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A Short History of the GM Epsilon 2004-12: Chevy Malibu, Pontiac G6 and Saturn Aura

28691 rear coverRecently, we combined two of our popular manuals: 2004-12 Chevrolet Malibu (Chilton 28691), 2005-09 Pontiac G6/2007-09 Saturn Aura (Chilton 28730). The three midsize cars from General Motors were all built upon the Epsilon platform developed with input from European subsidiary Opel, and aimed at the Honda Accord, and Toyota Camry. All three had a lot to offer customers, from fuel-sipping hybrids, to basic transportation, to high-performance barnstormers, and even a unique convertible.

Here’s a brief look at this trio of early 21st-century GM midsizers, found in the new Chilton 28691, covering 2004-12 Malibu, 2005-10 G6, and 2005-10 Aura.

“Gas-friendly to gas-free”

Our manual doesn’t cover the specifics of the hybrid powertrains, but we would be remiss not to mention them. The Pontiac G6 didn’t have a hybrid in its lineup, but the Saturn Aura Green Line and Chevy Malibu Hybrid were two of nearly 30 GM “gas-friendly to gas-free” vehicles talked up by the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Ryan Seacrest, and more in a promotional radio push in 2007 and 2008. Both were mild hybrids, with a 2.4-liter Ecotec engine augmented by an electric motor/generator which replaced the alternator, and delivered an EPA-estimated 26 mpg city/34 mpg highway rating. Both hybrids were discontinued in 2010, but a similar system called eAssist was introduced on the 2012 Buick Lacrosse and the 2016 Chevy Silverado truck.

“You get a car! You get a car! Everyone gets a car!”

Chevy Malibu 28691 CoverThe Pontiac G6 (so named because it was the sixth-generation Grand Am) was launched in the fall of 2004 with a publicity stunt that is still remembered to this day. On the opening of the 19th season of The Oprah Winfrey Show, they held a big giveaway where 276 G6s were given to audience members. However, the cars seen on TV were only promotional, the audience had to pick theirs up at their local dealerships. Later, this led to blowback when they each had to pay a gift tax of up to $7,000 on their car, depending on the state.

The Pontiac was the only one out of this trio to offer a coupe, sedan, and convertible, and the G6 convertible had a gimmick of its own. The convertible was no ordinary convertible, but a retractable two-piece clamshell hard top by Karmann. Within 30 seconds, you can praise the sun or keep winter’s chill at bay, with the push of a button. Plus, you didn’t have to worry about anyone slashing the roof to get at whatever valuables were inside.

 

Chevy Malibu MAXX

The Chevy Malibu MAXX, on the other hand, presented a handier way to carry the biggest of valuables; your children. The short-lived hatchback/wagon, or, as Chevrolet called the MAXX, a “five-door extended coupe,” had a longer wheelbase to accommodate the odd backside, which couldn’t decide if it wanted to be a trunk lid or a hatch. The wheelbase stretch allowed sliding rear seats, which when all the way back gave passengers 41 inches of legroom, and the MAXX cargo area could hold 23 cubic feet of goods, seven more than the trunk of the sedan.  Rear seat passengers also got glass panels in the roof, a throwback to Oldsmobile Vista and Custom Cruisers of the past. This car, discontinued in 2007, truly lived up to its name.

Power to the people

Pontiac G6 28730 CoverThe 2006-2007 Chevrolet Malibu SS and Malibu MAXX SS both used the 3.9-liter LZ9 pushrod V6 delivering 240 horses and 240 lb-ft of torque. That may not seem like much now, but was plenty to smoke the front tires through the 4T65-E four-speed automatic transmission with Tap-Up/Tap-Down shifting. While not fast, even for 2006, it did get to 60 mph in less than seven seconds and would corner with more than .83g of grip, enough to scatter groceries all over the way-back. Take note, less than 3,000 Malibu MAXX SS examples were built, if you are looking for a cheap collector car for a 2050 car show.

The Pontiac G6 performance arrived in 2006 with the GTP model in sedan, coupe, and convertible. The GTP used the same 3.9-liter V6 with variable valve timing (a first for a pushrod motor) as the Malibu SS, but at Pontiac it could be paired with the six-speed F40 manual transmission to get to 60 mph in just 6.2 seconds. The GTP convertible had to make do with just 227 horses, however, as it had a more restrictive exhaust system; it also could only be had with the standard four-speed automatic optional in other GTPs. In 2007 the GTP coupe and sedan received a DOHC 3.6-liter V6 making 252 horsepower, mated to a new six-speed automatic, which got 0-60 mph down to under six seconds. Things were shuffled in 2008, and the GTP became the GXP with more dramatic styling, though the performance version of the convertible was dropped.

Epsilon lives on

The Chevy Malibu, Pontiac G6, and Saturn Aura each had their own take on the Epsilon platform and on what a GM midsized car should offer customers. Alas, the 2008 auto industry collapse during the Great Recession helped to sweep the G6 and Aura into the dustbin of history along with the Saturn and Pontiac brands. A Pontiac G6 was allegedly the last-ever Pontiac to leave the assembly line, when a last batch of 100 rolled off the Orion assembly line for fleet use. The Chevy Malibu, on the other hand, would continue on the Epsilon chassis at the New GM until 2012, when the next generation on the revised Epsilon II platform was launched. This genuinely world-class platform has underpinned everything from Cadillacs, Buicks, and Saabs, on down to Chevys and Fiats, and continues to be a best seller today.

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