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2004 Chevy Malibu Maxx
Like No Other Malibu Before

by Ann Job

2004 Chevy Malibu Maxx: Like No Other Malibu BeforeWomen could make up as much as 60 percent of the buyers of the newly redesigned and re-engineered Chevrolet Malibu.

Why shouldn't they?

The 2004 Malibu impresses with its comfortable ride, pleasant appearance, solid platform, more powerful V6 - not to mention its many features and clever new hatchback model.

Would you believe the hatchback Malibu, also known as the Maxx, can provide an unheard-of 41 inches of rear legroom? Some cars don't have that much room for legs in the front seats!

Yes, the 2004 Malibu is like no other Malibu before it.

Lots of features
I describe it this way: Japanese family car styling with largesse of amenities and a bit of European chassis added in. For example, the new Malibu is the only auto in the midsize sedan market offered with a factory-option remote vehicle starter, allowing a driver to start the car and, most importantly, the car's heater without climbing inside a frigid interior.

In fact, a Malibu driver can be snug inside the house, as much as 200 feet away, and activate the remote vehicle starter, all with the vehicle's doors remaining locked to prevent theft. This remote starting feature, which works for cooling a car's interior with the air conditioning, too, is an option that's normally available only as an aftermarket purchase.

2004 Chevy Malibu Maxx roofHow about rear-ceiling skylights? They're standard in the back seat of the Malibu Maxx. Indeed, the five-passenger interior of every Malibu comes with standard driver-seat power height adjustment, too, just the thing to help petite drivers get easily positioned behind the steering wheel.

And optional features include such diverse items as power-adjustable brake and accelerator pedals, OnStar emergency notification system and XM satellite radio. A rear, DVD-based entertainment system is available, too.

Mainstream appeal
If you prefer showy, powerful cars, the Malibu isn't for you.

This new midsize vehicle, available in four- and five-door models, has pleasing but rather plain styling that would be expected from the popular Japanese family cars such as Toyota Camry and Honda Accord.

2004 Chevy Malibu Maxx hatchbackEven the Maxx hatchback, the roomiest hatchback on the market, isn't odd in its styling.

The Malibu isn't the power leader in the midsize segment. But the new V6 is way ahead of the 170-horse V6 with 190 lb.-ft. of torque that was in the 2003 Malibu.

Today's Malibu V6, a 3.5-liter power plant whose design uses overhead valves rather than dual overhead cam technology of the Accord and Camry V6s produces 200 horses and maximum 220 lb. ft. of torque at 3,200 rpm.

The test Malibus, one an upscale sedan, the other a Maxx, used a smooth-running, four-speed automatic transmission as satisfying engine sounds from the V6 were easily heard inside the vehicle. The sounds were accompanied by good power that got me merged into traffic without a hiccup.

But note the higher horsepower of Toyota's Camry's two V6s: A 210-horse, 3-liter V6 generates 220 lb. ft. of torque at 4,400 rpm, and a 225-horsepower, 3.3-liter V6 is capable of a Malibu topping 240 lb.ft. of torque.

In addition, the Accord's top 3-liter V6 has more horsepower 240 and a maximum 212 lb.ft. of torque at 5,000 rpm. I averaged 26.1 miles a gallon in mostly highway driving in the Malibu sedan test car. But this was less than the V6 Malibu's official government fuel economy rating of 32 mpg for highway driving. The government estimates 23 mpg in the city. Fuel economy during the combined city/highway test drive in the Maxx was on the low side, too -- 23.1 miles a gallon. The official rating is 22 mpg in the city and 30 mpg on the highway for a combined rating of 26 mpg.

There's also a base engine for the '04 Malibu. It's a 145 horsepower Ecotec four cylinder that's capable of 155 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,000 rpm. Last year's Malibu didn't offer a four cylinder at all, and while the price of the base Malibu is attractive - just over $19,000 for a sedan compared with more than $21,000 for a V6 sedan or hatchback - I'm not convinced it's sprightly enough when carrying a family and cargo.

European car platform

The new Malibu uses a version of the car platform that's in the European-tuned Opel Vectra and Saab 9-3. Chevy's parent company, General Motors Corp., operates Opel in Europe and controls Swedish automaker Saab.

But don't expect the 2004 Malibu to ride like a sporty German car or a Saab. It's not that stiff, though there is a definite feeling that the car is put together solidly.

The front-drive Maxx testers had a suspension that worked well to absorb and manage many road bumps and control body roll and dive. I felt road imperfections as I traveled, but there was little harshness, even when the cars made a "cha-chunk" sound as a wheel rolled into and out of an occasional sunken manhole cover.

Overall, the Malibu conveys a sense of control and comfort with nary an artificial, cushioned feel. And I didn't need a long spell in the car to get accustomed to the car's on-road mannerisms. The front suspension in the sedan and Maxx is independent MacPherson strut, while the rear is an independent, four-link design.

The 16-inch Bridgestone tires didn't convey a lot of road noise unless I put pedal to the metal right from a stop. Then, the tires could be made to squeal and I felt a short tug of torque steer before electronic traction control took over and put a stop to this power play.

Interior surprises
2004 Chevy Malibu Maxx InteriorThe Malibu's dashboard and gauges are straightforward and nicely arranged. I appreciated that buttons and knobs are good-sized, so even gloved hands in winter can operate things without much fuss. A knob to tune the radio manually was an especially nice addition. I also liked the attention to detail. The Malibu's ignition keyhole is in plain view on the dashboard, not hidden on the side of the steering column.

Below the keyhole, a piece of black rubber keeps keys from banging and marring the Malibu's decorative, matte dashboard trim. Check out the ceiling material. It's textured and upscale, the kind you might expect in a ritzier car.

The fabric on the Maxx seats in the test car had a nice feel, too. Notice how generous the Malibu's rear-seat cushion is. When I sat back there in both the sedan and Maxx, the cushion extended all the way to the back of my knees to provide good support. Rear doors and rear-door windows are good-sized in all Malibus, and there's a lot of functionality to both models.

2004 Chevy Malibu Maxx Cargo AreaIn the Maxx, the roomy, 22.8-cubic-foot cargo area behind the rear seats is larger than the trunk space of the Camry and Accord, and, for that matter, the Malibu sedan. But the Maxx's rear seats also split 60/40 and fold down for additional cargo room. The rear seatbacks are even covered in a hard plastic for just this kind of cargo duty.

**Note that while the Maxx may hold more cargo than a Malibu sedan can because of a wheelbase that's 6 inches longer than that of the sedan the Maxx still is 0.5 inch shorter in length than the sedan, when measuring from front to rear bumper.
Finally, because this is a newly re-engineered Malibu, there is no reliability history.
The Malibu sedan isn't a slouch, either. The rear seatbacks fold down. So does the front passenger seatback. This means a really long item can be stuffed through the trunk, over a rear seatback and come to rest on top of the hard plastic back of the front passenger seat.

Click here for more information on Chevy Malibu.
For the Chevrolet 2004 Model Guide : Click Here