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Review and photos by Greg Wilson
Normally, when an automobile manufacturer produces a hatchback or wagon version of an existing sedan, they simply redesign the car from the B-pillar rearwards by extending the roof and adding a rear hatch. But that’s not the case with the Chevrolet Malibu Maxx, a mid-year addition to the redesigned Malibu line-up. The wheelbase of the Maxx was stretched a full six inches when compared to the sedan, yet the Maxx’s overall length is slightly shorter than the Malibu sedan. Why would General Motors do this?
Well, first, a longer wheelbase provides more rear legroom, and with the Maxx’s sliding rear seats, rear passengers can choose between more legroom or more cargo room behind the seats. Second, by extending the wheelbase and moving the rear wheels closer to the tail, the Malibu Maxx offers an improved ride without altering its mid-size dimensions. Imagine that GM had kept the same wheelbase as the sedan and added a wagon bodystyle to the rear of the car – more weight would be positioned behind the rear wheels, altering the vehicle’s ride characteristics and looks.
Speaking of looks, the Malibu Maxx is a great looking car from the side or rear views (better than the sedan, in my opinion). Its short rear overhang and sloping rear window are unique among wagons – it reminds me of the first Toyota Tercel (if you can remember back that far) which also had the rear wheels positioned close to the tail. The front of the Malibu Maxx doesn’t catch my fancy, but neither does it offend me. Hey, it’s a family car!
With 106 cubic feet of cabin space, the Maxx is considerably roomier than the Malibu sedan which has 101.4 cubic feet of passenger space. The same goes for the cargo area: the Maxx has 22.8 cubic feet of cargo capacity behind the rear seats compared to 15.4 cubic feet in the trunk of the sedan.
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Keep in mind that one or both of the split 60/40 rear seats can slide forwards up to seven inches to increase cargo room. In addition, the split rear seatbacks (which have hard plastic backs) can fold down, and the right front passenger seat (which has a hard back) will also fold flat. With the folding rear seatbacks folded flat, there is 41 cubic feet of cargo area.
But for a couple of reasons, the Maxx’s cargo area is not as roomy as most mid-size wagons – for example, the Ford Taurus Wagon has 37.8 cubic feet behind the rear seats and 81.3 cubic feet with the seats folded down. The Saturn L300 Wagon has 33.5/79.0, and the Subaru Outback Wagon has 29.9/59.7. The Maxx’s combination of a sloping rear window, a short rear overhang, and intrusive suspension housings in the trunk combine to reduce its cargo capacity when compared with traditional station wagons. The Maxx is more like a big hatchback than a wagon, offering more utility than a mid-size sedan, but less overall cargo room than a wagon.
Two trim levels
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The Chevrolet Malibu Maxx comes in two trims: LS ($26,495) and LT ($30,945). The LS model is well-equipped for that price, featuring a standard 200 horsepower 3.5 litre V6 engine and 4-speed automatic transmission, 16 inch tires and alloy wheels, rear skylights, air conditioning, AM/FM/CD stereo with six speakers, tilt-telescopic steering wheel, 60/40 folding/sliding rear seats, power windows and door locks, anti-lock brakes, power adjustable pedals, keyless remote, and traction control.
Malibu Maxx LT models add leather seating and leather wrapped steering wheel, automatic climate control, power driver’s seat, heated front seats, curtain airbags, OnStar, front fog lights, heated mirrors, rear disc brakes, and remote starter system.
For the 2005 model year, side airbags, rear window wiper/washer, and rear spoiler will be optional on LS and standard on LT models.
Roomy interior with extras
Large front and rear doors and a low step-in height make it easy to get in and out of the Malibu Maxx. Its unique leather seats (LT) are attractive, comfortable and supportive during brisk cornering. The seat inserts are made of a soft, perforated suede material that is grippier and softer than smooth leather. The driver’s seat includes power height and fore-aft adjustment, and manual lumbar and rake adjustments. In addition, the LT includes a tilt/telescoping steering wheel and power adjustable brake and accelerator pedals. Just about anybody – people with short legs and long arms, or vice-versa – can fit into the Maxx’s driver’s seat.
I found the round gauges simple and easy to read and the instrument panel controls, while somewhat unconventional, become easy to use after a few tries. A blue LCD screen in the centre instrument panel displays many of the radio functions while a separate screen below shows the temperature adjustment for the automatic climate control. The upper LCD screen also provides driver information such as average fuel consumption, average speed, fuel range and so on.
At the bottom of the centre console is a handy slot for a cell phone next to a 12 volt charger. There’s also a useful pen holder. The floor shifter is positioned on the left side of the console, closer to the driver’s hand. And the two cupholders in the centre console include removeable, washable rubber liners. Between the front seats is a raised, padded armrest and inside is a roomy storage area with a coinholder, a clip for a cell phone, and another 12 volt powerpoint.
Other features I liked were the in-dash ignition switch, drop-down coinholder on the dashboard near the door, large door pockets, and power window buttons angled towards the driver and front passenger. Cruise control functions and some radio controls are found on the leather-wrapped steering wheel spokes.
The optional sliding glass moonroof is quite large and includes an automatic one-touch opening feature. Above the rear seats are twin glass windows with sliding sunshades. They don’t open, but they do let more daylight into the rear seating area – and they are standard.
The rear seat, which also has suede inserts in the outboard positions, is very comfortable and is roomy enough for three average adults. It includes a fold-down centre armrest with a couple of cupholders.
