In the history of the American family car, some names stand out from the crowd. During the 60s, a name to remember was Malibu, an upscale version of the mid-size Chevrolet Chevelle. Now, the Malibu was a top seller, thanks to its combination of smart styling, reasonable price, and wide array of engines. For 1997, the Malibu name returns and once again graces a smart, but more modest, four-door family car. Which prompts us to wonder is the Malibu name more memorable than the car?
At first glance, perhaps. Like its fraternal twin, the Oldsmobile Cutlass, the Chevrolet Malibu is quite conservative, and bears a strong resemblance to import-brand competitors, especially the Toyota Camry, both outside and inside. Where this Chevy’s no-nonsense interior trim and straightforward dash design mimic the smooth efficiency of most Asian brands.
Like the original Malibu, this mid-size family sedan offers plenty of adult-size head and leg room. Along with supportive cloth-covered bucket seats, and a standard tilt steering wheel.
While the gauges, stereo controls, over-sized vents and climate control system offer the sort of idiot-proof layout that we’ve come to expect in Honda Accords.
Rear seat room is also generous. Split-folding seatbacks are optional, and standard on LS-grade cars. But we don’t care for the chintzy trunk-mounted release straps. However, we do like the healthy 16.4 cubic feet of trunk space.
Over its twenty year career, the original Malibu offered a dizzying array of engine choices. Today’s machine includes a base 2.4-liter 150 horse 4-cylinder, or our test car’s 3.1-liter V6, with 155 horsepower and 185 pound-feet of torque. A very smooth 4-speed automatic is the only transmission choice.
So the Malibu is hardly a Corvette, but it is capable of hitting 60 in 8.3 seconds, and finishing the quarter mile in 16.4 seconds at 84 miles per hour. And provides sufficient muscle for dodging through traffic or smooth highway passing.
Ride quality is also impressive, without the harshness that characterized many of GM’s earlier mid-size sedans. And while it’s hardly ready for LeMans, the Malibu’s stiff new uni-body structure and MacPherson strut suspension provides relatively vice-free handling. While front disc/rear drum brakes, with standard ABS, stop it from 60 in an average distance of 124 feet.
All in all, a very nice package. Not very exciting, but very efficient. In short, a Detroit-born Camry/Accord. And that’s clearly the market that Chevy is aiming its newest mid-sizer at.
Prices for the Malibu start at $15,995. Add on our base test car’s full options, and the price climbs to $18,319. Of course at that point, you may opt for the LS model, which starts at $18,715, and carries most of the same features plus upgraded trim.
This puts the Malibu well ahead of most import brands in the value-for-money race, while offering almost identical features and performance.
So the latest car to wear the Malibu name isn’t exceptionally fancy, fast or stylish, but it is exactly what hundreds of thousands of buyers look for in a car every year. Competitors like Camry, Accord and Altima have become household names by offering the same blend of efficiency and value. So this latest Chevy Malibu may turn out to be quite memorable after all.
Engine: 3.1-Liter V6
Torque: 185 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 8.3 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 16.4 Seconds @ 84 MPH
60-0 MPH: 124 Feet