New Car/Review

1997 CHEVROLET MALIBU

by Matt/Bob Hagin

chevrolet

SEE ALSO: Chevrolet Buyer's Guide

SPECIFICATIONS

     Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 18,190
     Price As Tested                                    $ 19,126
     Engine Type                            3.1 Liter V6 w/SMFI*
     Engine Size                                 191 cid/3136 cc
     Horsepower                                   155 @ 5200 RPM
     Torque (lb-ft)                               185 @ 4000 RPM
     Wheelbase/Width/Length                    107"/69.4"/190.4"
     Transmission                           Four-speed automatic
     Curb Weight                                     3142 Pounds
     Fuel Capacity                                    15 gallons
     Tires  (F/R)                                     P215/60R15
     Brakes (F/R)                          Disc (ABS)/drum (ABS)
     Drive Train                  Front-engine/front-wheel-drive
     Vehicle Type                       Five-passenger/four-door
     Domestic Content                                        N/A
     Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                               N/A

PERFORMANCE

     EPA Economy, miles per gallon
        city/highway/average                            20/29/24          
     0-60 MPH                                        9.3 seconds
     1/4 Mile (E.T.)                       16.6 seconds @ 83 mph
     Top speed                                               N/A
     * Sequential multi-point fuel injection

(At age 33, the Malibu name is a venerated icon with Chevrolet enthusiasts. At age 16, Matt Hagin rolled his first car, a '70 Malibu. His dad, Bob, is happy that both Matt and the Malibu have matured.)

MATT - Dad, I can't get into this new Malibu without thinking how different it is from my old '70 version. It was the first car I officially owned and two weeks after I got my license, I flipped it with two buddies inside.

BOB - That's an event I'd like to forget, Matt, and this new version helps me do just that. Today's Malibu is strictly a four-door sedan made for middle-Americans, aged 45. The average buyers of these cars are in the $55K per year class, half are college grads, and 10 percent more women than men buy them. They expect the cars to last 6.6 years and most prefer them in fancy trim with all the bells and whistles. The Malibu is the archetypal mid-management corporate car. It's new this year and it faces some stiff competition in the mid-sized class.

MATT - The Malibu was the result of a lot of Chevy planning and the engineers asked those mid-American drivers what they wanted, then built the car to suit. It's got lots of space inside with plenty of stretch- out leg room both in front and back. All Malibus come standard with a/c and on our LS version everything that can be powered, is, including the trunk opener. Both front bucket seats recline and the 60/40-split rear seat folds down to increase carrying capacity. and the interior has lots of little cubby-holes for stashing things away. I'm a bit disappointed that the rear brakes are still drums, but an anti-skid brake system is standard on all Malibus, both the LS and the base version. And I know you don't like these daytime running lights, Dad, but they're proven to be effective and to add a bit of foul-weather safety. Malibu LS also comes standard with fog lamps. The automatic transmission has a second-gear start-up position, which makes getting underway in snow and ice lots safer, too.

BOB - I think the car could use a bit more power, Matt. Its 155- horse, 191-inch V6 is an antiquated push-rod design and is a little on the small side with only five more ponies than the little four-banger that's standard on the base model. Both Malibu models come only with a four-speed automatic, but according to Motor Home magazine, they can be flat-towed behind an RV, and that's important to lots of us old guys who like to hit the highway with a "dingy" in tow. But don't expect to tow a cabin cruiser behind a Malibu, because its limit is only 1000 pounds.

MATT - The fuel mileage isn't bad for a car this size, Dad. The EPA says it'll get 20 to 29 mpg, and Suzanne and I got around 26 doing family errands. I'd have preferred a little more roll stiffness myself - maybe a bit larger sway bars front and rear. The suspension is independent in back which helps ride control and to help reduce unsprung weight, the brake calipers in front are aluminum, as are the 15-inch wheels on our LS. The maintenance schedule for major services is 100,000 miles and statistically, that's past the trade-in time for the average Malibu. And in an age of extended service schedules, the low-oil level indicator is a nice touch since it would be easy to let an engine run low on oil and never be aware of it until it's too late.

BOB - The exhaust system is made of stainless steel, which should extend the time before the muffler and tail pipes are ready for replacement. And since one of the major maintenance problems in today's automotive world is trying to keep your car from being ripped off, it will be reassuring to know that your new Malibu has a theft deterrent system as standard equipment. But I'm a little put-off by the fact that a set of mud flaps front and rear are going to set the buyer back fifty bucks. You'd think that the company would throw them into the deal.

MATT - I wish that my old '70 had the same kind of safety features that this '97 has. It would have made my "problem" ride lots easier.

BOB - Matt, the only safety features that would have helped you when you were 16 would have been a much lighter right foot, and many more years of driving experience.

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