What's New for 2002
Only minor changes are added to Chevrolet's midsize sedan. Floor mats and an AM/FM CD stereo are now standard on all models. Three new colors have been added along with newly styled 15-inch cast-aluminum wheels.
Chevrolet is trying to claw its way back from mediocrity with cars that provide not only solid performance and good looks, but manage to do so with a low price, to boot. The Malibu is a perfect example of this philosophy, with good looks, a strong V6 and a sticker price that undercuts its foreign competition by hundreds of dollars.
Two models are available: Base and LS. Both Malibus feature a torquey 3.1-liter 3100 V6 engine, making 170 horsepower and 190 pound-feet of torque running through a standard four-speed automatic transmission. Standard equipment includes four-wheel antilock brakes, a four-wheel independent suspension, battery rundown protection, theft deterrent system, tachometer, air-conditioning, tilt steering wheel and a remote trunk release. Step up to LS trim, and you leave the showroom in a fully loaded car that includes aluminum wheels, foglights, remote keyless entry, power driver 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. Thoughtful interior design elements include a handy, albeit shallow, 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 airflow to rear-seat passengers. Also notable is the retro-style, dash-mounted ignition switch, eliminating the need to crane your neck around to find the key slot.
Malibu has safety concerns covered, as well. 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 is easy with platinum-tipped spark plugs that last up to 100,000 miles, engine coolant designed to last 5 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 out of place in a car like this. And why can buyers get traction control on the Cavalier but not the Malibu? The latest list of improvements doesn't address our concerns, so we'll have to wait another year to see if our wish list ever gets fulfilled.
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. Its mainstream styling doesn't scream American econobox, and its long list of standard features won't leave you wishing you had anted up for an Accord or a Camry. If you're in the market for modestly priced midsize four-door, Chevrolet's Malibu is one domestic sedan that deserves serious consideration.