Kelley Blue Book ® - 2004 Chevrolet Malibu Overview

Vehicle Overview from Kelley Blue Book

KBB.com 2004 Chevrolet Malibu Overview

Body
Something Borrowed Creates Something New

The Malibu name may be a familiar mainstay for Chevy buyers, but the car it is now attached to is a whole new animal. To create the 2004 Malibu, Chevrolet turned to its European cousin and borrowed the widely acclaimed Epsilon platform currently in use by the Saab 9-3 and Opel Vectra. This new architecture has allowed Chevrolet to create one of the best mid-sized sedans ever to roll off a GM assembly line and now better puts the automaker on a near-level playing field with its imported competitors.

Like the previous Malibu, the 2004 model is large on interior and cargo space; short of these two attributes, the two cars have little else in common. The new Malibu is sharply styled, with strong character lines carved into its smooth metal, prominently highlighting the wheel arches and hood. Our top-of-the-line LT model came sporting racy 16-inch alloy wheels and a rear spoiler that further heightened its overall appeal.

Nowhere is the Malibu's transformation more apparent than inside the car. Open the door and you're greeted by a set of wide bucket seats designed to fit the contours of your back. The standard leather and suede inserts look and feel first rate; even the rear seat cushions feature long seat bottoms and a curved seatback making this one of the most comfortable rear seats we've ever encountered. The rear seats feature a 60/40 split folding mechanism that allows you to increase the already spacious trunk capacity. The Malibu's front passenger seat also does something clever: it can fold forward a full 180 degrees, creating an extended loading floor for long items such as skis, two-by-fours or a surfboard.

We love the new dash design, though we must say that a bit more color and contrast would go a long way to breaking up the vast sea of light gray that dominates the interior. Finding a comfortable position was made easy thanks to the standard tilt/telescopic steering wheel and optional power-adjustable foot pedals. As good an effort as the Malibu is for Chevrolet, there is still some work to be done on the finer details. For example, though we found the dash and door panels to be of the highest quality, the plastic panels that cover the center and rear pillars were poorly fitted, with visible gaps between the plastic and padded headliner. We also experienced a number of rattles, with one rather prominent one located somewhere within the passenger side front seat.

These minor complaints aside, there is a great deal to like about the Malibu. There are a number of standard and optional features that greatly enhance the content level, such as the heated seats, XM satellite radio and automatic temperature control. We love that every switch is backlit at night, including the steering-wheel-mounted controls for the audio and cruise. There are clever touches, such as the automatic headlights that turn on when you unlock the door via the remote and the theatre-style lighting that slowly fades to black once the car is started. We also love the ventilation system that features separate dash vents for outside air and a power rear seat vent system Chevrolet engineers have dubbed "turbo blasters"; the name is self-explanatory. Most importantly are the additional safety features, such as the front and rear side-curtain airbags and the front seatbelt pretensioners.

Take the Malibu out for a spin, and you will immediately notice the improvement in ride, handling and engine performance. Your first encounter with the new electronically-assisted power steering unit may have you thinking somebody over-did the boost. At a stand still, the power steering is so light, you can turn the wheel with one finger; once in motion, however, the steering quickly firms up, returning accurate and linear road feel. The four-speed automatic performs admirably, with a cool up/down shift button that lets you toggle through gears one through three; a useful device when driving in snow. Most impressive is the new 200-horsepower 3.5-liter V6. We found this engine to accelerate briskly, with very little valve lash or growl even under full throttle. Passing power is also excellent and once up to speed, the engine is barely audible inside the passenger compartment. We did experience some torque steer, such as when making a quick right turn maneuver from a dead stop, but the traction control quickly steps in to calm things down.

The Epsilon platform makes itself known once you start tossing the Malibu into turns. Unlike the previous Malibu, this car loves to tackle the twisties. The stiff body and firm suspension give up very little in the way of body lean, squat or dive. The Malibu is easily pushed through tight turns, hindered only by its touring tires that squeal loudly once they reach their limits. Braking is equally as impressive, applied by a set of anti-lock four-wheel-discs that brings the car to a controlled stop time after time.

Even though the LT comes with just about everything you could ask for in a sedan, there are still a few options worth adding. Among the more notable additions are a power sunroof, automatic day/night mirror, XM satellite radio, OnStar and a six-disc in-dash CD changer.

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