It has been said that history repeats itself and, at Chevrolet Motor Division, it’s being repeated with the 1997 Chevrolet Malibu Sedan.
The Malibu was one of Chevrolet’s most familiar nameplates in the 1960s and 1970s. As a replacement for the Corsica model, the ’97 Malibu brings to the division’s lineup an automobile worthy of its heritage and a vehicle far more advanced than anything that ever wore the Malibu badge.
The new car’s credentials are such that it received Motor Trend magazine’s 1997 Car Of The Year Award. Motor Trend’s editors stated that the Malibu establishes a new benchmark within the domestic midsized market segment.
Pretty heady stuff, but Chevrolet did its homework before building the car. As a consequence, the Malibu receives high marks for its choice of powerplants, attention to engineering design, comfort, value and quality.
The styling follows established aerodynamic lines. Styling cues are along the lines of better-class import four-doors, with emphasis on the low nose/short rear deck school of thought and a wide expanse of curving glass.
The new Malibu is larger than the vehicle it replaces, with a 107- inch wheelbase vs. 103.4 for the Corsica. At 190.4 inches of overall length, it’s about 7 inches longer and has a quantum increase in interior room.
The cabin layout for a five-passenger sedan is state-of-the-art. A console with a fairly high storage compartment separates the two front seats. The vertical forward segment forms an individual pod that contains the stereo and climate control while the floor mounted section holds the shift lever for the four-speed automatic transmission.
Instrumentation is the basic four- gauge (speedometer-tachometer-temperature-fuel) panel. However, the support temp and fuel gauges are to the right of the speedometer instead of being split between it and the tach.
There are two models offered, a Malibu Sedan and an upscale Malibu LS; and two engines, a twin-cam four- cylinder and 3100 Series V-6. The V-6 is available as an option on the Sedan and is standard with the LS. The four-speed automatic is the only transmission offered for either car.
The four-cylinder is a 2.4-liter (146-cubic-inch), double-overhead-cam 16-valve motor that produces 150- horsepower and 155 foot-pounds of torque. The 3.1-liter (191-cubic-inch) V-6 doesn’t put out all that much more horsepower, 155 horses, despite its size. But the torque is up considerably, to 185 foot-pounds, and it’s a little smoother.
I say a little, because Chevy has done a lot of work to take out the harmonics (vibrations) inherent with a four-cylinder engine. Also, there is a reduction in the noise level.
The body/chassis came under engineering’s scrutiny in their quest to make the car quieter. Unlike separate-frame chassis construction, the Malibu presents its own set of vibration-transfer problems.
Chevy attacked this problem in the new car by sealing off empty spaces in the rocker panels and engine compartment. Soun d-deadening material was applied inside the roof, and foam was injected into the spaces between the steel panels of the floor.
Special attention was given to the handling of this midsized front-wheel drive. A fully independent multi-link rear suspension system permits each wheel to bound and rebound without affecting the other, thereby enhancing rear-end stability. Aluminum used in the front steering knuckles and some brake components reduce unsprung weight and help keep all four tires in contact with the pavement.
Chevy expects the standard Malibu to be its volume leader, with a sticker price starting at $15,995. When it is equipped with some of the more popular options, the cost is going to be about $17,000.
The LS obviously is upstream at $18,715, but carries a wide range of standard equipment. The only major options offered are a sun roof and a CD player.