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2004 New Car Review: Chevrolet Malibu

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MODEL: 2004 Chevrolet Malibu
ENGINE: 2.2-liter inline 4
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 145 hp @ 5,600 rpm/155 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 4-speed automatic
WHEELBASE: 106.3 in.
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT: 188.3 x 69.9 x 57.5 in.

Chevrolet's new Malibu is a lot more than it appears to be on first encounter. It's not an Impala, nor is it an Aveo. In classification, it's closer to the Aveo, but a big step up from the old Cavalier.

We used the Malibu for our annual Christmas trek down to Virginia. It isn't the car my wife would have chosen, nor is it the one I would have preferred. But knowing in advance that we'd have a compact sedan allowed us to transfer a ton of presents to the "opening site" a few weeks earlier.

Still, we loaded the trunk and back seat with last-minute gifts as well as our luggage. Chevrolet claims the trunk to be 15.4 cubic feet, and I'd agree. Not only did it have good numbers, the space was useful and entirely accessible. Of course the rear seat backs folded to create a longer cargo area, but in this case we left them up and may have actually gained capacity, because the back and seat cushions didn't fold on themselves.

I was also slightly worried when I first turned the Malibu on. Under the hood was a 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine that's rated at 145 horsepower. It's connected to a four-speed automatic transmission and drives the front wheels. I thought this might be on the low side at first, but discovered, much to my happiness, that this is plenty of power for the 3,174-pound sedan. We had decent acceleration and good top speed, enough to keep up with the other holiday rushers who had places to go.

Best yet, we averaged approximately 31 mpg for our 900 miles of travel. The Monronie claims 24 mpg city/34 mpg highway, so we were well in the middle of those numbers. There's also a light and beeper that go on when you're running low on fuel, so you shouldn't get stranded.

We made maximum use of cruise control on the Interstates and longer runs, so I'm sure this aided the high economy rating. Cruise control is useful for maintaining a set speed without tromping down on the pedals. It's also useful for maintaining a speed that's in keeping with the other traffic n the road and the speed limit. It's one of my favorite accessories.

Styling of the Malibu is conservative, which isn't surprising. Chevrolet seems to save its flashiest styling for the Corvette and SSR, while the bread-and-butter cars are more Plain Jane. This isn't bad. Plain Jane cars are also "invisible" to radar.

Ride comfort was very good. We had manually adjustable seats with a lumbar adjustment, power pedals and a tilt/telescoping steering wheel, so we were able to configure the Malibu to our tastes. Power adjustable pedals are cropping up in more and more vehicles these days and they're a sensible tool. You don't want to be sitting too close to the steering wheel and the potentially exploding air bag in an emergency.

Handling was also good for the Malibu. Again, it isn't a Corvette or big sedan, but in its class it handles very well. Part of our trip took us through some winding roads, on Interstates, and along winding back-country dirt roads. The Malibu handled all well, although we might have preferred all-wheel drive for some of the more exciting dirt roads.

The Malibu had a bottom line of $20,775, which I felt was about $3,000 high. The car had a base price of $18,370, to which were added the Preferred Equipment Group ($835) of cruise control, remote keyless entry, power pedals, and AM/FM CD radio; ABS with traction control ($400); head curtain side airbags ($395); remote vehicle start system ($150); and a destination charge of $625.

While the Malibu may first come off as a low-priced vehicle, what you end up driving is a pretty decent economy car that6 can handle almost anything you throw at it. It isn't top-of-the-line, but it's pretty good at where it should be.

2004 The Auto Page Syndicate