Chevrolet Malibu was completely redesigned for the 2016 model year. No longer a humdrum midsize sedan, the Malibu gained a new body structure, lost 300 pounds, and reached a new plateau in road manners, far removed from its predecessor. It’s an excellent example of the forward strides the Detroit Three automakers have made lately.
A 9-speed automatic transmission has been added to the 2017 Chevrolet Malibu Premier trim.
The new 9-speed works with the strongest Malibu engine: a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder that develops 250 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. That Premier 2.0-liter makes a worthy substitute for a V6.
Most models hold a 1.5-liter turbo four, rated at 163 horsepower and 184 pound-feet, working with a 6-speed automatic. 2017 Malibu LT and LS radios gain Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, along with a Teen Driver feature. A new Sport package is available.
For peak fuel-efficiency, Chevrolet continues to offer a Malibu Hybrid. A 1.8-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine, rated at 182 horsepower, teams with dual electric motors and a battery pack.
While the 2016 reworking lengthened the Malibu by several inches, it’s still near the smaller end of its vehicle category. Base L trim level targets fleet buyers. In the showroom, customers can choose a Malibu LS, LT, Premier, or Hybrid.
Malibu has earned a five-star overall crash-test rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, with four stars for rollover (a calculated figure). The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave it a Top Safety Pick award. Except for the base L model, a rearview camera is standard. All Malibus have 10 airbags.
Quite a few active-safety features are available, but mainly for LT and Premier editions. A Front Pedestrian Alert can identify pedestrians ahead, and brake automatically. Adaptive cruise control works with front automatic braking. Also offered are blind-spot monitoring with lane-change alert, rear cross-traffic alert, and active lane keep with lane-departure warning. Unlike some safety systems, those on the Malibu function subtly, yet firmly. Front and rear parking sensors are available, as is automatic parking assist.
Malibus with the 1.5-liter engine are EPA-rated at 27/36 mpg City/Highway, or 30 mpg Combined. With the 2.0-liter turbo, estimates dip substantially to 22/33 mpg City/Highway, or 26 mpg. At the other extreme, the Hybrid is EPA-rated at 49/43 mpg City/Highway, or 46 mpg Combined.
Malibu L ($21,680), which aims at fleet buyers, contains the 1.5-liter engine and such basic features as a six-speaker radio, cruise control, power windows/locks, and 16-inch steel wheels. (All prices are MSRP and do not include $875 destination charge.)
Malibu LS ($23,225) adds a rearview camera, MyLink radio with 7.0-inch touchscreen and Bluetooth connectivity, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, OnStar with wi-fi capability, 16-inch alloy wheels, and an acoustic windshield. A Teen Driver feature can track misbehavior of young drivers. Malibu LT ($25,125) comes with 17-inch wheels, LED headlights and daytime running lights, satellite radio, heated power mirrors, and power driver’s seat.
Malibu Premier ($30,975) steps up to the 2.0-liter engine, as well as an 8.0-inch touchscreen with Bose nine-speaker premium audio, rear-seat USB charging, power heated/ventilated front seats, leather-wrapped heated steering wheel, LED taillights, and 18-inch wheels.
Malibu Hybrid ($27,875) features the gasoline/electric powertrain and is similar to LT trim level, with dual-zone automatic air conditioning and hybrid-specific instrument cluster.
For its 2016 redesign, the Malibu got longer and lighter, helped by additional high-strength steel. Starting with a lower, stretched nose, the current version also grew more handsome than its mundane predecessors. Design cues are similar to those used for the larger Impala, with more satisfying proportions.
Doors are wider than they used to be, windshield pillars are slimmer, and the back window is rather narrow. Taillights also are narrow, while the front end flaunts a bolder look. Viewed from the side, in particular, the Malibu exhibits a nicely balanced appearance.
Despite a relatively short wheelbase, Malibu is one of the most spacious midsize sedans, enhanced by a thoughtful layout and clever packaging. Back-seat legroom reaches 38.1 inches, close to Impala space.
Displaying understated charm, the cabin features a conventionally-styled, relatively low dashboard, expanded toward the corners. The center stack contains a 7.0-inch touchscreen (8.0-inch in Premier). Many owners are likely to welcome the use of control buttons. The driver sits a little lower than in some midsize sedans.
Sound-deadening techniques and active noise cancellation help subdue vibrations, whether from the road or powertrain. Base-level cloth upholstery fails to impress, but upper trim levels are pleasing.
Sensible details include knee-height console padding and substantial seat bolstering. Sufficiently long front-seat bottoms promise good support even for all-day driving.
Back-seat passengers also enjoy good leg support, on a flat floor. Less curvy than some rivals, the Malibu roofline doesn’t cut into headroom. Trunks have 15.8 cubic feet of space (11.6 cubic feet in the Hybrid).
Soft-touch surfaces are plentiful, but interior materials suggest some cost-cutting.
Even in base trim, a Malibu feels light and nimble. Handling capably, it’s a pleasure to drive compared to most midsize sedans.
With 163 horsepower, the 1.5-liter base engine is fine for daily commutes as well as longer-distance treks. Only on mountain grades, is that powertrain likely to feel overtaxed. Even when pushed hard, the 1.5-liter engine is comparatively quiet. The 6-speed automatic doesn’t over-rev the engine before upshifting on the highway, which keeps noise down.
Considerably more powerful as well as refined, the 2.0-liter turbo under Premier hoods suppresses any need for a V6 engine. Even at lower engine speeds, this engine promises eager acceleration. Chevrolet omits the selectable modes for the powertrain and steering boost that have become popular, but the fixed calibrations deliver fine performance without fuss.
Among the lightest sedans in the midsize group, Malibu feels firm but well-composed, with its comfortably-tuned suspension. Though it leans toward comfort over sharpness, any Malibu feels impressively agile â€“ almost like a compact model.
Although the Malibu Hybrid borrows some technology from Chevrolet’s Volt, and can travel short distances on battery power, it’s intended to be driven in a conventional manner. Acceleration to 60 mph is achieved in 7.8 seconds â€“ sufficient to satisfy nearly all midsize sedan owners. Steering feels no less vivid than that of a regular Malibu, though its engine will be heard more often.
Non-hybrid models emit minimal engine drone. Most wind and road noises are suppressed, though rough surfaces might transmit some vibration.
Today’s Malibu delivers composed handling, a quiet ride, efficient powertrains, interior comfort, all in a spacious, quiet, solid midsize four-door. Entry models are short on popular features, but upper-level Malibu models score well on the value scale.
Driving impressions by Aaron Cole, The Car Connection. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.