Now entering its sixth year of production, the Chevrolet Malibu appears to have overcome early concerns about quality and reliability. Well-equipped, even in base level trim, the Malibu is practical, family-centred transportation that will appeal to buyers seeking a high degree of functionality at a reasonable price.
Chevy’s mid-size sedan continues largely unchanged into 2002 model year
Introduced in 1996 as a 1997 model, General Motors expected the Chevrolet Malibu to take some wind out of the sails of import competitors like the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry who were gaining market share against the domestics in the mid-size car segment. With the conservative looks and a desirable blend of comfort and handling, the 1997 Malibu appeared to be right on the money. Enough that Motor Trend was moved to name it “1997 Car of the Year.”
But the 1997 Chevrolet Malibu couldn’t match the competition in one area that buyers of import brands consider essential – quality. In fact, early Malibus were downright awful. Have a look at Consumer Reports annual auto issue. The 1997 and ’98 Malibu makes the list of used cars to avoid. Reliability for those years is “worse than average” with electrical systems, brakes and suspension components being a particular concern.
Well, that was then and this is now and, going into its sixth year of production, the Chevrolet Malibu is much improved in quality and reliability even if nothing much has changed in terms of design and appearance. Looking at Consumer Reports’ frequency of repair charts, the Malibu makes a steady improvement over the years in all areas gaining “average reliability” ratings in 1999 and 2000. Average reliability is not a bad thing as overall reliability in the industry is better than ever.
Chevrolet describes the Malibu as “a car for practical, family-centered people who need dependable transportation for everyday life.” While dependability appears to be improving, there is no doubt that the Malibu is practical, family-centred transportation. It is not a vehicle that will satisfy drivers who are passionate about their wheels, rather the Malibu will appeal to buyers seeking a high degree of functionality at a reasonable price.
Standard equipment on the Malibu base sedan, priced at $22,495 includes six cylinder engine, four-speed automatic transmission, programable power door locks, rear window defogger, air conditioning, child security and lock-out protection, full gauge package with tachometer, rear seat heating ducts, theatre lighting, tinted glass, tilt steering column, AM/FM stereo radio with cassette and battery rundown protection, front and rear floor mats, automatic headlight control, power remote trunk release and cargo net.
Our tester was the upscale LS model which adds six-way power driver’s seat, power windows, CD instead of cassette, fold-away power remote outside mirrors, fog lamps, mud guards, 15″ x 6″ 5-spoke cast-aluminum wheels, steering wheel mounted electronic cruise control, illuminated vanity mirrors, upgraded cloth interior, keyless remote entry system and anti-theft system, for a very reasonable $24,685. Our test car also had an optional $225 rear spoiler.
A luxury option package, priced at $1775, would add leather seats, power sun roof, AM/FM cassette and CD and rear spoiler. The power sliding sunroof can be ordered separately for $770 and a gold accent package is available for $130.
If you’re thinking of waiting for a 2002 model, little is changed from 2001. Three new colours will be available – Dark Tropic Teal, Medium Green Pearl and Redfire Metallic. The CD will become standard equipment on all models, while the LS gains a 100-watt, 2-channel subwoofer system. A new child safety seat attachment system named LATCH (Lower Anchor and Top tethers for Children), will ensure that LATCH-compatible child seats are securely installed without using the seatbelt. 2002 pricing has not yet been announced.
That functionality guided Chevy designers is apparent throughout the Malibu. The interior is spacious with plenty of room for four adults or a family with three children. All seats, with the possible exception of the centre rear position, are comfortable and supportive. The rear seats are positioned slightly higher than the front seats improving visibility for little people.
Controls are well laid out, easy to use and accessible. The gauges are large and easy to read, while the power door, window and mirror controls are positioned well forward and angled upward on the driver’s arm rest, making them easy to see and use. I liked the placement of the ignition – on the dash rather than the steering column – no fumbling with keys to start a Malibu! Cruise control buttons are where they should be – on the steering wheel and not on the end of a column-mounted lever as in Chevys past.
The Malibu has one of the largest trunks you’ll find in a mid-size car. At 16.4 cubic feet (464 litres) it is larger than the Honda Accord or Toyota Camry (both 14.1 cu. ft./399 litres) and slightly larger than the Chrysler Sebring sedan (16/453). With a split folding 60/40 rear bench seat, cargo carrying space increases considerably. A cargo net is standard. New for 2001 is a manual trunk entrapment release handle, a welcome safety feature.
Other safety features include standard anti-lock brakes, next generation air bags for both driver and passenger, child security door locks, height adjustable safety belts up front and comfort guides for the rear shoulder belts. In frontal crash testing by the US National Highway and Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) the Malibu performed well, earning a top four star rating. However, in side impact testing, the Malibu performed less well, receiving only a two star rating for front seat passengers, but four for the rear. In the more severe off-set crash testing performed by the US Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the Malibu received an overall “acceptable” rating.
A strong structure is one reason why the Malibu earned a four star rating in frontal crash testing by the NHTSA. The stiff structure is also a factor in the car’s comfortable ride, quiet interior and the sense of confidence one has when driving the Malibu.
No one would describe driving the Malibu as exciting – competent is a more apt description. The ride is firm, but certainly not jarring. The fully independent suspension delivers the right amount of comfort, while keeping the driver in touch with the road. The steering is not overboosted, as is often the case with domestic sedans, and response to sudden changes in direction are quick and accurate.
And without any unexpected and unwanted movement from the body. By family sedan standards, the Malibu’s handling is controlled – no unusual rockin’ and rollin’. This Chevy handles well without sacrificing passenger comfort.
Power is sufficient for a family sedan that is more practical and functional than sporty. GM’s venerable 3.1 litre V-6 delivers 170 horsepower at 5200 rpm and 190 ft.-lb. of torque at 4000 rpm, more than enough get up and go for practical people. It is a smooth, quiet operating engine with a smooth operating automatic transmission and only makes itself heard under hard acceleration.
General Motors had hoped that the Malibu would become its best selling sedan when introduced back in 1996. But competition in this segment is intense and survival is itself an accomplishment. Still the Malibu and its corporate twin, the Pontiac Grand Am, have done well enough. In Canada, the Honda Accord is the best selling mid-size sedan, outselling the Malibu, in the first quarter of 2001, by more than 3000 units (6,585 vs. 3,391). But taken together, the Pontiac Grand Am and Chevrolet Malibu with 8674 sales in the first quarter of 2001 outsell all competition in this segment.
Despite quality and reliability issues, GM’s mid-sized sedans have found favour with Canadian buyers.
|2001 Chevrolet Malibu LS|
|Base price (LS)||$24,685|
|Price as tested||$24,940|
|Type||4-door, 5 passenger, mid-size sedan|
|Layout||transverse front engine, front wheel drive|
|Engine||3.1 litre V-6|
|Horsepower||170 hp @ 5200 rpm|
|Torque||190 lb.-ft. @ 4000 rpm|
|Transmission||4-Speed Electronic Automatic with Overdrive|
|Wheels/Tires||15″ cast aluminum/P215/60R15 all-season touring|
|Curb weight||1395 kg. (3075 lb.)|
|Wheelbase||2718 mm (107.0 in.)|
|Length||4836 mm (190.4 in.)|
|Width||1763 mm ( 69.4 in.)|
|Height||1433 mm ( 56.4 in.)|
|Trunk space||464 L (16.4 cu.ft.)|
|Liftover height:||723 mm (28.5″)|
|Fuel consumption||city – 11.5 l/100 km / 25 mpg|
|Highway – 7.6 l/100 km / 37 mpg|
|Warranty||3 years/60,000 km, GM Roadside Assistance|