Last year, I spent a week commuting in the outgoing Chevrolet Malibu (reviewed here). It did everything asked of it, got reasonable fuel economy and looked agreeable. It was a good car, but even my GM-loving self couldn’t come up with a good reason to choose the Malibu in the midsize segment, as every competitor is pretty good. At the time of my last test, GM had started teasing veiled photos of the new model, and I was getting a little anxious to see if Chevrolet would be able to break free from the Malibu’s boring image. To finally find out for myself, I took a week with a brand new 2016 Chevrolet Malibu LT to see how it stacks up.
Big changes are obvious on the outside, with Chevrolet’s new aerodynamic swept-back design language, an aggressive stanc,e and new LED daytime running lights. I am a little undecided on the new styling; the side profile looks great from some angles, but awkward from others. I do like the clean and crisp looking rear end, but the front fascia has way too much going on for my tastes. The new LED running lamps are a nice touch, but the strange half-boomerang shape stands out as a little odd to me.
The best news on the outside of the new Malibu is that it now looks like a modern and competitive midsize sedan. The bad news however is that despite a few distinctive features, and the obvious badging, there is little indication in the styling that this is in fact a Chevrolet. That said, my Crystal Red test car did collect a surprising amount of compliments and looks during my week with it, and both the color (a $455 option) and styling seem to be very well received. I even had a couple of strangers who were currently looking for a new sedan approach me at a gas station to ask about the car.
The interior in the new Malibu is also vastly improved over the 2015 model. Similar to the rest of Chevrolet’s car lineup, the interior styling carries the fluidic and swooped design language. Getting into the Malibu, you’re greeted by a deep but curvy dashboard that flows well into the door panels and centre console, giving the inside a very cohesive and integrated feeling. This space is splashed with a few tasteful design elements such as a cloth dash fascia, sporty aluminum pedals, and plenty of bright aluminum trim.
However, there are also plenty of hard plastics to be found, which cheapen the overall feel. The focal point of the interior though is the 8” MyLink touchscreen infotainment system which not only offers intuitive navigation, satellite radio, and Bluetooth integration, but now also includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. This in turn allows the driver to make the most of his/her smartphone while in the car with minimal distraction. In addition to that, the Malibu comes with its own 4G-LTE hotspot as well as wireless device charging for phones that support this feature.
From a technology standpoint I’d put the Malibu right at the top of its class, and for some shoppers that alone may be reason enough to give it some serious consideration. One of the nice things about the car is that you don’t need to spend a fortune to have all this tech; my tester in LT trim is considered a mid-range model. While the LT can be optioned out with just about any comfort or convenience feature you might want for about $30,000, a base LT like my tester starts at just over $25,000.
Our specific car did come with a $995 Convenience and Tech package, which upgraded the touch screen to 8” and added a handy remote starter. It also came with a pricey $1,425 full-length glass sunroof, which I probably would have skipped. That brings the as-tested price to $28,220, and at this price the Malibu is missing a few comfort features. Specifically, the cloth seats in my tester are not heated, and the climate control has no auto mode requiring frequent adjustments to stay comfortable. Also, the Malibu’s seats didn’t really agree with my body. While not overly uncomfortable, I did find myself getting unsettled after spending more than an hour or so in the car. The rear seats are large enough to keep two adults happy though, and the trunk space is in-line with the rest of the segment.
Where the Malibu does start to feel more comfortable is out on the road. Highway manners are great and the stylish sedan eats up mile after mile on the highway while keeping the cabin tight, quiet and drama-free. Steering feel is electrically assisted, but it’s not as disconnected feeling as some of the other systems out there, and on-centre feel is nice with no play. The suspension is surely tuned for comfort and the Malibu handles most of the city’s bumps with composure. The slightly soft suspension means there is detectable body roll in hard cornering, but it’s not noticeable under normal conditions and sportiness isn’t a big concern in this segment.
The Malibu has two engine options; both with four cylinders – gone are the hay-days of V6-powered domestic midsizers. I am not sure when it happened but here we are. The larger of the two engines is a 2.0L turbo outputting a healthy V6-like 250 horsepower, which comes mated to an 8-speed automatic. This motor is only available in the top-line Malibu Premier. The rest of the line-up, my tester included, gets the 1.5L turbocharged four-cylinder outputting a humble 160 horsepower, mated to a traditional 6-speed automatic.
The Malibu’s relatively low power numbers are noticeable at lower speeds around town, but passing at speed is graceful and easy with the help from the turbocharger. The 6-speed does a good job making use of all available power. It’s not a fast car by any means, but it’s not dreadfully slow either and I am confident that the 1.5T is more than enough engine for the average driver; especially when you consider the benefits.
These benefits come in the form of savings at the pump. During my week of rush hour commuting I averaged an impressive 8.3L/100km. Considering the painful rush hour traffic I contend with daily, that’s a great number for a midsize sedan and my highway runs led me to believe that on a dedicated road trip, the Malibu could easily return numbers in the mid-6L/100km range. Keep in mind as well that despite being turbocharged, the Malibu is happy to run on regular 87-octane regular grade fuel.
I am happy to say that the folks at Chevrolet have built a very competitive and relevant midsizer that will certainly earn its place in the crowded market. It may not be the most exciting choice around, but much like the outgoing model, it handles the day-to-day grind very well. In my opinion, the biggest advantage the Malibu has today is its class leading technology suite. If you’re someone who travels in the car a lot, having the 4G-LTE hotspot and a system as well integrated as the Malibu’s can be a great asset. Nothing is compromised – the Malibu is still a pleasant, composed and efficient workhorse for whatever your daily grind might be.