Check out the list of top-selling family sedans in America and the dominance of the imported brands is almost frightening. Over the last decade, Toyota and Honda have come to dominate the category, while Ford has quietly slipped out of first place and Chevrolet lingers even further down the list. Although the bowtie brand introduced an all-new midsize Malibu sedan in 1997, it lacked the size, power and refinement necessary to win back consumers who made the import switch and liked what they found.
For 2004, Chevrolet is going after the imports once again, and this time it's leading the charge with not one but two new Malibus a traditional four-door sedan and a five-door hatchback dubbed the Malibu Maxx. These new additions to the Chevrolet lineup promise more room, more power and innovative new features that the imports don't have. But will it be enough to convince the buying public that the age of the American sedan is back?
After sampling both models recently, we don't expect the sales crown to switch to Chevrolet just yet, but there are promising signs that GM is finally seeing the light when it comes to building competitive new models. And with a price that remains several thousands lower than the Accord and Camry, those looking for a slightly more affordable family car might find the Malibu an enticing prospect.
Like its competition, the Malibu sedan offers both four- and six-cylinder engines and three levels of trim. The base Malibu is equipped with a 2.2-liter, 145-horsepower inline four-cylinder mated to a four-speed transmission (no manual is available). Standard features on this model include air conditioning; a CD player; power windows, locks and mirrors; a height-adjustable driver seat; a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel; and a 60/40-split folding rear seat. Stepping up to the LS model upgrades the Malibu with a 3.5-liter V6 rated at 200 hp. In addition to the larger engine, the LS adds alloy wheels, power-adjustable pedals, cruise control, keyless entry, premium cloth seats and an upgraded stereo with a driver information center. Top-of-the-line LT models are further enhanced with heated leather seats, automatic climate control, 16-inch wheels and a segment-first remote starting system. The Malibu Maxx hatchback is identically equipped, but no base model is available.
The Malibu's V6 engine has a considerably lower horsepower rating than some of its chief competitors, but it proves to be more than adequate during typical driving. There's plenty of punch off the line and the power doesn't let up much from there on out. The power delivery is consistently smooth, but its rough sound keeps it a step below the Accord and Camry in the refinement department. The four-speed transmission performs flawlessly delivering sharp, quick shifts right when you expect them and a thumb-actuated rocker switch makes manual shifts a breeze.
Ride quality and handling were never the previous Malibu's strengths, but the latest version rides on an all-new vehicle platform that delivers significant improvements in both areas. The Malibu now feels tighter through corners, more composed over bumps and quieter on the highway. There's a much better sense of the road beneath you than on the previous model and none of the creaks and rattles. A new electric steering system provides decent road feel on the highway, but inputs at lower speeds and around sharp corners return a more artificial feel that's less impressive. It's not a car you would characterize as light on its feet but, as family sedans go, the Malibu is comfortable and capable.
A similar improvement in quality is noticeable inside the Malibu. There are fewer awkward gaps between the various trim panels, the dashboard is solidly anchored in place and the climate control knobs feel substantial. There are still a few pieces that show signs of flimsy construction, but for the most part the overall build quality of the interior displays marked improvement.
Unfortunately, the same can't be said of the materials quality or design as the Malibu still lags behind its competitors in both areas. There's not much in the way of soft-touch materials and the plastic trim pieces lack the kind of texturing that would give them a more upscale look. It wouldn't be so noticeable if the overall design was more dynamic, but there's nothing much going on in that area, either. The gauge cluster doesn't look much different from the previous model's design and the center stack isn't much better. There's nothing wrong with it all from a functionality standpoint, but at the same time there's nothing about the interior that makes you feel like you're getting more than you paid for.
No such complaints could be rendered about the comfort level inside the Malibu as there's plenty of room up front and in back. Between the tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel and power-adjustable pedals, finding a comfortable driving position is never a problem. The seats themselves are a good compromise between initial softness and long-range support with plenty of adjustability in all directions. Even with a tall driver behind the wheel, the rear seats offer ample leg-, toe and headroom for average-size adults.
As spacious as the standard sedan is, the Malibu Maxx deserves additional recognition for its innovative and functional setup that provides even more rear-seat room along with added cargo capacity. All Maxx hatchbacks feature individually adjustable rear seats that slide fore, aft and recline to give rear passengers first-class accommodations that no midsize sedan can match. There's also an available DVD-entertainment system that flips out of the center console, as well as skylights to give the space an even more spacious feel. Behind the seats, there's 22.8 cubic feet of cargo room and a multiposition cargo tray similar to that found in the Chrysler PT Cruiser. The extra bulk of the hatchback configuration adds some weight compared to the sedan, but only a stopwatch could tell the difference between the two when it comes to performance.
