Chevy shored up its position among midsize sedans with two models, each reviving a great name from Chevrolet's past. Replacing Corsica for '97 was a very different new Malibu, offering front-wheel drive in a sedate looking package sized closer to Lumina than Cavalier.
In fact, while Malibu stood 10.5 inches shorter than Lumina, it was only a half-inch trimmer in wheelbase, resulting in a spacious interior.
Both the base and LS models came with a good load of expected standard features, plus an optional 155-bhp, 3.1-liter V-6 with the size and power that most competitors either didn't match or offered at a hefty surcharge. A 150-bhp 2.4-liter Twin Cam four was standard, but vanished for 2000 in the face of strong buyer preference for the V-6, which added 15 horses that season.
Like Cavalier, this Malibu offered no thrills, just honest value, with base prices in the $16,000-$20,000 range. Buyers responded to the tune of around 200,000 in most model years after the shortened inaugural season. The name changed to Malibu Classic for 2004, when the advent of a redesigned Malibu relegated the older car mainly to fleet sales.
Though the 1997-2004 Malibu was arguably a better buy than Lumina, Chevy's older midsize car showed surprising sales strength before its departure, drawing more than 200,000 annual orders through 1999.
An interesting new addition for '97 was a sporty LTZ version with front bucket seats, rear disc brakes, and an optional 215-bhp 3.4-liter twincam V-6. Chevy upped its appeal for '98 by substituting GM's veteran "3800" pushrod V-6, which made only 200 bhp but had more usable low-end torque.
That same year, Lumina joined Monte Carlo in offering GM's then-new OnStar communications system as an $895 option. Basically, OnStar tied the car by cell phone and a satellite link to a 24-hour staffed operations center that could provide route guidance and other assistance, including summoning emergency help.
OnStar was a boon to owner peace-of-mind, with particularly high appeal for women. It soon spread throughout the Chevy line, cars and trucks alike, as either standard or optional equipment.
The LTZ lost its rear disc brakes for '99, but added the 3.8-liter V-6 as standard. Total Lumina sales plunged 33 percent that model year, but that was partly in anticipation of a bigger, better successor. Lumina thus made a final stand for 2000 with a lone model aimed at the fleet market.
For more on Chevrolet cars, old and new, see:
- Chevrolet New Car Reviews and Prices
- Chevrolet Used Car Reviews and Prices