The all-new 2016 Chevrolet Malibu ranks among the best of the midsize sedans. It was a finalist for the 2016 North American Car of the Year award, and compares well against Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Ford Fusion, Kia Optima, Nissan Altima and Maxima. The Malibu’s refinement, comfort, easy-to-use controls, driving pleasure, and fuel-efficiency add up to a great sedan.
With its new design and entirely new structure, the 2016 Malibu has moved closer to the larger Chevrolet Impala in shape as well as dimensions. Following the trend toward lightness and efficiency, weight has been cut by nearly 300 pounds over the previous-generation Malibu. No V6 option is offered for this generation, and no engine is bigger than 2.0 liters.
Most 2016 Malibu models come with a new 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Developing 160 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque, the new engine feels smoother and stronger than the old 2.5-liter it replaces. Quiet-running and neatly composed, the turbocharged 1.5-liter engine mates with a 6-speed automatic transmission.
The 2016 Malibu 2LT and Malibu Premier get a 2.0-liter four-cylinder. Generating 250 horsepower and 258 pound-feet, it drives an 8-speed automatic, which promises more precise, well-defined gearchanges. The 2.0-liter models feel as swift as some V6 forerunners, and rank among the most refined cars of their class.
The 2016 Malibu Hybrid couples a 1.8-liter four-cylinder gas engine with twin electric motors and a 1.5-kWh battery pack for combined output of 182 horsepower. Chevrolet claims 0-60 mph acceleration in 8.2 seconds. The Hybrid can function at times in full-electric mode, up to 55 mph, and is EPA-rated at 48 mpg in combined driving. We’ve found the Malibu hybrid powertrain to be a smooth operator.
Inside, the 2016 Malibu seems significantly more spacious than before, though dimensions haven’t changed much. The dashboard is lower than previously. New seats provide better support, besting some rivals in comfort. Noise has been suppressed by rerouting air intakes and adding active noise cancellation. Few engine sounds are heard.
MyLink connectivity comes on most models with a big, crisp touchscreen. OnStar 4G LTE, for establishing a wireless hub, is available.
All except the 2016 Malibu L come with a rearview camera. Active-safety features are offered, including new Front Pedestrian Alert; but some are available only for Malibu LT and Malibu Premier models. With the new Teen Driver system, parents can specify a maximum speed, and the vehicle tracks infractions. Malibu comes with 10 airbags.
The 2016 Malibu L ($ 21,625) comes with the 1.5-liter engine, cloth upholstery, air conditioning, steering-wheel audio controls, cruise control, keyless start, a split-folding rear seat, and 16-inch steel wheels. Malibu LS ($23,120) adds a rearview camera, automatic headlights, and MyLink seven-inch touchscreen radio with Bluetooth streaming audio. (All prices are MSRP and do not include destination charge.)
Malibu LT ($25,020) includes OnStar with 4G LTE, ambient lighting, LED daytime running lights, power driver’s seat, and 17-inch wheels. The 2.0-liter engine and 8-speed automatic go into Malibu LT2 ($28,620) models.
Premier ($30,920) gets the 2.0-liter engine and upgrades to leather upholstery, an eight-inch touchscreen with navigation, wireless charging, remote start, USB ports, driver’s memory, heated/ventilated power front seats, heated steering wheel, dual-zone automatic climate control, and 19-inch wheels.
Malibu Hybrid is positioned below the Premier in terms of equipment.
The 2016 Malibu is a handsome, smartly balanced design. Malibu shuns the tall, awkward look of its 2013-15 predecessor, lowering the nose and extending the doors while adding 2.3 inches to overall length and 3.6 inches to wheelbase. Despite that dimensional increase, Malibu remains at the smaller end of the size spectrum in its class.
Sculpted body panels meet in a gentle intersection, and proportions have been stretched out. Usage of more high-strength steel permits slimmer roof pillars, which improve forward vision. Headlights and air intakes sit atop an enlarged, lower-set twin grille.
The entire body structure is totally new.
Relatively understated, the 2016 Malibu cabin looks elegant, even charming. The prior upright, two-tiered dashboard is gone, replaced by a conventional design. Buttons are used for some control functions, and the center stack holds bigger MyLink infotainment screens, with storage space. Soft-touch surfaces are abundant.
Serene and spacious, this Malibu is more passenger-friendly than the previous model. Headroom is a bit restricted by the swooping roofline, but still among the best in its class though tall riders might not like the carved-out portions of the headliner. Seats feel sturdy, with ample bolstering as well as sufficient support for long treks.
Rear legroom feels much greater than before.
Wind and road sounds are mostly isolated from occupants, though you’re likely to notice certain impacts and rough pavement patches.
Trunk space measures 15.8 cubic feet; Malibu Hybrid offers 11.6 cubic feet.
On the road, the new Malibu feels confident and nimble. The suspension tuning offers a nice balance, firm enough for composure and responsive handling, yet with sufficient compliance for ride comfort.
The 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine is quiet and nicely composed. Only when traversing long upgrades, and in passing situations, does it feel like a taxed base engine.
The 2.0-liter four-cylinder delivers plenty of torque at lower engine speeds. Refinement and smooth behavior rank near the head of the midsize pack. In fact, the 2-liter Malibu beats the Ford Fusion EcoBoost for friskiness and easygoing drivability. Transmission gearchanges are sharp, but paddle shifters for manual control aren’t included (like anyone actually uses them).
Steering response is a strong point. Even the least-costly Malibu gets excellent electric power steering, which feels natural and precise. Malibu is among the lightest sedans in its category, and often feels more like a compact.
Although the new Malibu Hybrid shares technology with the Chevrolet Volt, there’s no EV button for battery-only driving. Steering feels no different from a gas-engine Malibu, and 0-60 mph acceleration takes 7.8 seconds, a respectable performance.
Fuel-efficiency is a high point for Malibu: The 1.5-liter engine is EPA-rated at 27/37 mpg City/Highway, or 31 mpg Combined. Less thrifty, the 2-liter four-cylinder is EPA-rated at 22/33 mpg City/Highway, or 26 mpg Combined. Malibus with the 1.5-liter engine include stop-start technology, which will halt the engine at stoplights as a fuel-saving measure.
Frugal powertrains and up-to-date connectivity technology meet a beautifully balanced new look, making Malibu one of the best values in the midsize-sedan class. In any form, the 2016 version is a different sort of Malibu.
Driving impressions by Bengt Halvorson, The Car Connection. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.