Perhaps not surprisingly, my choice of a Malibu as a daily driver was a bit controversial here at Curbside Classics – I think the general consensus was somewhere between “meh” and “yech.” I suspect that this week’s installment will produce a similar reaction, since this vehicle was purchased with the same thoughts in mind: what basic transportation can I get that won’t cost a fortune to lease? I had a little help from General Motors on this one, though, to achieve something that I suspect not many people are able to do.
Not long before the Malibu’s lease was up I received a mailer from Chevrolet. They were offering me a lease loyalty rebate of something like $1500, as well as some “lease pull ahead” offers. I also had a good-size chunk of money from my GM credit card that added to the pot. I was close enough to the end of the lease that I figured I’d head for the dealership to see what I could get. As with the Lincoln last week, I came prepared with stock numbers from their inventory.
At first I gravitated toward the Impala as I liked the looks of the car and its old-school Detroit iron vibe. I drove a fully-loaded LTZ model with nav system, leather and suede seating (it looks much better than it sounds), a 300 hp V-6, and massive wheels. This car was comfortable, handled pretty well (considering its size), and offered all the goodies you’d expect from a modern car. I also tried a lower-level Impala LT with the 4-cylinder engine and fewer options and wasn’t nearly as impressed. The smaller engine’s performance was on the borderline of being adequate for a car of this size, and the lower-spec trim wasn’t nearly as nice inside.
I also decided to try the Equinox LT, mostly because the lease loyalty flyer listed a promotional lease payment of about $200/month for 3 years (with all of the associated tiny print about down payments, tax, title, etc., etc., your mileage may vary). I’m not a big SUV person but I figured I’d see if it would work for us. The one I drove was the front-wheel-drive 4-cylinder model – around here, it doesn’t snow all that much so I wasn’t in the mood to spend extra money on AWD for a couple of snowstorms per year. The Equinox was nice enough – the interior was comfortable but not exactly posh, the 4-cylinder powertrain was entirely adequate, and the handling was reasonably good for an SUV. Not a ringing endorsement, I know…
After the test drives it was time for the numbers. I asked for lease payments on all three cars I drove, hoping that the incentives and GM Card money would put that fancy Impala LTZ in my garage. That hope evaporated quickly when the salesperson pushed the lease payment across the table and it was essentially double what I was paying for the Malibu. Um, not exactly. The 4-cylinder Impala wasn’t that much cheaper, either. The Equinox, however – that was another story. Thanks to the rebates and GM Card down payment that handled all the down payments hidden in the fine print, I could actually get that vehicle for the promotional lease payment (which I don’t think too many people do). Was the Equinox a dream vehicle? Not by a long shot, no. Was it a great vehicle for 200 bucks a month? You bet it was. So home we went with it.
My time with the Equinox confirmed a few things to me about cars like this. On paper, the 2.4 liter 4-cylinder engine’s 180-ish horsepower sounded perfectly reasonable (especially since I’d owned cars with much larger engines and smaller horsepower numbers) and the fuel economy was not too bad (up to 32 mpg highway). On the road, though, the tall brick-like profile and not inconsiderable weight meant that brisk acceleration required throttle applications that were, well, aggressive. Driving with your foot flat on the floor produces real-world fuel economy that doesn’t win you any ecodriving awards, either. I had the opportunity to rent a V-6 equipped Equinox and found that vehicle to be much more driveable (300 hp was more than adequate) and fuel economy in real driving wasn’t that much worse. Car-based SUVs might do better on performance and fuel economy than the truck-based ones, but it’s not THAT much better. I also got pretty tired of climbing a stepladder to wash the car since the car was almost as tall as me. (First world problems, to be sure.)
On the plus side, the car was quite roomy and certainly came in handy on the occasions when we needed to haul stuff. Those occasions were not that frequent, especially since we now lived in a much newer house that didn’t require remodeling and weekly trips to the home improvement store. It made the Costco run a lot easier, though. The interior was comfortable enough – the seats had an odd nubbly pattern for the cloth that seemed like it would last a very long time. Not particularly posh, though. Other interior materials were fine but there was quite a bit of the oft-dreaded “hard plastics.” Nothing fell apart while I owned it, though.
For those readers hoping for stories of high-speed spinouts, disintegrating transmissions, or historical car mysteries, you’ll probably be feeling somewhat disappointed by now. This car did everything I asked it to do and did so adequately (there’s that word again). Nothing to “amaze and delight,” to use marketing terms from the car industry, but nothing to annoy or irritate either. Even though I just traded this car in a year ago (in fact, a year ago this week), I don’t have any particularly strong recollection of the vehicle at all. The pictures in this post are pretty much all I have of the car – it does show up in the background of several more interesting rides of mine. This is exactly the kind of car, though, that Curbside Classic readers 30 years from now will find and say “Man, those used to be everywhere!” The Cutlass Ciera of the 2000s, perhaps?
Looking back on this particular car buying period, it does seem as though I’d been shopping in the rental car aisle – both the Equinox and Malibu were your basic rental-car spec mid-level trims, and both even came in refrigerator white. But both had the advantage of being a) really cheap to lease; b) perfectly adequate to drive; and c) very reliable for the time I owned them. As some noted in the comments to the Malibu, my ownership of some more interesting old cars probably reduced my desire to have interesting new ones. I promise, though, that next week’s installment will be way more exciting, if not a little predictable.