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A red 2023 Chevy Malibu is shown from the side parked in front of a forest.

The Last of the Sedans: Nearly 60 Years of the Chevy Malibu

Once upon a time, sedans were the gold standard for drivers. For a good reason, they tend to be reasonable about fuel consumption, and they often come equipped with enough space for all five passengers to comfortably get from point A to point B. Over the years, manufacturers have dedicated plenty of time and talent to ensuring they look cool, and yet, it seems like the sedan is slowly disappearing. The “will they/won’t they” rumors about the discontinuation of many popular sedans continue to swirl. In fact, many experts believe 2023 will be the last year of production for sedans in the Chevy lineup, with the 2023 Chevy Malibu ending the manufacturer’s production of sedans.

The Chevy Malibu first hit the automotive scene in 1964. Since then, it has appeared in a variety of forms and formats, from a sporty four-door to a well-received hybrid version. Drivers have enjoyed nearly 60 years of driving Malibus, and while it is always hard to say goodbye to a long-time favorite, there’s a lot to appreciate about the time we had with the sedan. To celebrate the long life of the Malibu, let’s take a “then and now” look at some of the things drivers have loved about this model over its almost 60-year run.

The Early Days of the Malibu

Like the sand at noon, beach culture was hot in the 1960s. Bands like the Beach Boys whisked us away to a world of surfing and romping in the waves, and everyone longed for the simplicity of languishing beachside as the tide rolled in and out. Malibu was the center of beach culture in California, and Chevy chose this popular moniker for its body-on-frame, coil-spring sedan, which was part of the Chevelle family in those days.

Interestingly enough, the first Malibu was touted as a premium family sedan, helping to carve the new niche of mid-sized cars. While teenage beach antics and “premium family sedan” don’t seem to mesh well by today’s standards, this was the 60s, and it wasn’t too long before a Malibu SS model appeared as a nod to the newly popular muscle cars. Though this more performance-oriented version was more fun to drive than the average sedan, the target market was still considered suburban drivers who appreciated a comfortable yet economical vehicle.

The 1964 Malibu measured 193.9 inches in length, had a wheelbase of 115 inches, and boasted a curb weight of 2870 lbs. Looking at the 2023 Malibu, these dimensions have mostly stayed the same; though today’s Malibu is heavier, with a curb weight of 3135 lbs, the wheelbase measures 111.4 inches, and the overall length is 194.2 inches. In essence, a 1964 Malibu would cheerfully fit into the same parking spaces as today’s version.

The black interior of a 2023 Chevy Malibu shows the infotainment screen.

Almost 60 Years of Innovation

Other than its identity and dimensions, the 1964 Malibu and the 2023 Malibu share little common ground. This is partly due to the fact that the Malibu went through quite a few makeovers in its career that changed its appearance and capabilities, though its personality as a capable, commuter-friendly sedan never wavered.

For the fourth generation debut in 1978, the Malibu became a standalone model. Chevrolet had discontinued the Chevelle but continued the family sedan due to its popularity. In this generation, the Malibu was shorter, lighter, and equipped with a choice between a range of V6 and V8 engines. A souped-up police version was added to the mix, taking the sedan further from the swinging, carefree beach days of the 60s and into the world of law and order.

The Malibu was briefly absent from the market as Chevy worked on other projects. Discontinued in 1984, the Malibu reappeared in 1997. Though it still proudly offered pleasant accommodations for families, a few things had changed. While previous iterations were rear-wheel drive, the 1997 reveal was front-wheel drive. Instead of larger V6 and V8 engines, streamlined four-cylinder engines became the standard offering. Still, this was ideal for drivers of the day, as the reborn Malibu was named Motor Trend Car of the Year in 1997.

Chevrolet continued to invest in the Malibu, adding the Maxx extended sedan to the lineup in 2004. With five doors and exceptional cargo room, rear-seat passengers could actually change the positioning of their seats and enjoy a reclining position. The seventh generation Malibu debuted in 2008 with luxury car-like accommodations and features, including two-tone upholstery and a smooth, quiet, responsive ride. Again, Chevy won accolades, with the Malibu being crowned 2008 North American Car of the Year at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

Then and Now: A Perspective

As time has passed, the Malibu has shifted considerably to meet the needs of the public. For example, the first Malibu came equipped with optional safety belts. The 2008 model was lauded for including standard front-seat side airbags and side curtain airbags. The 2023 version includes ten total airbags, StabiliTrak electronic stability control system with traction control, and standard driver assistance technology such as Pre-Collision Assist with Automatic Emergency Braking and the Lane-Keeping System.

Malibu has been powered by a variety of sources over the years, including a 1.8L inline-4 hybrid setup in 2016 that allowed the sedan to get up to 48 MPG on city streets. The first Malibus were equipped with a 3.2L inline-six engine that was good for 120 hp, operated with a standard 3-speed manual transmission or an optional 2-speed automatic transmission. Today, the engine is a 1.5L turbocharged 4-cylinder that offers 160 hp, 35 MPG on the highway, and smooth, responsive acceleration and braking.

The comfort and convenience factors have improved over time, as well. AM radio was the standard offering in 1964, while drivers today can tune in to wireless streaming audio through their devices or Sirius XM radio, all accessed through an 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system. And it wasn’t so long ago that drivers were upgrading their Malibu to include a 5-disc CD changer! Time certainly does fly.

A black 2023 Chevy Malibu is shown from the side parked in a gallery.

A Truly Iconic Sedan

Just as Americans never completely let go of beach culture, we still have a soft spot for family sedans like the Malibu. While it’s undeniable that SUVs of all shapes and sizes are taking over the roads, many people will still cherish the time spent behind the wheel of sedans like the Malibu. By looking back at the Chevy Malibu’s 59 years, we get a sense of what America was like back then, too. It may be hard to consider a world where 12 MPG was considered fantastic fuel economy, and you might be stuck on the part where seat belts were optional, but that was the world in which the Chevy Malibu was born.

Over the years, Chevy has magnificently tracked trends and engineered the Malibu to meet the needs of the day, from engine size and performance to chassis upgrades that would make the ride even more comfortable to incorporating the technology of the day. All in all, drivers of the Malibu have had access to a reliable and enjoyable family sedan for almost 60 years. While that may seem like too little time for a beloved vehicle like the Malibu, Chevy may still have a few surprises for the driving public. Only time will tell!