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2006 Chevrolet Malibu Maxx SS Review

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SEE ALSO: New Car Buyer's Guide for Chevrolet

MODEL: Chevrolet Malibu Maxx SS
ENGINE: 3.9-liter V6
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 240 hp @ 5800 rpm/240 lb.-ft. @ 2800 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 4-speed automatic with manual mode
WHEELBASE: 112.3 in.
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT: 187.4 x 69.8 x 58.1 in.
TIRES: P225/50R18
CARGO VOLUME: 41.0 cu. ft. (15.4)
ECONOMY: 18 mpg city/26 mpg highway/20.4 mpg test
PRICE: $25,015 (includes $625 destination charge)

Chevrolet offers two basic versions of the Malibu; the four-door sedan version and the five-door hatchback version. Within those two major categories, there are SS versions as well. Our tester is the Malibu Maxx SS.

Unlike the original V8-powered SS (or Super Sport) models that appeared in the Muscle Car era, this SS has a 3.9-liter V6 engine rated at a healthy 240 hp. Hooked to a f-speed automatic transmission with a manual mode, the Malibu Maxx SS can get you in trouble real fast, if not as fast as the old SS model could. This is in no way meant to demean the MMSS, but to put it in perspective. In a couple of weeks we're going to report on something that was a lot closer to the Muscle Car SS, so you'll understand.

But even with a powerful engine, is an SS really an SS with a V6 and an automatic? The V6 does have an almost-SS-like sound, though. The exhaust note has a bit of a `tude. The manual mode to the automatic is different, and better than many. There's a small toggle switch on the left side of the shifter "Tee." Hit the top of the switch and you up-shift; hit the bottom and you down-shift. On real winding roads you end up with one hand on the shifter and only one hand on the steering wheel many times, but the shifting is quick and precise.

The MMSS is a nice package. While the sedan version of the car is a standard "three box" design, this hatchback version is far more practical. Yeah, I know, hatchbacks are more often identified with those clunky cars of the 1960s and 1970s, but this one breaks new ground. For one, the MMSS is built on a 112.3-inch wheelbase, six inches longer than the sedan. Still, it's actually almost an inch shorter overall, offering a vehicle that has the wheels "pushed out to the corners" for better stability and a more comfortable ride. And with the hatchback design as opposed to a "normal" trunk, maximum cargo capacity increases from a decent 15.4 cubic feet to 41 cubic feet. So if you want to carry anything (and we did during our test), you'll want the Maxx for maxximum utility.

I thought the instrument panel was neat, with a new type face used for the numbers on the instruments. Instrumentation consisted of three dials holding the standard four instruments - speedometer, tachometer, fuel and water temperature.

Cruise control switches were located on the steering wheel. In a feature I loved, and would like to see used more often by other manufacturers, there's a light on the dash that lets you know cruise is engaged. Some companies just tell you the master switch is on, but not if it's engaged, so this is convenient.

Our tester had standard audio (AM/FM/6CD/XM) and HVAC controls that worked when needed. A large center console offered good storage, as well as hard pockets in the doors. There were two cupholders for front passengers and two in the rear in a fold-down arm rest.

The rear seats folds flat easily to convert the MMSS to a cargo carrier. Our tester had the optional "shade" over the rear cargo area that's useful with the rear seat sup, but gets in the way with them down. The cargo area also has a moveable shelf, similar to that in the HHR, that adds versatility to the rear, but it's only useful with the rear seat backs up.

With the seats in normal position, there's good rear legroom. Rear passengers also benefit from a sunroof that doesn't extend over the front seats. The rear windows also have "opera windows" that have been long gone.

The underhood area is dominated by a huge engine cover. However, the oil dipstick and filler are located up front, while the windshield washer fluid filler cap is on the right next to the battery. Our tester had a sticker price of $25,015, with the only option being XM radio and a $625 delivery charge.

Overall, the MMSS is a nice package with a lot of utility.

2005 The Auto Page Syndicate