There is currently no “sporty” trim level of the Chevrolet Malibu. There wasn’t one in the 1978-83 Malibu lineup, nor the 1997-2003 lineup. But between 2006 and 2007, Chevrolet dusted off the SS nameplate for both the Malibu sedan and this, the Malibu Maxx hatchback/wagon (or as Chevrolet called it, a “five-door extended sedan”). Just a few thousand Malibu Maxx SS models were made so when I saw this one, I knew I had to take a photo quickly as it was unlikely I would see one again.
Chevrolet’s proliferation of the SS nameplate in the mid-2000s was criticized by many, but the SS name always meant a little bit of extra performance added to an ordinary Chevrolet. The Malibu SS and Malibu Maxx SS followed that formula: a larger 3.9 V6 with 240 hp and 240 ft-lbs, a considerable bump in power from the regular 3.5, as well as a firmer sport suspension, bigger wheels, hydraulic instead of electric power steering, and a manual-shift mode for the four-speed automatic. Together, these pieces made the SS much more satisfying to drive. Where Chevrolet arguably went wrong was with the engine. The 3.9, a pushrod unit but featuring variable valve timing, was an acceptably powerful and well-rounded engine. However, the mid-size horsepower wars were in full swing and it was still outgunned by the standard V6 in the Nissan Altima and Toyota Camry. The SS nameplate arguably suggested class-leading power when in reality, the Malibu SS was mid-pack at best.
The Malibu Maxx SS wasn’t the fastest or most fuel-efficient intermediate, but it was the rest of the package that made this quirkily-styled hatchback/wagon worthy of buyers’ consideration. The interior was a fairly standard GM interior of the mid-2000s: they had figured out how to make an interior look fairly good once again but hadn’t quite figured out how to make it feel good. They had, however, crafted a fairly versatile cabin with rear seats that reclined and folded flat but were also on tracks, meaning you could push them as far back as possible and enjoy impressive rear legroom; the Maxx also had a wheelbase 6 inches longer than the sedan. A fixed rear skylight made the cabin a more airy and pleasant place to sit in.
Whatever market research led Chevrolet (and Opel, with its related Signum) to develop this “five-door extended sedan” was arguably not very reliable. The Malibu Maxx didn’t create a new niche and it lasted only a generation. It seems unlikely the concept will ever be repeated, at least not by Chevrolet. For all its flaws, one must still praise GM for developing something so delightfully quirky, especially in SS trim.