After spending a week in the Chevy Malibu, we knew that the heartbeat of America was once again strong. But the car we really wanted to play in was the next iteration of the Malibu platform, the five-door Malibu Maxx. With the Maxx, you get the best attributes of the Malibu sedan combined with the versatility of a five-door hatchback all wrapped up in a sporty wagon-like body.
Now we know that there is some bizarre notion in the automotive world declaring that Americans dont like hatchbacks. This logic seems completely skewed to us, considering every single SUV on the road employs a rear hatch. What Americans dont like are tiny, underpowered hatchbackssomething the Malibu Maxx is not. Technically, Chevrolet calls the new Malibu Maxx an extended sedan. Whatever they call it, most will see it as a cool sport wagon in the same light as the Chevy Bel Air, Impala and perhaps even the El Camino. We cant think of a single group, from surfers to traveling salesman, that wont find this car simply irresistible.
The Maxx addition to the Malibu name is justified by the additional six-inches added to the cars wheelbase. Though longer between the wheels, the Maxx is actually a half-inch shorter than the sedan; this little bit of magic is achieved by moving the rear wheels as far back as possible, resulting in a huge cargo hold and permitting Chevrolet engineers to create a sliding second-row seat. The Maxxs rear seats can be moved a total of seven inches fore and aft. To further increase the versatility of the rear seat, Chevrolet not only split it 60/40 at the seatback, but also across the seat bottom. The highly mobile rear seat can also recline, a useful feature for very tall passengers whose heads might otherwise bump against the ceiling. Speaking of the ceiling, the Maxx comes standard with two rear skylights, each with its own retractable shade. Behind the back seat is a wide cargo hold, complete with 12-volt outlet and a multifunction cargo panel that can be used to hold plastic grocery bags or fold out to serve as a picnic table.
The rest of the Maxxs interior is really quite nice. Aside from the single uniform color that seems to flow everywhere (in our case it was light gray), the interior is nicely styled, modern and fresh. The front seats, again a European transplant, are some of the nicest to grace a mid-level GM product in a long while. Youll find plenty of support for your lower back, thighs and shoulders and a standard height-adjustable drivers seat. The steering wheel both tilts and telescopes and features controls for the audio and cruise. You can further fine tune your driving position by opting for the power-adjustable foot pedals. One other neat little trick up the Maxxs sleeve is its flush-folding front passenger seat. When folded, the seat helps creates a level loading floor that runs from the rear hatch to the dash.
Its no secret that GM looked to its European subsidiaries when designing the Malibu and the Malibu Maxx. The rigid Epsilon platform gives the Maxx an uncommonly strong body, helping it to remain free of rattles and providing the taut suspension a firm hold from which to work its magic. The Malibu Maxx handles remarkably well, with very little lean or roll and delivers excellent feedback from the electrically assisted power steering. Only the Maxxs tires let us down, squealing loudly when pushed too hard into sharp turns and allowing the car to plow; a good set of performance rubber and maybe bigger rims would probably do wonders.
Another area where the Malibu Maxx excels is power. The 3.5-liter V6 produces a healthy 200 horsepower and is teamed to an efficient four-speed automatic transmission. The Maxxs transmission includes a clever feature that lets you toggle through gears one through three, a useful device when driving in snow. We liked the sound of the engine and felt it never got harsh or intrusive, even under full throttle. As with most front-drive cars, the Maxx does suffer from some torque steer, but is quickly resolved by letting up on the throttle. If the wheels should begin to slip, the standard traction control steps in quickly to help you regain control of the car.
The Maxx is more than just a comfortable cargo carrier; it is truly a viable alternative to the SUV. Not only can you fit your kids comfortably in the back seat, you can opt for a DVD-based entertainment system to help keep them quiet. The DVD screen is mounted on the rear of the center console where, unlike ceiling mounted units, it wont block your view or leave your passengers with a stiff neck from looking up for three hours. While the kids are watching their shows, you can enjoy the sounds of Satellite radio through a six-speaker audio system.
Options for the Malibu Maxx include a side-curtain airbag, six-disc in-dash CD changer, power glass sunroof and an automatic day/night mirror.