In addition to redesigning its front-wheel-drive Malibu midsize sedan for 2004, Chevrolet launched an extended-length version called the Malibu Maxx. Billed by the automaker as an "extended sedan" with a rear liftgate, the Malibu Maxx holds a 3.5-liter V-6.
Built on a wheelbase that's 6 inches longer than the regular Malibu, the Malibu Maxx is actually a half-inch shorter overall. Chevrolet promises the ride and handling qualities of a sedan, coupled with the interior versatility of a sport utility vehicle. At 22.8 cubic feet, cargo space is a major attraction. The space grows to 41 cubic feet with the second-row seat folded.
LS and LT models are available. An SS edition that features unique exterior and interior appointments, a sport-tuned suspension, 18-inch wheels and a 240-horsepower, 3.9-liter V-6 joins the 2006 lineup. An uplevel LTZ model also is offered in 2006, and a new front-end appearance package is available.
Electronic power steering on non-SS models features variable assistance. An optional remote starter can fire the engine from up to 200 feet away.
Like the regular Malibu, the Malibu Maxx is built on General Motors' global Epsilon architecture and has similar styling. Chevrolet says the rear window's angle within the lightweight aluminum liftgate makes the car's styling more like a sedan than a wagon.
Mounted on a 112.3-inch wheelbase, the Malibu Maxx measures 187.8 inches long overall and stands 58.1 inches tall. Aluminum wheels hold 16-inch tires; SS versions get 18-inch tires.
Five people fit inside the Malibu Maxx, and the rear seat slides nearly 7 inches forward and backward. That seat is split 60/40 in both the seatback and cushion portions. Power-adjustable pedals are standard in the LTZ and available in the LT. GM's OnStar communication system is also available, and a tilt/telescoping steering wheel is standard. Heated front seats are standard in the LTZ.
A fixed glass skylight over the rear is intended to produce a spacious, open atmosphere for backseat occupants. Rear passengers have the option of opening or closing a split shade. Both rear seats and the front passenger seat fold flat. The rear cargo area includes a cargo panel with four positions for two-tier loading. A rear-seat DVD entertainment system is available.
Under the Hood
Like upscale versions of the regular Malibu, the Malibu Maxx gets a 3.5-liter V-6 that produces 201 hp and 221 pounds-feet of torque. A four-speed-automatic transmission is installed. A 240-hp, 3.9-liter V-6 goes into the new SS model.
Antilock brakes with Dynamic Rear Proportioning and traction control are standard. Side curtain-type airbags that protect both front and rear occupants are standard in LTZ and SS models.
Acceleration is a strong point with the regular engine, as the Maxx takes off rapidly and passes with even more vigor. Although the Maxx is easy to drive, handling yields old-fashioned understeer and uncertainty.
Generally quiet, the engine produces normal sounds during acceleration. The ride is pleasing on smooth roads, but rough spots produce some clankiness.
Most controls are logical, but a couple are cryptic. The headrests block the rearward view a bit. Front occupants get plenty of room, but the seats have very short bottoms. Rear legroom is abundant, but the side positions can be uncomfortable with the reclining backrest, while the center spot is high and hard.