What's New for 1997
First year for new midsize sedan with classic name.
Chevrolet is producing good cars and trucks. Witness the excellent values to be found in the Blazer, Camaro, Cavalier, and Lumina. With the introduction of the 1997 Malibu, it's hard to go wrong when visiting a Chevy dealer for a bread-and-butter sedan.
Consumer clinics determined much of the Malibu's design. Engineers used a nearly identical methodology when concocting the recipe for the successful Lumina. What consumers have demanded is a tight, solid, roomy, fun-to-drive mid-sized sedan. Guess what? Chevrolet delivers, and delivers big. The Malibu is all of these things and more, wrapped in unobtrusive but not ugly sheetmetal, and sold at a price that undercuts similarly equipped imports and domestics.
Two models are available. The base Malibu features a 2.4-liter twin-cam four-cylinder engine, the same one found under the hood of the Cavalier Z24. Gears are shifted automatically, and standard equipment includes four-wheel anti-lock brakes, four-wheel independent suspension, battery rundown protection, theft deterrent system, tachometer, air conditioning, rear seat heat ducts, tilt steering wheel, and remote trunk release. Step up to LS trim, and you leave the showroom in a fully loaded car. The LS includes a 3.1-liter V6 engine, aluminum wheels, fog lights, remote keyless entry, power driver's seat, power windows and door locks, cruise control, uplevel stereo, and a trunk cargo net.
While we haven't driven the Malibu at this writing, performance figures dictate that this Chevy goes, slows, and turns corners well enough to be entertaining. Interior design elements include a handy left-handed cupholder, backlighting for major controls and switches throughout the interior, and heating and air conditioning ducts located on the A-pillar to help direct air flow to rear seat passengers. Also notable is the dash-mounted ignition switch. Moving the switch from the steering column to the dashboard means the driver doesn't have to crane his neck around to find the ignition slot.
Safety concerns are covered by the Malibu. Dual airbags, four-wheel antilock brakes, and child safe rear door locks are standard. According to Chevrolet, side-impact door beams exceed 1997 federal standards for protection. Maintaining the Malibu has been made easy with platinum-tipped spark plugs that last 100,000 miles, engine coolant designed to last five years or 150,000 miles, and transmission fluid that never has to be changed or checked.
Our list of gripes is short, at this point. The fake wood in the LS is unnecessary. We also want to find an integrated child safety seat on the options list in the future. And why can buyers get traction control on the Cavalier but not the Malibu? The Malibu's standard second-gear start feature, does, however, help make up for the lack of traction control.
We're impressed by the new Malibu. Evidently, both Motor Trend and AAA are as well. Motor Trend named the Malibu Car of the Year for 1997, and AAA calls the Malibu the best car to buy in the $15,000 to $20,000 range. Great job, Chevrolet.