In 1997, Chevrolet decided to reintroduce an updated version of its popular Malibu, last sold in 1983. Their decision was right on as the car is a popular choice among consumers I own one. I asked to test drive the 2001 version, as I was curious to see what changes/improvements (not that the car needed any) have been made.

While no head-turner, the Malibu is a nice-looking car that offers a quiet, smooth, and comfortable ride. My two children and I drove over 1,000 miles to Florida this summer in my own Malibu and we were all quite comfortable during the long ride. The car also did quite well on gas mileage, which was a plus with today's fuel prices.

The car has plenty of spunk to handle on and off ramps with vigor. The Malibu's powerful 3.1-liter, V6 engine delivers 170 hp at 5,200 rpm and 190 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm, giving it plenty of acceleration. Power flows to the front wheels through a smooth-shifting four-speed automatic transmission. And for those who prefer not to feel the road while driving, the Malibu's four-wheel independent suspension, together with front and rear stabilizer bars, keeps the rubber firmly planted to the pavement. The car's stiff body generated no rattles and kept things in control around tight corners and at highway speeds, making driving pleasurable.

Our test vehicle was a navy blue metallic with leather neutral trim interior. Once behind the wheel, you'll appreciate how roomy the interior is. The dashboard is easy to read and conveniently located audio and climate controls are readily accessible to the driver. The stereo system in the LS model has both a CD and cassette player and, new for 2001, a Radio Data System and retained accessory power, which lets the radio continue playing for 10 min after the car is off or until the driver's door is opened.

One feature I particularly like is that the ignition is located on the dash panel rather than the steering column. An auxiliary power outlet, located next to the ashtray, is easily accessible. One drawback of the 2001 model is that designers removed the dashboard gear indicator, which my '97 has. When the need arises to shift gears while driving, it was comforting to know I could quickly glance down, minimizing the amount of time my eyes were off the road.

The interior also gets high marks for easy-to-reach cupholders. The seats are very comfortable, but only the driver's seat has power adjustment controls. A drawback for rear-seat passengers is the elimination of the armrest from the middle of the back seat. My children both enjoy the armrest, especially my 8-year-old daughter who frequently uses it as a pillow when she falls asleep. One feature I'd like to see added is reading lamps above each door for rear passengers. Trunk space is plentiful and split-folding rear seats increase trunk capacity for hauling large objects.

Base price for our test vehicle was $19,300. Another $1,320 was tacked on for the preferred equipment package (rear-deck spoiler, electric sliding sunroof, and special leather bucket seats), $125 for a Gold package (gold center grille bar, wheel center cap emblems, and interior and exterior badging), and a $575 destination charge, for an out-the-door price of $21,320. All things considered, the car is worth the money, with or without the added packages.