Due to another COAL writer doing a write-up on one in the not too distant past, I’m skimming over my 2004 Nissan Quest which we had from the fall of 2004 to summer 2006. Briefly, we had some family adversity and my wife was laid off, so we decided to cut some expenses and sell it. The day before I was to do the sell transaction, I became very sick, with flu-like symptoms. There was no way I was letting the deal go sideways, the Quest had to go. I doggedly drove cross town on a Friday afternoon to finish the deal at the buyers bank. Through it all, I was a light-headed, queasy, feverish and sweaty mess. Little did I know, but at the ER a few hours later they discovered I had salmonella and food poisoning. My five word review on our Quest: minivans make sense for families.
After getting better over the weekend, it was back to the car situation. I wasn’t super excited about leasing again but there is a time and a place for everything. I didn’t much like much of GM’s lineup at the time, but end of summer, there were deals to had on new Malibu leases and we were payment shoppers. At first glance, it was a bit of a dullard and although you wouldn’t catch yourself looking back at it as you walked away, reviews in the press were fairly positive about the car praising it as a much more solid mid-size car that GM had for some time.
Along with the sedan, GM offered a weird sort of derivative hatch/wagon looking body that was unique and a bit weird for it’s class called the Malibu Maxx. The wheelbase was stretched about 6” from the sedan version of the Malibu. It looked to have plenty of room for our young boys and I thought it would be great for us. Off to a Chevy dealer in Dearborn , with whom we’d just done a sizeable amount of business with. With my brothers GM family discount pin in hand, there was zero negotiation, thus an easy transaction. For just the first payment due at signing, and $205 a month for 24 months, 15,000 miles a year…well, you really couldn’t beat that, so we did the deal. Mrs. C would be driving this one primarily, I’d have our Prizm as my daily driver.
The 1997 Opel Signum Concept and 2006 Opel Signum
The Maxx borrowed heavily from it’s European cousin, the Opel Signum (above, top) , part of the Opel Vectra C family, all built on the new front wheel drive Epsilon platform. Without hesitation, I’d say the Signum version was a far more handsome package, and I prefer the rounder back-end, simply because it looks roomier. The Signum idea had been kicking around since a concept was presented at the Geneva Auto show in 1997, then again in 2001 at Frankfurt before being green lighted for production. Not sure where they were going with this. Opel had the Corsa and Astra hatchback, as well as station wagon/estate variants of the Astra and Vectra. What niche did essentially a full-size hatchback fill?
The interior in the Maxx was interesting in that the back seat was fore and aft adjustable and slid on rails. And with young kids who didn’t need a lot of leg room, you could move back seats all the way forward allowing for a very spacious rear compartment for storage. We still had a need for a stroller at this time, and it had room for that and then some. There was a non-retractable glass panel above the rear seats with a sun visor, also very unique. I thought all in all, it was a very interesting package, though I can’t say it made a big splash sales wise. It was widely thought American consumers didn’t like hatchbacks, a trend which was upended some years later. They even made a Malibu Maxx SS, with a 240HP V-6. I have only seen a couple of those in the wild, but they are very interesting.
2006 Opel Vectra- High Trim Level
The 2004-2007 Malibu came at a time when GM finally decided to retrench and try to get serious about making a class competitive mid-size car in North America. The global Epsilon platform gave the Malibu and Maxx a very modern and stout foundation. The Maxx or Malibu didn’t get any of the Euro powertrains, no turbo’s, diesels of course nor high feature DOHC V-6’s. The U.S. Chevy Epsilon’s most popular engine was a revamped overhead valve pushrod V-6, the 3.5 liter “High Value” LX-9. It made a respectable 200 HP and 200 lb-ft torque. The 6 speed automatic didn’t make it over from Opel either, GM soldiered on with the 4 speed automatic while the competition had 5 and 6 speed autos. The interior, while not a copy of the much nicer Opel’s, was a big improvement over the previous GM mid-sizers in fit and finish, quality of materials and overall feel. In Europe the Vectra was a very class competitive mid-sizer, and ultimately morphed into the Opel Insignia in 2010, which we know as the Buick Regal.
The obvious question is why GM just didn’t make the Vectra C the next 2004 Malibu, saving a tons of engineering, tooling and development money. The answer is quite simple. At the time GM still had to feed Saturn, Chevrolet and Pontiac new product. The Vectra’s DNA and architecture made it here in the form of the Saab 9-3, Malibu, Pontiac G6 and the Saturn Aura. The Aura borrowed most heavily from the Vectra’s design language and cribbed the front clip almost intact.
Over the road, it was taut, quiet and was a nice driver with ample power that delivered near 30 MPG on the highway. It was a far, far better car than its predecessor GM mid-sizers. This generation of ‘Bu failed to win over Japanese car customers as intended. It certainly wasn’t a home run or a base hit for GM. At best, perhaps it was a bunt single. It did however, set the stage for GM for the far better and truly class competitive 2008 Malibu which would come out two years later.
Our time with the Maxx was uneventful and not very memorable 12 years on, but relatively speaking, it was a good thing. It was a great car for us at the time. We were plenty busy with 2 kids under the age of 5, and time flew. Things worked out with my wife’s job by the way and she had a new one in about 6 week, and it gave her time to see our oldest boy off to kindergarten while she was at home. I’m afraid some of my COAL’s will be more interesting than others and this one is probably ho-hum. But a lease meant we’d be out shopping again in 2 short years, and when you have young kids, two years can feel like 2 weeks.