What's New for 2006
The Chevy Malibu Maxx gets a few updates for 2006. Most interesting is a new performance-oriented SS trim level that features a 240-horsepower, V6 engine. Chevy has also juggled the trim levels: the base model is now called the LS, the former LS is now the LT, and last year's LT is now the LTZ. Other minor changes include freshened front-end styling, new wheel designs, flashier trim pieces for the instrument panel, a new four-spoke steering wheel and standard child security rear door locks on every trim level.
The Malibu Maxx takes the idea of a car-based crossover to a new level -- or maybe it's just a modernized version of a 1970s Chevrolet Malibu wagon. Either way, the Maxx represents a step forward in Chevrolet's thinking. The company has learned a lot by selling hundreds of thousands of Tahoes every year, and with the Maxx, Chevrolet is applying SUV versatility to a capable midsize sedan.
Chevrolet is hoping the Malibu Maxx will woo some import sedan and wagon buyers, and indeed it's based on GM's Epsilon platform shared with the nimble Saab 9-3. The Malibu Maxx offers a roomy interior with a fixed rear skylight to give the cabin an airy feel. Neither the styling nor the materials quality is anything special, but the control layout is at least straightforward. Additionally, there's plenty of head-, shoulder and legroom in all directions.
In order to accommodate a variety of drivers, every Maxx comes with a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, and power-adjustable pedals are optional. The rear seats are split 60/40, and each section offers 7 inches of fore/aft travel as well as a recline feature. Passengers are protected by an optional set of front side-impact airbags along with front and rear head curtain airbags, and Chevrolet is offering an interesting remote-start feature that allows owners to get a head start on heating or cooling down the cabin before setting out for the day. To enhance its family-friendly nature, the Chevy Malibu Maxx offers an optional DVD entertainment system with wireless headphones, video game console jacks and a remote control. The hatch area offers 22.8 cubic feet of capacity, and you can fold down the rear seats and the front-passenger seat to open up more room for bulky items. An adjustable parcel shelf allows for two-tier loading in the cargo area, and it can also function as a makeshift picnic table. Various hooks and nets help keep grocery bags from spilling their contents.
The ride quality of this Chevy car is smooth and comfortable on the highway. Handling is predictable in the corners, though an oddly calibrated electric steering setup makes it feel less adept than many of its competitors. The brakes perform adequately in everyday traffic, but we've measured longer-than-normal distances in simulated panic stops. Most buyers will be satisfied with the Maxx's dynamics, but more enthusiastic drivers will want to look at the Dodge Magnum, Mazda 6, Subaru Legacy and Volkswagen Passat. While the Malibu Maxx is no substitute for seven- and eight-passenger SUVs, there are plenty of people who really don't need more than five-passenger capacity but could use a little extra flexibility to keep up with a growing family. If that describes you and your family, then the 2006 Chevrolet Malibu Maxx is a crossover wagon worth consideration.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The Chevy Malibu Maxx comes only as a four-door wagon and is available in three different trim levels -- LT, LTZ and SS. The LT is well equipped with features like air conditioning; a remote vehicle starter; a six-speaker stereo with a CD player and driver information center; a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel; cloth seats with height and lumbar adjustment for the driver; power windows, mirrors and door locks; a multiadjustable 60/40-split folding rear seat; a fixed rear skylight with retractable shade; and a rear cargo shelf. The LTZ adds automatic climate control, leather upholstery, power-adjustable pedals, side curtain airbags and a rear spoiler. The SS adds features like leather-and-cloth sport seats with extra bolstering, a sport-tuned suspension and 18-inch allow wheels. Options include an in-dash CD changer, satellite radio, separate rear audio controls, a rear-seat DVD player and OnStar telematics.
Powertrains and Performance
Standard on the Malibu Maxx LT and LTZ is a 3.5-liter V6 that makes 200 horsepower and 220 pound-feet of torque. The SS features a potent 3.9-liter V6 with 240 hp and 241 lb-ft of torque. A four-speed automatic is the only transmission available, and the SS includes a manual-shift mode.
Safety is a strong point for the Chevrolet Malibu Maxx. Four-wheel antilock disc brakes and traction control are standard. Front-seat side-impact airbags and full-length head-protecting side curtain airbags are optional on the LT and standard on the LTZ and SS. Though neither the NHTSA nor the IIHS has tested the Maxx, one could expect it to perform similarly to the five-star-rated Malibu sedan in frontal impacts.
Interior Design and Special Features
Inside, the Malibu Maxx offers plenty of passenger space. Head-, shoulder and legroom in the front and rear seats are competitive with what the roomiest midsize sedans offer. The Maxx is 6 inches longer than the Malibu sedan, and the 60/40-split rear seat reclines and offers 7 inches of fore/aft travel. A standard fixed sunroof over the rear seats contributes to the cabin's open feel. Cargo capacity behind the rear seats measures 22.8 cubic feet, and a parcel shelf allows for two-tier loading. Though not particularly upscale or stylish in feel, the cabin is at least functional with a straightforward control layout.
In most driving conditions the 2006 Chevrolet Malibu Maxx is a competent and comfortable performer, but handling suffers as a result of its overboosted electric steering. The SS fares better with its traditional hydraulic power steering. Although the base V6 might seem down on horsepower for this class, generous low-end torque and a quick-shifting transmission make the Chevy car feel more powerful than its numbers suggest. The V6 found in the SS model is even more sporting. Braking performance is adequate in everyday traffic, but stopping distances are longer than they should be for a car in this class.