1998 Chevrolet Malibu

I recently began driving a brand-new '98 Chevy Malibu as a company car. After years of Ford Tempos it was great to finally roll into the '90s – and find that the Malibu is a great "working car" for the money (the Manufacturer's Suggested retail price starts at $20,595).

The first place any news photographer goes to check out a new car is the trunk. We work out of our trunks, all day, every day.

This one is big and with a completely flat bottom, and the lid gives good rain protection (it covers much of the interior when open).A lot of our trunk time involves loading film in cameras and changing lenses, so remote keyless entry to the trunk is a bonus: walk up to the trunk after a long shoot, arms full of cameras and lenses and flashes, punch the trunk button on the key ring and, pop! You can dump the gear in the trunk without even breaking stride. (It works from about 30 feet.)

Okay, now head for the driver's seat.

Push the remote unlock button . . . you do have to actually open the door with your hand . . . but hey, no more worrying about frozen door locks.

Sit down to find a comfortable seat, nice driving position, and all the toys. Remember this is a company fleet car – and I can remember when a plain AM radio was an unthinkable luxury. This has everything: cruise control, power mirrors, windows, door locks, tilt steering wheel, air, AM/FM cassette, and a 12-volt accessory plug.

The glove box is big enough for The Star's standard-issue giant Map Art map book and a full-size box of Kleenex.

And they put the catch release on the left of the lid so that it is reachable from the driver's seat. This is so simple you wonder why did it take so long for carmakers to come up with that idea. The single best accessory is the portable radio holder on the left side of the steering wheel. Another great innovation: removable PVC cup and coin holder liners.

We photographers eat a lot of lunches in our cars. So once the cupholders are all yucky, getting them clean means popping out the liners for a wash. Easy.

And when you miss the cupholder and spill a fresh cup of coffee on the driver's door armrest, the power window switches keep working as if nothing happened.

Talk about user-friendly.

The single best accessory, however, is the portable radio holder on the left side of the steering wheel.

GM thinks it's a cupholder, but I knew what is was really intended for. It's secure, it holds the receiver high enough for the driver to see and hear it, and the antenna stays above the dash line for better reception.

I also must mention the fuse panel. It's in the dash, facing the open driver's door. This means there won't be any more lying upside down with a flashlight to check for burnt fuses. It's right there in broad daylight and GM has seen fit to supply spare fuses and a fuse puller tool in the cover.

The last thing to consider is how the car actually drives.

The Malibu's powertrain does well. Power delivery is smooth, and the automatic transmission shifts smoothly. The power steering is quick and precise, and the interior stays quiet.

Parking is a major problem in the city these days, and having driven a full-size Chevrolet Lumina for the previous four months, I appreciate how the Malibu (which is almost a foot

shorter) gets into small spots. I touch parked my way into a spot that was only 12 to 14

inches longer than the car.

Okay, there must be something I didn't like. Well, the factory tires ride very harshly. The ride is a little choppy compared to the Lumina's.

The Lumina felt much nicer on the highway but it is more boat-like in its handling.

The Malibu is much sportier. If I was driving from Toronto to Montreal, I'd take the Lumina but for around-town driving, this is a great car.

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