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April 19, 2005

Car Review: '05 Chevy Malibu LS V6 « Car Issues »

While waiting for my car to arrive, I rented a Chevy Malibu. Driving it for 3 days, I think I have a good idea of the car and what it can do, as well as its nature. Keep in mind, many aspects of this car will be in relation to my '04 Suzuki Verona S, as well as my '01 Honda CRV and '91 Toyota Corolla.

The Good:
-I didn't like the dash at first, but it grew on me. The steering wheel is cool, allows unobstructed viewing of gauges
-Good sound system, controls easy to use
-Excellent air vent system...although it is prominent enough to dominate the dash
-Good power
-Cavernous trunk
-Cool engine sound. It was obviously tuned to sound good, and reminds me of a big-block V8 gurgle
-Fairly nimble handling
-Fit/Finish quite good. Nothing feels or looks cheap
-Good driving sightlines/visibility
-auto lights and auto sound is nifty

-Despite good handling, the car doesn't settle into a track; I'm constantly having to adjust in the turns
-Despite having plenty of power, it doesn't want to give it to you. Want to go a little fast? Press down a little on the accelerator and nothing happens. Press down harder and get decent acceleration. Floor it and get pushed back in your seat. But why should the car make you work so hard to get that acceleration? It clearly could easily out-do my Verona, but I feel like there is a better connection between acceletor throw and acceleration output in my Verona. Even with less acceleration, I feel in better control in the Verona. More on that later.
-Braking is weak to adequate. I hate feeling like I'm straining to stop the car when braking on a downslope
-The plastics and fabrics are average at best. While not 'cheap', obviously Chevy spared nearly every expense to make the interior
-The car is too bulky and sightlines of bumpers/fenders are too ambiguous for tight spaces; I can't really feel where the bumpers are.

Conclusion/Overall Impression: This is a car. Not really a good car, or maneuverable car, or fast car, or powerful car. On the other hand, not a bad car or weak car or cheap car. It's just a car. It's not really fun to drive, or irritating to drive. It doesn't impress me in looks or turn me off. It's got all you need, but nothing compelling. It's not mediocre, but not exceptional, either.

It would have been a hit five years ago. It would have been a top seller 8-10 years ago. GM's problem is not that it is making bad cars, but that it is still 3-5 years behind the power curve. With better cars by Toyota, Honda, Nissan, and Chrysler (gasp! well, yeah: the 300) out right now, there is really no reason to spend $18k on this car. On the other hand, if you like GM or feel some loyalty, there's no reason not to, either. You won't feel cheated or ripped off.

It's just that, I like my Verona because it cost thousands less than similarly equipped cars from other manufacturers. While the Malibu has more power/speed than my '04 Verona S, it really doesn't beat it in any other aspect, and lags behind in many others, despite being a year newer. The Verona S simply looks nicer, has as much cabin room, a slightly better sound system, better brakes, more precise handling, is far smoother and far more quiet, has more even power distribution throughout normal driving speeds, and every time you see it or drive it, you still get a thrill. The Verona is just plain fun to drive. I don't get that from the Malibu. It's a better deal than my CRV, and beats the old Corolla in every way imaginable...but the Malibu isn't competing against 5- and 10-year old cars. GM has neglected car technology for too long in chasing after high truck/SUV profit margins, and it shows in the Malibu.

Bottom Line: The Malibu pretty much just ties the Verona in overall ratings, but will get many more sales because of brand recognition. While someone could try them both out and still prefer the Malibu (since the Malibu has a clear edge in horsepower), it isn't really good for GM that the Malibu couldn't bury a 1-year-older competitor that costs thousands less. When you get into the Malibu price range, there are cars better than the Verona that clearly outperform the Malibu in every aspect.

Posted by Nathan at 02:13 PM | Comments (2)

As a 2005 Chevy Malibu owner of all of five days, I suggest people interested in trying out Malibu look to the peppy 2.2 litre DOHC 4 cylander option. You will not miss any power, gas mileage is superb, and it makes the car more affordable.

For those who have driven a Saab: that's what the steering is like. Somewhat loose, and you must be attuned. Coming from a 2003 Olds Alero that drove itself, my first drive in the Malibu was a bit unnerving. Within a day, I was enjoying the feeling of actually driving the car, as opposed to it just doin' its thing and me sitting in the driver's seat.

Awesome features Nathan neglects to mention that are my two faves:

*telescoping steering wheel

*adjustable pedals (for the under 5"8 among us)

Posted by: Jo at April 19, 2005 02:20 PM

Oh, yeah. Well, I didn't use/adjust 'em, so: [shrug]
I guess if you aren't 5'11"-6'1", you shouldn't be allowed to drive cars.
(Just kidding!!!)

Also, what's the deal with Chevy's "silver bar, front and back" motif?

I will have to update this post just to address my problems with Chevy's design team(s).

Posted by: Nathan at April 19, 2005 02:24 PM
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