Adding the Maxx to the Malibu lineup was a smart move for Chevrolet, as it offers something truly unique in the segment. Although the two Malibus show significant improvements in both handling and build quality, getting import buyers to give up their trusty Accords and Camrys isn't going to be easy. The improved performance, capable handling and comfortable interior should go a long way toward convincing buyers that the Malibu deserves a look, but whether its average materials and so-so design will be enough to keep them behind the wheel is another story. Honda and Toyota aren't likely to lose their chart-topping sales positions just yet, but this new Malibu could make some positive inroads toward getting an American manufacturer back near the top.
2004 Chevrolet Malibu Overview Edmunds experts have compiled a robust series of ratings and reviews for the 2004 Chevrolet Malibu and all model years in our database. Our rich content includes expert reviews and recommendations for the 2004 Malibu featuring deep dives into trim levels and features, performance, mpg, safety, interior, and driving. Edmunds also offers expert ratings, road test and performance data, long-term road tests, first-drive reviews, video reviews and more.
Our Review Process This review was written by a member of Edmunds' editorial team of expert car reviewers. Our team drives every car you can buy. We put the vehicles through rigorous testing, evaluating how they drive and comparing them in detail to their competitors.
We're also regular people like you, so we pay attention to all the different ways people use their cars every day. We want to know if there's enough room for our families and our weekend gear and whether or not our favorite drink fits in the cupholder. Our editors want to help you make the best decision on a car that fits your life.
Consumer ratings and reviews are also available for the 2004 Chevrolet Malibu and all its trim types. Overall, Edmunds users rate the 2004 Malibu 4.6 on a scale of 1 to 5 stars. Edmunds consumer reviews allow users to sift through aggregated consumer reviews to understand what other drivers are saying about any vehicle in our database. Detailed rating breakdowns (including performance, comfort, value, interior, exterior design, build quality, and reliability) are available as well to provide shoppers with a comprehensive understanding of why customers like the 2004 Malibu.
Review We purchased our Malibu in 2006 from a leasing agency............to say the way this car has lasted is amazing...........just took it in for one of three recalls, and the mechanics were amazed at the milage (276,016) and runs smooth. I burn about a cup of oil every two thousand miles, and just put it on high mileage oil for the first time. Just a couple of items of note, gas gauge no longer works, but use the mileage ap to figure fill up to fill up. Averages 36 on the highway, and 32 in city, and the automatic locking system is finished, but can be opened manually. Everything else works fine............I give it five stars out of five.:+)}}} and I would purchase another one in a heart beat.
Edmunds Value Edmunds has deep data on over 6 million new, used, and certified pre-owned vehicles, including rich, trim-level features and specs information like: MSRP, average price paid, warranty information (basic, drivetrain, and maintenance), features (upholstery, bluetooth, navigation, heated seating, cooled seating, cruise control, parking assistance, keyless ignition, satellite radio, folding rears seats ,run flat tires, wheel type, tire size, wheel tire, sunroof, etc.), vehicle specifications (engine cylinder count, drivetrain, engine power, engine torque, engine displacement, transmission), fuel economy (city, highway, combined, fuel capacity, range), vehicle dimensions (length, width, seating capacity, cargo space), car safety, true cost to own. Edmunds also provides tools to allow shopper to compare vehicles to similar models of their choosing by warranty, interior features, exterior features, specifications, fuel economy, vehicle dimensions, consumer rating, edmunds rating, and color
Available Chevrolet Malibu 2004 Submodel Types: Sedan, Hybrid
Available Trims: LT, LS, LTZ, Premier, LS Fleet, LT1, LT w/1LT, Hybrid, LT2, Eco, Base, Fleet, LT w/2LT, L, SS
Exterior Colors: Silver Ice Metallic, Summit White, Nightfall Gray Metallic, Mosaic Black Metallic, Blue Velvet Metallic, Black Granite Metallic, Cajun Red Tintcoat, Champagne Silver Metallic, Atlantis Blue Metallic, Iridescent Pearl Tricoat, Ashen Gray Metallic, Pepperdust Metallic, Taupe Gray Metallic, Mocha Steel Metallic, Imperial Blue Metallic, Arctic Blue Metallic, Butte Red Metalllic, Gold Mist Metallic, White Diamond Tricoat, Red Jewel Tintcoat, Crystal Red Tintcoat , Sable Metallic, Sandy Ridge Metallic, Golden Pewter Metallic, Silverstone Metallic, Dark Gray Metallic, Light Driftwood Metallic, White, Black, Galaxy Silver Metallic, Silver Moss Metallic, Dark Blue Metallic, Medium Gray Metallic, Sandstone Metallic, Sport Red Metallic, Crystal Red Tintcoat, Amber Bronze Metallic, Autumn Bronze Metallic, Blue Topaz Metallic, Navy Blue Metallic, Silver Topaz Metallic, Dark Jade Green Metallic, Medium Bronzemist Metallic, Silvermist Metallic, Dark Green Metallic, Dark Tropic Teal Metallic, Laser Blue Metallic, Redfire Metallic, Sandrift Metallic, Silver Green Metallic