The Chevrolet Malibu family – the Malibu and Malibu Maxx hatchback, and the SS variations on each – receive performance and safety enhancements. The 3.5-litre V6 gains variable valve timing; dual-stage frontal airbags with GM Passenger Sensing System, and front and rear curtain airbags are standard on all models; side-impact thorax bags are standard on LTZ and SS models, and available on LS and LT. OnStar-equipped vehicles receive the Directions & Connections service with turn-by-turn navigation, and there are three new exterior colours: Amber Bronze Metallic, Dark Gray Metallic and Golden Pewter Metallic.

The Malibu range offers three engines, a 2.2-litre inline four-cylinder, 3.5-litre V6, and on SS models, a 3.9-litre V6; all three mate to four-speed automatic transmissions. The Malibu sedan and Malibu Maxx are identical from the B-pillar forward; the Maxx wheelbase is 152 mm (6 inches) longer, but its overall length is 13 mm (.5 inch) shorter. Both the sedan and Maxx are available as the higher-performance SS edition.

The LS trim line is available only on the sedan and includes 2.2-litre engine, 15-inch wheels, air conditioning, CD player, power driver’s seat height adjuster, tilt and telescopic steering wheel, four-spoke steering wheel, curtain airbags, cloth seats, power windows and mirrors, cruise control, and power locks with keyless entry. (A base Maxx LS is available for fleet sales in the U.S. but is not offered in Canada.)

The Malibu LT also uses the 2.2-litre, but can be optioned to the 3.5-litre V6 that is standard on the Malibu Maxx LT. Both models add 16-inch painted wheels, upgraded cloth seats with manual lumbar support, and body-colour mirrors. The V6 models include anti-lock brakes with traction control, but can be added to the 2.2-litre. An available Luxury & Convenience package can be added, which includes fog lamps, remote vehicle starter system, leather-trimmed wheel and shifter knob, auto-dimming mirror with compass, wheel-mounted audio controls, six-way power driver’s seat, power-adjustable pedals and heated seats.

Both the Malibu LTZ and Maxx LTZ use the 3.5-litre V6, and add fog lamps, chrome exhaust tip, automatic climate control, heated mirrors, six-way power driver’s seat, leather-appointed heated seats, 17-inch chrome-clad alloy wheels, power-adjustable pedals, wheel-mounted audio controls, auto-dimming rearview mirror with compass, rear reading lamps, OnStar and universal home remote.

Both SS models use the 3.9-litre V6 and include SS-specific front and rear fascias, blacked-out grille with platinum-look surround, projector beam fog lamps, rear spoiler, dual chrome-tipped exhaust outlets, monochromatic exterior moldings and trim, 18-inch wheels, sport-tuned suspension, SS-specific ebony interior, sport seats, and three-spoke leather-wrapped wheel. The SS also has four exterior colour choices of white, black, Laser Blue Metallic and Silverstone Metallic.

All Maxx models also include a standard fixed rear glass skylight with retractable sunshade, rear cargo area power outlet, and multi-functional cargo panel with four positions for two-tier loading; the Maxx can be optioned with a rear-seat audio or DVD entertainment system.

The Malibu rides on GM’s global Epsilon platform, also used for the Saab 9-3 and Opel Vectra. The Maxx may be shorter than the sedan, but thanks to the longer wheelbase, it contains a clever sliding rear seat, which can be moved forward or backward depending on preference for passenger legroom or cargo space.

The Malibu’s electric-assist steering isn’t as precise as that of some competitors, but this car’s still solid value, with good fit-and-finish, comfortable seats, and lots of cargo space, especially in the well-designed Maxx. The addition of variable valve timing to the 3.5-litre increases it from 201 hp to 217 hp, and with that trim line’s upgrades, including ABS and traction control, it’s the “best buy” of the three lines.

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