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2004 Chevrolet Malibu Road Test

By CharlesOfria

Category:  -  
Who should buy this car: A person looking for a solid family sedan with room and comfort at a reasonable price
Comparable cars in this class: Buick Century, Chrysler Sebring, Dodge Stratus, Ford Taurus, Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, Mazda 6, Mercury Sable, Mitrubishi Galant, Nissan Altima, Oldsmobile Alero, Pontiac Grand Am, Saturn L300, Subaru Legacy, Suzuki Verona, Toyota Camry

T
he mid-size four door sedan segment of the new car market is very crowded with lots of excellent offerings.  The Honda Accord and Toyota Camry are just two of the many vehicles that populate this class and, while they are indeed the ones to beat, they are generally priced higher and have less content than the others in this group.

In order to be competitive here, the product has to be exceptional, and it doesn't hurt to have a gimmick or two as well.  Don't get me wrong, there are lots of great products that are classified as mid sized sedans and it is hard to go terribly wrong with any one of them.  In this crowded arena, there is a car that will suit just about anyone's taste.

After years of blah offerings from the bow tie folks, here comes Chevrolet with their latest entry into this swollen market segment.  Chevy management believes that they have a shot at capturing a fair share of sales with this new Malibu, and after living with this car for a week, I tend to agree.

The Malibu came to life in the 1964 model year and hit the ground running.  Chevy used to own this class with some good old-fashioned Detroit iron.  That is, before Toyota and Honda began slapping them around.  But after experiencing this new Malibu, it looks like Chevrolet still knows how to build a solid sedan that gives good value and all the basic features that the majority of car buyers consider important.

The Malibu's interior is comfortable and complete, but below the level that most folks would consider upscale.  Everything in the interior is purposeful, neat and functional if a bit plasticy in places.  Our top-of-the-line LT model had a leather trimmed interior with perforated seat inserts that almost felt like suede. (ok, maybe that can be considered "upscale")  There was also some wood-look trim that was tastefully applied in small doses to the console, dash and doors.

The exterior styling is clean cut and handsome, while trying not to offend.  It should appeal to the majority of people who are looking for a transportation appliance that is functional, comfortable and practical.  The angular headlamps borrow the styling cues that were started with the Chevy Avalanche and later picked up on the rest of the truck line.  There is also a wide chrome strip across the grill that is repeated on the trunk.  This seems to be the new Chevrolet family look, which is distinctive and makes the car (or truck) immediately recognizable as a Chevy.

The driving position is comfortable and very adjustable for a car in this price range.  There is a 6-way power driver's seat with a manual recline, a manually adjustable steering column that can be positioned for both reach and angle, and power adjustable gas and brake pedals so that even short people could position themselves away from the steering wheel and still reach the pedals.

The leather covered steering wheel on our top-of-the-line LT was equipped with controls for a number of sound system functions as well as the cruise control.  These controls are easy to use and are illuminated at night.

The rear seat has a decent amount of room, but if you are looking for more rear seat room, check out the longer wheelbase Malibu Maxx.  Rear seat legroom on the Maxx is huge. (think Checker Taxicab)  We'll have an update on the Maxx as soon as we can get our hands on one.

This is a solid feeling car with a rigid body structure, thanks to the new world-class GM Epsilon platform. Up until now, the only cars that used this new platform was the Saab 9-3 and the European Opel Vectra. Opel is not available in the US.  The Chevrolet Malibu is the first American nameplate to use this Epsilon platform and I doubt that it would be the last.  The Epsilon architecture was developed by GM's Opel subsidiary in Germany to be flexible enough to fit the personality of each vehicle that is built off of it.

The big gimmick on this new Chevy is the remote start feature.  This is the first ever factory installed device that is fully integrated with the security system.  The way it works is simple.  To start the car remotely, you have to first press the lock button on the remote and then quickly press and hold the start button for one and a half seconds.  If you are within 200 feet of the car, that will start it.  You can then finish your breakfast while the car warms up.  When you unlock the door and get in, you will not be able to shift it out of park until you put the key in the ignition and turn it to the on position.  If you forget the car running, it will shut itself off after 10 minutes.  The system emphasizes security so that you can be sure that if you remotely start the car and leave it running, no one can jump into the car and drive it away.

There are four sound systems available on the Malibu.  The base system is an AM/FM stereo with CD player, but you can move all the way up to an up-level system with an in-dash 6-CD changer, 6 speakers, automatic volume and tone controls, and XM Satelite Radio compatibility.  The XM radio requires a subscription that will cost $9.99 per month.

