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Chevrolet Malibu LS (2002)

SEE ALSO: Chevrolet Buyer's Guide

By Matt/Bob Hagin


     Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 19,590
     Price As Tested                                    $ 21,540
     Engine Type               OHV 12-valve 3.1 Liter V6 w/SMFI*
     Engine Size                                 191 cid/3136 cc
     Horsepower                                   170 @ 5200 RPM
     Torque (lb-ft)                               190 @ 4000 RPM
     Wheelbase/Width/Length                  107.0"/69.4"/190.4"
     Transmission                           Four-speed automatic
     Curb Weight                                     3252 pounds
     Fuel Capacity                                  14.3 gallons
     Tires  (F/R)                             P215/60R15 touring
     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


     EPA Economy, miles per gallon
        city/highway/average                            20/29/25
     0-60 MPH                                        9.0 seconds
     1/4 (E.T.)                          16.5 seconds @ 95.0 mph
     Top-speed                                           120 mph
                 * Sequential multi-port fuel injection

MATT - The Malibu name has been in the Chevrolet line on and off since '64 when it was a fancy model of the Chevelle. Back then, the Malibu carried a V8 engine and its ultimate spin-off was the Malibu SS 454 muscle car that had unbelievable horsepower. But now the name has been applied to Chevy's midsized sedan that has to do battle with the heavy-hitters on the sales charts rather than on Colorado Boulevard or Woodword Avenue with others of its ilk. The new Malibu has its work cut out for itself since midsized is the its most competitive sedan niche in America. The 2002 is pretty much the same car it was last year except that the price has gone up a few hundred dollars.

BOB - The Malibu follows the typical front-drive midsized formula, although it doesn't offer an optional four-cylinder engine anymore. For the last couple of years, the only engine available in the Malibu has been the venerable 3.1-liter V6, an engine that's been around for a couple of decades. It's the smallest V6 in the GM stable and puts out 170 horsepower and 190 pound/feet of torque. This gives the 3100-pound four-door adequate performance but it's a far cry from it's muscular ancestor. The engine has been updated over the years and the cylinder heads are now aluminum, but the design still has two valves per cylinder operated by pushrods. The bugs have been pretty much worked out, so it's reliability factor is now pretty high. The only transmission available is a GM 4T40-E four-speed automatic that has a pretty good reputation for reliability, too.

MATT - The fuel mileage is not bad, either. The EPA averages are 20 MPG around town while the highway milage jumps up to 29. I think that's helped by a high final-drive ratio and a lockup torque converter in the transmission. There's nothing very spectacular about the suspension system either. It uses MacPherson struts up front and a three-link system in back with coil springs mounted over the shocks. Standard stuff, but the ride and handling of the Malibu is more than adequate for the average American family. Our LS model is a little "spiffer" than the plain version in that it comes with the Preferred Equipment Group which adds a sun roof, special leather seats and a deck-mounted spoiler, which to my mind is a useless item on a family car. The wheels on the LS are aluminum, although they're the same size as the steel versions. They mount ubiquitous P215/60R touring tires but the trunk-mounted spare is one of those cheap "space-savers" that don't lend themselves to five- wheel rotation at service time.

BOB - A full-sized spare wheel would have to be aluminum and combined with a conventional tire, it would jack up the price of the Malibu and the car's relatively low cost is one of its attributes in the midsize market. The full-sized-spare cost is better spent on putting a maximum number of "optional extras" on the standard equipment list. Among those standard items are air-conditioning, anti-lock brakes, remote keyless entry and a load of other things that cost extra on some other midsized sedans. The Malibu has a couple of minor niceties like the fact that the radio will stay on for as long as ten minutes after the key is shut off or it will turn off when the front door is opened. The headlights turn off automatically when the engine is shut down at night but not until a period of time has passed so that the driver can get into the house. The battery rundown protection system is another minor item that the driver never thinks about until it's needed.

MATT - The Malibu is another one of those cars that won't appeal to boaters, Dad. It's maximum towing capacity is only a half-ton including the trailer. But there's lots of room inside and it's one of the few sedans we've tried lately that seats three adults in back with no strain. Three large adults put somewhat of a strain on the suspension in back, but that's a rare occasion.

BOB - The new Malibu is a very sensible family car, Matt. It has everything a Chevy buyer could want except for one thing. It could use about 200 more horsepower.

MATT - Dad, I thought you were past that stage.