The Volt that was the subject of last week’s COAL entry certainly did its job for GM. It brought me into the showroom to look at cars that I’d not even considered previously, as my memories of GM cars were from the distant past. When I was looking for something to replace the IS250 at a much lower price point, my first stop was the Chevy dealer.
As I had alluded to in previous entries, we had actually looked at the Malibu when it first came back on the car scene in 1997. We considered both the Malibu and its badge-engineered brother, the Olds Cutlass (a somewhat sad last gasp for a storied nameplate). At the time, I’d judged these cars to be perfectly fine transportation modules, but perhaps a bit rough around the edges and a bit too expensive for what you actually got. I recall that one of the big selling points was the small indentation next to the console mounted shift lever where you could store a pen. We bought a Camry instead (and some would argue rightfully that these were also transportation appliances). I didn’t give GM cars another thought until leasing the Volt, which favorably impressed me with its quality, styling, and overall ownership experience.
When I was seeking a low-cost replacement for the Lexus, I was looking for something that would be reasonably reliable, acceptable to look at, and reasonably well equipped. Since I was still spending most of my commuting time sitting in traffic at 20 mph or less, the car didn’t have to be super fancy or handle the Nurburgring in seven minutes flat. It just had to be cheap to lease, and the Malibu filled the bill. Thanks to aggressive lease deals, I could get one of these for less than half what I was paying for the Lexus every month, and insurance was cheaper too. At this point in my life, that was what counted most.
The Malibu I picked was the volume leader LT model, one step up from the fleet favorite LS and the vehicle of choice for many a rental car company. (Ironically, although I was traveling quite a bit for work during the time I owned this car, I never ended up with a Malibu rental car, oddly enough.) The specific car I picked was in refrigerator white with a gray interior – I am surprised the car didn’t come with rental car barcodes already in the window. It did come with a relatively large color infotainment screen with iPod connectivity and voice activation, so the dash didn’t have an embarrassingly tiny LCD screen that reminds you about how little you paid for the car. Oddly enough, the car came with a power driver seat but only for the height adjustment – the fore and aft adjustment was still manual. Other features were the usual expected amenities for any car today – ABS, air conditioning, traction control, automatic headlights, 6-speed automatic, etc.
The engine was a naturally-aspirated 2.5 liter 4-cylinder making 197 hp, perfectly adequate for a car of this size but a bit noisy when pushed hard. Handling was inoffensive and the electric power steering was somewhat light, but ride quality was good. Contemporary reviews of the car made note of the somewhat tight rear seat legroom, but since I was coming out of the IS with virtually no rear seat room and fairly constricted front seats, this car’s accommodations presented no concerns for me. The interior was functional but certainly not opulent – the seat cloth was sturdy and the bolsters were vinyl, as I recall (the first car I’d had with any vinyl seating surfaces since my Monte Carlo). I could have done without the obviously fake woodgrain, but it gave the car that ‘70s Malibu Classic vibe. The instrument shape was what some called a “squircle” or a circle inside a rounded square – the same shape was picked up with the taillights, generally. I liked how the car looked inside and out, but it certainly wasn’t going to be picked by a valet to park right up front at a fancy restaurant.
I’d love to give CC readers an exciting description of my three years with this vehicle, but I’m afraid nothing that memorable comes to mind. The car got me back and forth to work every day, took us on several trips, and presented us with no problems in 36 months and roughly 30,000 miles. I didn’t get into any accidents but was certainly confident that the car would do OK based on my Volt experience. The biggest unscheduled expense was a replacement tire, but that was because we moved into a new house in a newly-constructed neighborhood toward the end of my ownership period, and the builders could be a bit lax with getting scrap nails and staples into the trash bins. At one point I got a message on the information center display that the electric power steering was faulty, but cycling the engine on and off made that warning disappear and it didn’t return. The only other complaint was that the infotainment system couldn’t deal with my 160 GB iPod Classic – it couldn’t catalog the 20,000+ songs on that device, something that the Kia and Lexus vehicles could do. (First world problems, to be sure.)
One could gather from this rather short entry that I wasn’t a huge fan of this car, and I probably wasn’t. On the other hand, since it wasn’t any sort of dream car I felt fine with leaving it outside all the time to save room in the garage for the Thunderbirds, and didn’t get too concerned during a period when we had to live in a temporary apartment with less-than-optimal parking while we waited for the new house I mentioned to be completed. It did its job well, it never left me stranded or annoyed me with any odd quirks, and still looked reasonably good when I turned it in at the end of the lease. I guess as I get older I worry less about what the car I’m driving says about me, and I have plenty of fun with my old Fords anyway. We’ll see in the upcoming weeks that the ‘Bu’s replacement was equally inoffensive but represented a bit of an achievement anyway. More to come…