Not only do the rear seatbacks fold down independently, but each side can slide fore and aft independently up to 7 inches. With both rear seats all the way back, rear passengers have limousine-like legroom – and with both seats all the way forwards, cargo room can be increased. There are two rear, height-adjustable head restraints, but no centre restraint.
Rear passengers have rear audio controls and headphone jacks, and an option package includes a DVD movie player and flip-down screen.
Cargo area is versatile
The Maxx has a large rear hatch opening with easy access to the cargo area. A sturdy-looking tray in the cargo area has a carpeted surface on one side and a black, rubber surface on other side. It can be positioned in any one of three positions, allowing owners to stack heavy objects like milk jugs and cans on the bottom, and lighter objects like vegetables and bread on the top shelf. It can also be used as a table for picnics.
The split seatbacks have hard backs as does the right front passenger seat. With these folded down, long objects like ladders can be stored inside with the hatch closed. The Maxx doesn’t have a separate opening rear window.
Standard safety features in the LT include side airbags in the front seats for the front passengers, and side curtain airbags which protect both front and rear passengers in a side collision. Additional side airbags are standard on LT models for the 2005 model year.
For me, the high points of the Malibu Maxx are its smooth, powerful V-6 engine, and its comfortable ride. The Maxx’s 200 horsepower 3.5 litre overhead valve V-6 engine has plenty of bottom-end grunt (220 lb-ft @ 3200 rpm), so whatever speed you are travelling, throttle response is immediate. Launch away from the traffic lights, merge into traffic, merge onto the freeway, or pass a slower car at 100 km/h – the Malibu Maxx does it all with ease. 0 to 100 km/h takes about 9 seconds. Not only that, the engine is quiet and vibration-free.
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Transport Canada’s official fuel consumption figures seem optimistic to me: 10.5 L/100 km (27 mpg) city (Imperial gallons) and 6.7 L/100 km (42 mpg) (Imperial gallons) highway. A lot will depend on how heavy your right foot is.
The standard four-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly every time, and it features a unique manual mode: by putting the shifter in ‘L’, the driver can change gears manually from 1 to 3 by pressing a button on the shifter knob. However, if the transmission is left in 3rd gear, and the car comes to a stop, the transmission will automatically shift down to 1st, and then up to 3 again when accelerating. But if it is left in 1st gear, it will not shift up automatically.
My only criticism of this powertrain is that the Malibu Maxx is only rated to tow up to 1000 lbs.
The Maxx’s long 112 inch wheelbase, wide 60 inch track, and fully independent suspension (front MacPherson struts/rear 4-link design) are responsible for its assured, smooth ride. Still, its suspension is somewhat soft resulting in some lean when cornering – but acceptable in a mid-size family car.
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The driver has good visibility to the front – and it’s one of the few cars where the driver can actually see the hood – which helps when judging parking distances. Visibility to the side is good thanks to three side windows, but the rear corner pillar is thick.
Four-wheel disc brakes with ABS are standard on the LT (front discs/rear drum on LS), providing assured stopping power and the large P215/60R-16 all-season tires offer plenty of grip.
With very little engine or wind noise on the freeway, the Malibu Maxx is a very pleasant car to drive on long journeys. And despite its long wheelbase, its easy-effort variable-assist electro-hydraulic steering and reasonably good turning circle (37.6 feet) make it easy to drive around town and park. For all these reasons, the Malibu Maxx makes a great family car.
There aren’t any other mid-size ‘hatchbacks’ on the market, except the new Mazda6 hatch ($32,995 – GT-V6) but the natural inclination is to compare it to mid-size wagons such as the (2005) Ford Taurus SEL Wagon ($29,645), (2005) Dodge Magnum ($36,995), (2004) Saturn L300 3 Wagon ($29,025), (2004) Mazda6 Sport GT Wagon ($31,495), (2005) Subaru Outback 3.0 ($38,995), and (2004) VW Passat GLX Wagon ($41,600)
A versatile and roomy vehicle, the Chevrolet Malibu Maxx offers a smooth, powerful, and quiet V-6 powertrain, a very comfortable ride, and a roomy interior with a unique split sliding rear seat and adjustable cargo tray. The cargo area is not as roomy as most mid-size wagons, though.
Technical Data: 2004 Chevrolet Malibu Maxx LT
|Base price (LS)||$26,495|
|Base price (LT)||$30,945|
|Options||$ 1,685 (CD changer $435; 1SB Preferred Equipment Group $1,250)|
|Price as tested||$33,630|
|Type||4-door, 5-passenger mid-size wagon|
|Layout||transverse front engine/front-wheel-drive|
|Engine||3.5 litre V6, OHV, 12 valves|
|Horsepower||200 @ 5400 rpm|
|Torque||220 lb-ft @ 3200 rpm|
|Curb weight||1577 kg (3476 lb.)|
|Wheelbase||2852 mm (112.3 in.)|
|Length||4770 mm (187.8 in.)|
|Width||1773 mm (69.8 in.)|
|Height||1476 mm (58.1 in.)|
|Cargo capacity||626 litres (26.8 cu. ft.) (rear seats up)|
|1161 litres (41.0 cu. ft.) (rear seats down)|
|Fuel consumption||City: 10.5 L/100 km (27 mpg) (Imperial gallons)|
|Hwy: 6.7 L/100 km (42 mpg) (Imperial gallons)|
|Fuel type||Regular unleaded|
|Warranty||3 yrs/60,000 km|