Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Would Zora Recognize the Chevrolet Malibu SS?


Ever since Arkus Duntov fielded the original Corvette SS, that designation has had special meaning when coupled with a Chevrolet – namely that this one is fast and, being a Chevy, affordable.

So what’s with the Malibu SS? Not that there is anything wrong with the Malibu but it is one of the odder creations to emerge from General Motors design shops in years and even in the hatchback Maxx edition presumes only to be a high-value choice for low-budget buyers who need a family car.

But the contemporary Malibu bears virtually no relation to the mid-size Chevy that bowed in 1964 and about five minutes later spawned a Malibu SS with a 396 cubic inch edition of the Z11 porcupine head 427 mystery engine under the hood.

The newest Malibu SS does get an engine upgrade, compared to the civilian versions, which are powered by either a 2.2 liter four cylinder producing 144 horses or a 3.5-liter V-6 good for 201 horsepower.

The SS gets a 240 horsepower 3.9 liter V-6 that is coupled with a four-speed automatic that features adaptive shifting and manumatic controls. My Laser Blue Metallic tester chalked up consistent low seven-second 0-60 mph times. Other testers have seen sub-seven second times.

The SS also gets bigger wheels and tires, plus a refined suspension setup that provides great ride quality in city driving while also allowing the Malibu to move down a twisty road with some authority.

The powertrain is a front-wheel-drive configuration and the 3.9-liter displays some unexpected torque steer, especially on wet pavement, but the V-6 still manages to be a more than adequately smooth and spirited performer. It helps immensely that the Malibu is built on GM’s Epsilon platform.

Too bad it has to do its thing within the Malibu. I’m sorry, but this car just isn’t especially attractive, at least to my eyes. I know Chevy has had some sales success with the Malibu and it won’t surprise me a bit to see the SS improving that score.

A redesigned Malibu is in the works and the various sketches floating around the auto blogs and purporting to represent the coming model’s lines clearly reflect some of the themes seen in the recently unveiled Camaro Concept.

Let’s hope Chevy is able to restore the to Malibu a look that commands attention, screams speed and satisfies the desire for fluidity and form working together. If the powertrain is equally successful in doing its thing, the Malibu will have truly been restored.

Maybe even enough for Zora to recognize it!