On what seems to be a regular basis, General Motors gets a good idea and then underfunds product development, resulting in a compromise vehicle in terms of styling, performance, functionality, or all three. Then, after a few years of sluggish sales that don’t meet the unrealistic projections used to build the original business case, GM gets desperate, finally dumps money into the product, and gets it right. But potential customers have already moved on, sales continue to stagnate, and then the bean counters kill the model just when things are turning around. So it was with the 1994-96 Chevrolet Impala SS and the 1984-88 Pontiac Fiero, and now it looks to be the case with the 2004-07 Chevrolet Malibu Maxx.
This year, Chevy created a Malibu Maxx SS (Super Sport), and rumor has it that the Malibu Maxx is going out of production after the 2007 model year. That’s a shame, because styling, performance, handling, and other upgrades that come with the new SS version go a long way toward rectifying what we’ve despised about the Malibu Maxx since it debuted with giant thud for 2004. Take, for example, the redesigned front end. That garish chrome bar that stretched across the width of the car is gone, replaced by a new bumper and a simple grille with a decorative Chevy bowtie. The Malibu Maxx SS comes with standard 18-inch wheels and tires, which help correct the odd proportions of the body work. There’s also a rear roof-mounted spoiler which makes the car look better in profile, and thrusting from beneath the back bumper are two sexy chrome-dipped exhaust tips.
Cosmetic changes aren’t the only updates with the 2006 Chevrolet Malibu Maxx SS. Under the hood, there’s a 3.9-liter V6 good for 240 horsepower, nearly 40 more ponies than in the standard model. The numb, lifeless, almost dangerous electric-assisted steering is ditched for a conventional hydraulic-assisted unit that rids the car of its tendency to wander down the road like it’s got a mind of its own. The interior is decked out in black with silver and chrome accents under the beltline; roof pillars and the woven cloth headliner are light gray to lighten the mood inside the car.
As one colleague noted in the office elevator after following one of our editors into the parking lot, “Where I come from, that ain’t no Malibu SS. Where’s the big block?” Yes, it might be stretch to employ the vaunted SS badge on the Malibu Maxx’s flanks, but no matter what Chevy calls this thing, we all agreed that it was a surprisingly good driver and a decent value. Our Laser Blue Metallic test car, called Michigan State Police Blue by one (dim)wit on staff, ran $25,015 including XM satellite radio and a $625 destination charge. And since nobody pays sticker for a GM product, it’s easy to see that for the price of a loaded Honda Civic EX you can take home the roomier, more powerful, more useful, and even better looking 2006 Chevy Malibu Maxx SS instead.
Hey, we’re just as surprised by that suggestion as you are.