The car’s all-new exterior has fluid curves and tailored lines for an attentiongetting look. An allnew interior is also an improvement. The Malibu has earned a Five-Star Frontal and Side-Impact Crash-Test Rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
As the owner of a ’97 Malibu LS, I was itching to drive this much-hyped upgrade. I wasn’t disappointed. Our test vehicle was equipped with the standard Ecotec 16-valve, 2.4-liter, in-line-4 engine that pumps out 169 hp and 160 lbft of torque. An optional 3.6-liter V6 bumps the power up to 252 hp and 251 lb-ft of torque. The Malibu’s fuel economy is on par with others in its class 22-mpg city/30-mpg highway.
It’s apparent that designers paid extra attention to reducing noise and vibration. Intake air, which tends to make a ruckus entering the engine, now encounters nine tuners and resonators prior to reaching it. So the ride is quieter, even at highway speeds. Several steps have also been taken to reduce cabin noise: Laminated glass for the windshield and front-seat windows; more sound deadening in the dash, and tighter orifices in the firewall. Spray-on acoustic insulation and composite liners in the wheel wells reduce road noise. The Malibu’s engine mounts have been carefully tuned to quell vibrations that come through the steering column and unibody.
Acceleration to highway speeds is great. However, on slippery roads, slowing down high-powered front-wheel-drive cars can be a problem, so traction control is now standard as is StabiliTrak stability control (on LT and LTZ models). The car handles quite well, thanks to its long 112.3-in. wheelbase and four-wheel independent suspension.
The interior of the Malibu is well thought out and there’s plenty of room both front and back. Instrumentation and controls are clear and concise.
For the accident-prone driver, Chevrolet is big on safety. Virtually the whole interior has inflatable bags: Standard are front and rear head curtain side-impact bags, front-seat-mounted thorax bags, and dual-stage front bags.
Standard vehicle price for the 1LT model is $20,305. Our test vehicle was equipped with a $515 power-convenience package (power six-way driver seat, remote start, and power-adjustable pedals). A $650 destination charge brought the total to $20,800.