platform also used for the Saab 9-3 chassis. That helps provide good handling, although the SS versions have the sharpest moves.

The variable hydraulic power steering of my test Maxx SS was stiff, although quicker than on other Malibus, which have electric power steering that sometimes feels too light, sometimes too heavy.

The Maxx SS has sharp handling and a supple, comfortable ride despite its firmer all-independent suspension and tires larger than those on non-SS models. Stops are straight and controlled, thanks partly to an easily modulated brake pedal.

Gauges can be quickly read. Clearly marked controls are easy to reach on all Malibus. The ignition switch is put on the dashboard so a driver need not grope for it on the steering column. But a driver can't easily reach his front console cupholder with the shifter in the "drive'' position.

Interior materials are attractive, but still aren't comparable to those of top Japanese rivals. A deep, covered storage bin easily swallows objects such as cell phones.

The 2006 Malibus get a new front-end appearance with a different grille design and body color side moldings for a more upscale look. The base Malibu has been dropped, but there's a new uplevel LTZ model with additional premium features. There's also new low-beam daytime running lights, and the quiet, four-passenger interior has updated trim and a new four-spoke steering wheel.

The standard Malibu sedan's regular trunk allows conventional styling from front to back. The Maxx four-door version has a six-inch longer wheelbase (distance between axles) than the regular Malibu, but is a half-inch shorter in overall length. That shows what can be done when a trunk need not be hung behind the rear wheels.

The Maxx hatchback body provides a cargo area that accepts 22.8 cubic feet of household miscellany, or 7.4 cubic feet more than the Malibu sedan, which has a good-size trunk. With rear seatbacks folded forward, the Maxx swallows 41 cubic feet of cargo.

The Maxx rear seat also reclines and slides fore and aft nearly seven inches to provide more rear occupant room or additional cargo space. Rear seatbacks can be folded forward for a more spacious cargo area. The regular Malibu sedan also has split/folding rear seatbacks, and both body styles have a fold-flat front passenger seatback for extra-long objects.

To help keep hands clean, the light Maxx liftgate has two handhold indents lined with a sandpaper-like material that provides surprisingly good grip, even in wet weather. However, the Maxx cargo opening is rather high.

Exclusive to the Maxx is a fixed rear glass skylight over the back seat to provide an open atmosphere, with a split/retractable shade to control the amount of light through the skylight.

The Maxx also has a removable heavy-duty parcel shelf/tailgate table that can be used at four positions for two-tier loading; it has hooks to hang items such as grocery bags. Optional are a rear-seat audio system and DVD entertainment system with wireless headphones that can be stored in the center fold-down rear armrest, which has dual cupholders. The center of the rear seat is too hard for occupant comfort, anyway.

Malibu prices start at $17,365 for the base LS version and end at $24,065 for the Maxx SS, with various prices for mid-range LT and LTZ regular and Maxx models.

Even the entry LS is well-equipped with such items as air conditioning, cruise control, AM/FM/CD player and power windows, mirrors and door locks with remote keyless entry.

The LS and LT have the four-cylinder engine, while the LT and LTZ versions have the 201-horsepower V-6, which is optional for the LT sedan.

Anti-lock disc brakes and traction control are optional on the LS and LT, standard on other Malibus. Wheels sizes are 15-inch on the LS, 16-inch on the LT, 17-inch on the LTZ, with the SS getting the 18-inchers.

Front torso side air bags and head-protecting curtain side air bags are standard on LTZ and SS models, optional on others. All Malibus have a tilt-telescopic steering column and power driver-seat height adjuster. The LTZ and LTZ Maxx, along with SS versions, have standard power adjustable pedals and heated front seats, which are optional for the LT and LT Maxx. The LTZ has leather upholstery, while the SS has a cloth-leather combination.

A remote engine start system that lets you get a head start on the interior heating and cooling systems from a range of up to 200 feet is standard on all models except the LS, which is equipped for dealer activation of the system.

Various options include a $725 power sunroof, $325 XM satellite radio and $695 OnStar assistance.

The regular Malibu is fine, but the Maxx version is a model of practicality and the kind of vehicle that's been missing from Chevy showrooms for a long time. 



Versatile. New performance SS model. Comprehensively equipped. Roomy.

Stiff steering. Odd Maxx rear styling.

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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