In addition to redesigning its front-wheel-drive Malibu midsize sedan for 2004, Chevrolet launched an extended-length version called the Malibu Maxx. It is billed as an "extended sedan" with a rear liftgate and 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.
LS and LT models are available. Electronic power steering features variable assistance. An optional remote starter can fire the engine from up to 200 feet away.
Cargo space is a principal attraction � it totals 22.8 cubic feet. A redesigned rear spoiler and standard rear wipers go on the LT edition for 2005, which gains side-impact airbags for the front seats.
Like the regular Malibu, the Malibu Maxx is built on General Motors' global Epsilon architecture and has similar styling. Because of the angle of the rear window within the lightweight aluminum liftgate, Chevrolet says it's 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.
Five people fit inside. Unlike ordinary midsize sedans, the rear seat slides nearly 7 inches forward and backward. The backseat is split 60/40 in both the seatback and cushion portions. Power-adjustable brake and accelerator pedals, a power seat height adjuster and a tilt/telescoping steering wheel are standard. Heated front seats are standard in the LT version. GM's OnStar communication system is optional.
A standard, 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.
Radio options include an uplevel version with an in-dash six-CD changer and an XM Satellite Radio system. A rear-seat DVD entertainment system is available.
Under the Hood
Like upscale models of the regular Malibu, the Malibu Maxx gets a 3.5-liter V-6 that produces 200 horsepower and 220 pounds-feet of torque. A four-speed-automatic transmission is installed.
Antilock brakes with Dynamic Rear Proportioning and traction control are standard. Side curtain-type airbags that are designed to protect both front and rear occupants are optional.
Acceleration is a strong point, as the Maxx takes off rapidly and passes with even more vigor. But handling yields old-fashioned understeer and uncertainty. The car is easy to drive.
The engine is generally quiet and produces normal sound during acceleration. The ride is pleasing on smooth roads, but rough spots produce some clankiness.
Most of the 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.