For 2006, the Malibu and Malibu Maxx receive the SS treatment, with this new top-of-the-line vehicle receiving an equally new 3.9-litre V6. The SS package also includes unique interior and exterior appointments, sport-tuned suspension and 18-inch wheels.

The rest of the line-up gets some trim changes; the LS is now the base model on the Malibu, the LT becomes mid-range on the Malibu and base on the Maxx, and there’s a new LTZ trim line. Other changes include new front-end treatment, body-coloured side mouldings with chrome accents, a new four-spoke steering wheel, new rear door child safety locks, and updated interior trim. The 2006 models receive new Titanium, Cashmere and Ebony interior trim colours, and exterior Sandstone Metallic, Silverstone Metallic and Laser Blue Metallic.

The Malibu uses the company’s global Epsilon platform, which it shares with the Saab 9-3 and Opel Vectra. The Maxx – the jury’s still out as to whether it’s a hatchback or a true wagon – has a wheelbase that’s 152 mm longer than the sedan, although the sedan is 13 mm longer. That rear suspension placement allows for a clever sliding rear seat in the Maxx, which can be moved forward or backward to optimize passenger legroom or cargo space.

Three engines are available. The Malibu LS and LT use a 2.2-litre Ecotec inline four-cylinder. The Maxx LT and both Malibu and Malibu Maxx LTZ models use a 3.5-litre V6, which can also be optioned in the Malibu LT (a base Maxx LS available in the U.S. for fleet sales is not sold in Canada). The Malibu SS and Malibu SS Maxx use an exclusive 3.9-litre V6. All models use a four-speed Hydra-Matic automatic transmission.

The Malibu LS includes 15-inch wheels, cloth seats, power-assisted driver’s seat height adjuster, tilt and telescopic column, interior chrome and walnut burl-appearance trim, new four-spoke steering wheel, cruise control, power windows, locks and mirrors, air conditioning, CD player and rear door child locks.

The Malibu and Malibu Maxx LT include body-coloured outside mirrors and rocker panels, 16-inch five-spoke wheels, up-level cloth seats, and an available Luxury and Convenience Package, including bright chrome wheels, fog lamps, leather-wrapped wheel, auto-dimming mirror, wheel-mounted radio controls, heated front seats, six-way power driver’s seat and lighted passenger vanity mirror.

The Malibu and Malibu Maxx LTZ add fog lamps, chrome exhaust tip, automatic climate control, heated mirrors, six-way power driver’s seat, heated front seats, power-adjustable pedals, roof and side impact airbags, 17-inch chrome-clad wheels, leather seats, OnStar, auto-dimming mirror, rear seat audio (in the Maxx), universal remote, rear reading lamps, rear spoiler, and leather-wrapped wheel with stereo controls.

The SS models add all-ebony interior, front sport seats, three-spoke leather-wrapped sport steering wheel and leather-covered shift knob.

The Malibu provides a good, solid ride that’s surprisingly quiet, although the electric-assist steering isn’t as precise as that of some competitors, with a vague spot on-centre. The seats are comfortable, and the Maxx’s rear slider is an excellent way of expanding legroom or cargo space as needed. Fit and finish is among the best of Chevrolet’s offerings.

The Malibu’s 2.2-litre is mostly destined for fleet sales, although it’s still a good choice for those who want the Malibu’s size at the lowest possible price (which has dropped $380 from 2005 for the base model). The 3.5-litre is probably the best choice if you’re planning on keeping the car for a while; the 3.9-litre is more fun to drive and the interior is luxurious, but price out 18-inch replacement tires before you sign on the dotted line. The difference between the LT’s 16-inchers and the SS’s 18-inch hoops will definitely scare you.

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