2004 Malibu New Car Test Drive
Chevrolet has completely redesigned its highly successful Malibu for the 2004 model year. The only thing that carries over from the old Malibu is the name. Every screw, nut and bolt is new on the 2004 Malibu. Test drives of several variations of the 2004 Malibu demonstrated that Chevy's new sedan stacks up well against the Japanese competition in driving dynamics and price.
The driving performance of the Malibu exceeded our expectations. Steering and handling are softer than the Honda Accord, but firmer than the Toyota Camry, the right balance for a wide range of buyers. The solid body structure and supple suspension result in a quiet cabin and comfortable ride yet allow spirited driving. We were impressed with the power of the available V6. The cabin offers roomy accommodations for five passengers with comfortable seats and logical controls that are easy to use.
Where the Malibu needs work is in the appearance department. On the outside, the new Malibu is not a raving beauty but it is better looking than the previous model, which sold well despite its plain appearance. The interior is a mix attractive, quality trim used in some areas and cheap plastic in others. If history is any indication, the new Malibu should offer good quality construction, however. The previous Malibu ranked tops in the midsize car class two consecutive years in the J. D. Power Initial Quality Surveys.
Starting at just under $19,000 and topping out at about $25,000, Malibu prices are extremely competitive with prices of the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry, which can easily top $25,000.
The new Malibu lineup brings far more variation in body styles, powertrains and trim levels than before. The 2004 Malibu is being introduced as a midsize sedan. Early next year, a hatchback crossover version with a longer wheelbase goes on sale as the Malibu Maxx.
The sedan comes in three trim levels: the base Malibu ($18,370), LS ($20,370) and LT ($22,870). The base model comes standard with a 2.2-liter dual overhead cam four-cylinder engine. LS and LT versions come with a new 3.5-liter V6. All models come with a four-speed automatic transmission.
Standard features on all levels of the Malibu include: air conditioning; power driver seat with a height adjuster; power windows, power door locks and power outside rearview mirrors; tilt/telescoping steering column; a compact disc player, front dual-stage airbags.
Anti-lock brakes (ABS) and traction control are optional on the base model ($400). Head curtain side airbags, which we recommend highly, are optional for base and LS models ($395), but come standard on the LT.
The mid-level LS and top-of-the-line LT come with standard the V6 engine (and ABS and traction control). The LS also has as standard: a cargo net; cruise control; remote keyless entry; front-reading lights; map pockets in the backs of the fronts seats; power adjustable pedals; cloth seats; manual lumbar driver seat adjuster; driver seat cushion storage pocket; a radio with a CD player, six speakers and Radio Data system, which tells the kind of station you are listening to; 15-inch aluminum wheels; illuminated driver's side vanity mirror and non-illuminated vanity mirror on the passenger side; and body color moldings.
LT adds: automatic climate control; side curtain airbags; front and rear reading lights; remote vehicle starter; leather seats; heated front seats; 6-way power driver's seat; seat cushion storage pockets for outboard seating positions; leather-wrapped steering wheel with steering wheel-mounted audio and cruise controls; leather-wrapped shift knob; two illuminated vanity mirrors in front; fog lamps; power and heated outside rearview mirrors; body-color rocker moldings; a rear spoiler; 16-inch tires and wheels.
An $835 option package for the base sedan consists of: a cargo net; cruise control; remote keyless entry; front seatback map pockets; power adjustable pedals; driver manual lumbar seat adjuster; and the audio system that is standard in the LS. The LS offers an $800 option package that includes: side curtain airbags; remote vehicle starter; carpeted floor mats; and six-way power driver's seat. The LT has a $905 option package that consists of the Homelink transmitter for opening garages and security gates; a light-sensitive auto dimming rearview mirror and a power sunroof.
Standalone options include: a DVD entertainment center with a monitor that flips up from the front console and comes with wireless headphones ($995); XM Satellite Radio ($325 plus the $9.99 monthly subscription fee); GM's OnStar communications system ($695); a power sunroof ($725); and a rear spoiler ($175). Four levels of audio systems are available, from the base AM/FM stereo and CD player to the top-of-the-line radio ($325) with an in-dash, six-CD changer, six speakers, and automatic volume and tone controls. A unique option available on the Malibu is the remote starter ($150), useful both in cold climates to warm up the car before the driver climbs in and in extremely hot climates to cool it down.
Chevrolet predicts the new Malibu will prove to be the safest midsize car, but at press time it had not been crash tested by the government. Chevy expects five-star ratings for front crashes, four-star ratings for side impacts and a 'good' rating on the government's offset barrier test. Engineers used high-strength steel in specific areas of the body and created energy-absorbing crush zones in the front and rear.
The Malibu is equipped with dual-stage front airbags, three-point safety belts for all occup.
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