- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 25, 2004

For many middle-class American families, midsize sedans starting around $20,000 are the most intelligent automotive options. By blending space, refinement, power, safety, and fuel economy, these vehicles remain attractive as long as overall value is preserved.

General Motors hopes that its all-new 2004 Chevrolet Malibu will sway customers, especially would-be Honda Accord or Toyota Camry buyers, to bowtie territory. There’s a whole lot riding on this new model that comes to market starting at $18,995, about $295 more than the previous version. The General has invested $722 million to develop the new Malibu.

The 2004 Malibu departs in appearance from the previous generation Chevrolet sedan. While the stance is slightly wider, the main difference is the more pronounced front end. Large, crystalline-like headlamps sit high and slant back into the fenders and hood. The grille is split horizontally by a chrome bar, a styling feature also seen on several new Chevrolet pickups.

Heading toward the rear, the contours suggest good aerodynamics, and the trunk sports an available spoiler. Stepping back from the 2004 Malibu also allows the driver to experience another factory-installed goody: the optional remote vehicle starter with a range of about 200 feet.

Both four- and six-cylinder engines are available That remote control ignites either a 2.2-liter inline-four or the larger 3.5-liter V-6.

The four-banger is GM’s global Ecotec mill and produces 145 horsepower and 155 foot-pounds of torque, while the ratings of the six are 200 horsepower and 220 foot-pounds.

Base Malibus are equipped with the smaller 2.2-liter engine, while higher-trim LS and LT models come standard with the V-6.

Both engines are backed by a four-speed automatic transmission with overdrive.

Underpinning the new Malibu is the newly developed Epsilon platform that also supports the Saab 9-3 and Opel Vectra. The new architecture was designed to increase stiffness, enhance handling and extinguish interior noise. Also lessening racket are several barriers, including a foam-rubber shield on the dashboard, a noise-reducing plate in the dash, a composite hood insulator, and carpet floor modules. All corners are suspended independently, with MacPherson struts in front and a four-link setup in the rear. Front disc and rear drum brakes are standard, with LS and LT trim models supported by ABS, traction control and Dynamic Rear Proportioning. These electronic features are optional on base Malibus, which get 15-inch steel wheels. LS models enjoy aluminum 15s and LTs run 16-inch alloy wheels with sportier P215/60R15 tires. The rubber navigates corners or changes lanes thanks to electric power rack-and-pinion steering with variable-speed assist, a standard innovation across the lineup.

Several features on the inside of the new Malibu improve the experience for each passenger. For the solo, cargo-carrying traveler, the front passenger seat can be folded flat while the rear bench splits 60/40. All Malibu drivers welcome a power seat-height adjuster, a tilt/telescoping steering wheel, and power windows, locks and mirrors. Higher-end LS and LT versions get standard adjustable pedals and lumbar support; base models can be optioned with these, as well. Better airflow to the south end of the cabin accommodates rear-seat passengers, as both foot outlets and dash-mounted center vents modify the climate with the back seat in mind.

LS and LT models are equipped with a roof-mounted console providing reading lights for all passengers and incorporating technology to perform electronic functions, such as opening garage doors.

Heated seats and OnStar are available.

Sound systems vary, with the base model using an AM/FM radio and CD player. A fancier stereo employs a six-disc in-dash changer with XM radio capability.

To encourage XM use, GM allows customers with GMAC financing to include the monthly subscription charge in their payment plans.

The radio display also communicates driver information such as possible ice formation and remaining oil life.

Dual-stage front air bags, three-point belts at all seats and front-seat-belt pretensioners are standard on all 2004 Malibus. Even more cushioned protection can be secured if the head-curtain side-impact air bags are chosen.

All rear seat positions feature the LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) system to firmly ground child seats and their occupants.

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