What's New for 2001
Base models receive black rocker moldings, black molded-in-color outside rearview mirrors and a rear window defogger. LS models get front seatback map pockets. Both models receive auto headlamp on/off, new stereos and new cloth interiors.
Chevrolet is trying to claw its way back from mediocrity. Witness the excellent values to be found in the Blazer, Camaro and Cavalier. The Malibu is more of a good thing. In fact, this is one of the best family cars produced by any domestic automaker today.
Consumer clinics determined much of the Malibu's design. What consumers have demanded is a tight, solid, roomy, fun-to-drive midsize sedan. Guess what? Chevrolet delivers, and delivers big with this car. The Malibu is all of these things and more, wrapped in unobtrusive yet attractive sheetmetal and sold at a price that undercuts similarly equipped imports and domestics.
Two models are available. Both Malibus feature the torquey 3100, 3.1-liter V6 engine, making 170 horsepower and 190 foot-pounds of torque, while meeting low-emission vehicle (LEV) standards. Gears are shifted automatically, and standard equipment includes four-wheel antilock 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 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.
This Chevy goes, slows and turns corners well enough to be entertaining, particularly with last year's boost in power. Interior design elements include a handy, left-handed cupholder (which is really too shallow for drinks and should be relegated to use as a change holder), 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 retro-style, dash-mounted ignition switch, because the driver doesn't have to crane his neck around to find the key slot.
Malibu has safety concerns covered, too. Dual airbags, four-wheel antilock brakes and child-safe rear door locks are standard. According to Chevrolet, side-impact door beams exceed federal standards for protection, though federal side-impact crash tests indicate that occupants may actually be rather vulnerable in this car. Maintaining the Malibu has been made easy with platinum-tipped spark plugs that last up to 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. 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 list of improvements for 2001 doesn't address our concerns, though automatic on/off headlamps have been added and new cloth seats and door panels grace the interiors.
Still, the Malibu impresses us. It's one of the few domestic models that can go toe-to-toe with the imports on comfort and features, while beating them on price.