Versus the competiton:
Chevy’s practical wagon gets job done
Chevrolet clearly is trying to stir things up in the family vehicle market with its all-new 2004 Malibu Maxx, a mid-size four-door that looks like a cross between a traditional station wagon and a hatchback.
A companion to the standard Malibu sedan, the Maxx packs a raft of features into a comfortable package that’s not as affordable as we’d like to see.
We tested an uplevel Malibu Maxx LT with only a few options. The bottom line: $26,740.
SHE: The Malibu Maxx is an ugly duckling on the outside and a swan on the inside. The exterior looks bulky and old-fashioned, especially from the rear, and I think a lot of people would walk right past it in the dealership car lot. That’s a shame because it’s very family-friendly and functional on the inside. I really like the setup of the driver’s seat with the height adjuster and the adjustable pedals, perfect for petite women. A couple of flicks of the switches and you feel like you’ve got a custom-made seat. But the back seat is where the Maxx really socks it to the competition. The split rear seat is adjustable fore and aft and the back can be raked back if you really feel like relaxing.
HE: Funny you should mention seats. I’m so impressed by what was obviously a lot of thought on Chevy’s part to cram plenty of features and equipment into this vehicle. Take the front seats. On the LT, they’re heated and trimmed in leather, with great perforated-suede inserts. They’re also roomy and supportive. But then they go and do something dumb, like give you a driver’s seat with power height and fore/aft adjustment, but a manual recline mechanism. It struck me as a cheap and annoying way to save a buck or two. And the passenger doesn’t get power seat adjusters at all.
SHE: Sounds like you were looking for something to complain about.
HE: In fact, my experience in the Maxx was pleasant, and I’d have no trouble recommending it to many families who can afford the price.
SHE: It is a great family vehicle, superior at keeping occupants entertained. It was in this car that I first really began to appreciate the wonders of XM satellite radio, which is a $325 option on the Maxx LT. I was fascinated by the fact that I could tune into the BBC, then ESPN and even get traffic reports tailored for a number of U.S. cities from Detroit to Tampa, with little or no commercial interruptions. Rear-seat occupants can be occupied by a flip-up DVD unit that costs $995. The backs of the front seats have map pockets to store the remote and the wireless headphones.
HE: While we’re on the subject of families, we should note that the Maxx LT comes with a nice complement of safety equipment, including side-curtain air bags, antilock brakes and traction control. I expect most dads and moms will be happy, too, with the 3.5-liter V-6, which makes 200 horsepower and is coupled with a four-speed automati c transmission. The Environmental Protection Agency rates this combination at 30 miles per gallon in highway driving, which is pretty amazing. But I wonder how much Chevy could have improved the performance and the mileage by offering a five-speed automatic.
SHE: You forgot to mention the family acid test.
HE: Driving with your mother-in-law in the back seat?
SHE: No, silly. We took the Maxx to Wal-Mart and loaded it up with lots of groceries and gear. I did have a couple of gripes about the interior. While it’s comfortable and generally well put together, I thought the buttons on the instrument panel looked too cheap and plasticky. Also, the rear shades on the skylights could be improved. They are a bit difficult to latch and the shades are tightly wound and tend to snap back quickly.
HE: My gripes were mostly minor. I suppose the biggest one concerns the new electric power steering, which feels a bit sluggish, particularly in quick lane ch nges, and vaguely disconnected from the road. But it.s not that big a deal. The price still throws me, though, and it may give some family buyers pause. My other thought is that for not much more money, you can get a Volvo V70, which is larger and more powerful, and has considerably more cachet.
SHE: Hey, the Malibu Maxx is not going to do much to improve your image at the country club. But if you look at cars as appliances . and I don.t think there.s anything wrong with that attitude . you.re going to be satisfied with this practical performer.