The trunk is a good size and has cargo nets on both side walls, which I used a couple of times and think it is a neat feature.  Split folding rear seats allow the storage space to be extended into the rear seat area.

This is a quiet highway cruiser, but the engine will let itself be known during any kind of acceleration.  The 3.5 liter V6 has a deep throaty exhaust note under anything more than half-throttle acceleration.  On the road, wind noise is virtually non-existent.  The ride was firm but comfortable and handling was competent and secure with fairly flat cornering and decent tire grip.

 The electric power steering is very light at low speeds for one finger parking just like the Malibus of old.  As you increase speed, the steering effort will rise proportionally for better road feel.  The steering feel while driving is a bit vague, but overall, the handling was smooth and predictable.

The Malibu comes in three trim levels, Base, LS and LT.  The base model delivers 145 horsepower from its fuel-efficient Ecotec 2.2L, dual-overhead-cam four-cylinder engine. The Malibu LS and LT models get a 200-hp 3.5L overhead-valve V-6. All Malibus come with a four-speed electronic automatic transmission.  A manual shift transmission is not available, but the automatic has a button on the side of the shifter that will allow you to manually shift it if you are so inclined.

Here is a partial list of the safety features:

  • Dual-stage front air bags for the driver and front passenger
  • Standard safety belt pretensioners for front-seat passengers
  • Optional head curtain side-impact air bags to help protect front and rear outboard passengers
  • Four-wheel anti-lock brakes with traction control is standard on LS and LT models, and an available option on base sedan

This is an all American car that is manufactured in Kansas City, Kansas.  People who are looking for a generic, all-purpose family sedan should have this car high on their list.  The Malibu is a conservative transportation appliance that is practical, comfortable and economical.  It is a practical car that someone like Ned Flanders might drive.  As Ned would say, "It's be-didley-utiful"

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Specifications
2004 Chevrolet Malibu LT

Engine Type
Horsepower
Torque
Fuel Recommended
Transmission
Drive Type
Tires - Standard
Overall Length "
Wheelbase "
Width "
Turning Diameter  ft.
Curb Weight  lbs.
Fuel Tank  gallons
Performance 0 to 60  seconds
Miles Per Gallon  mpg City,   mpg Highway
Base Sticker Price   plus destination charge

Standard Equipment
Chevrolet Malibu Base Model

  • 2.2 liter dual overhead cam (DOHC), 16-valve 4-cylinder engine
  • 4-speed automatic transmission
  • Electric power steering, variable-assist
  • Automatic Headlamps
  • Air conditioning, manual control
  • Power Windows and Door Locks
  • Power driver-seat height adjuster
  • Tilt/telescoping steering column
  • AM/FM stereo with CD player and four speakers
  • 60/40 split-folding rear seat
  • Cloth seats
  • 15-inch steel Wheels with bolt-on wheel cover
  • P205/65R-15 blackwall, Touring Tires

Chevrolet Malibu LS Model Adds:

  • 3500 V6 engine
  • Four-wheel ABS
  • Electronic Traction Control
  • Cruise control
  • Driver-seat lumbar adjuster
  • Power-adjustable pedals
  • Remote Keyless Entry
  • AM/FM stereo with CD player, includes RDS, and premium six-speaker system
  • Custom Cloth seats
  • 15-inch cast-aluminum wheels

Chevrolet Malibu LT Model Adds all the features from the LS plus:

  • Foglamps
  • Heated outside mirrors
  • Rear spoiler
  • Automatic climate control air conditioning
  • Heated front seats
  • Leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio/cruise controls
  • Leather-wrapped shifter knob
  • Head curtain side air bags
  • UltraLux and leather-appointed seats
  • 16-inch machined-face aluminum wheels
  • Power driver seat, six-way
  • Remote vehicle starter system
  • Floor mats, carpeted front and rear

Major Available Options
(depending on model)

  • Cruise Control and Remote Keyless Entry
  • 4-Wheel Antilock Brakes w/Traction Control
  • Head Curtain Side Airbags
  • Remote Vehicle Start System
  • Power Glass Sunroof w/Tilt-Slide
  • OnStar
  • XM Satellite Radio
  • AM/FM Radio w/6-Disc In-Dash CD Changer
  • Rear Spoiler
  • HomeLink universal remote transmitter

For more information on the Malibu, visit chevrolet.com

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