The 2018 Chevrolet Malibu is on the third year of its generation. It was redesigned for 2016 to bring substantially improved handling and road manners. Malibu is relatively small on the outside but space efficient on the inside.
The 2018 Malibu gets an appearance package called Redline, but otherwise it’s unchanged.
The base engine is a 1.5-liter turbo four making 163 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque, working with a 6-speed automatic. The 1.5-liter gets 30 miles per gallon combined, the 2.0-liter gets 26 mpg, and the hybrid gets 46 mpg.
The stronger engine is a 2.0-liter turbo four that makes 250 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque, and feels like a V6. It’s mated to a 9-speed automatic.
There’s also a Malibu Hybrid, with a 1.8-liter engine making 182 horsepower, tied or wired to two electric motors with a battery pack.
Malibu gets five stars in crash testing from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave it a Top Safety Pick award.
There are quite a few active safety features available in the top models. Malibu’s systems work in a manner that might be described as subtle and firm. Not all such systems are the same, some seem to be always snatching at you and scolding you.
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. Front and rear parking sensors are available, as is automatic parking assist.
Base L trim level targets fleet buyers. In the showroom, customers can choose a Malibu LS, LT, Premier, or Hybrid, all of which include a rearview camera as standard. All Malibus have 10 airbags.
Malibu L ($21,680) uses the 1.5-liter engine with basic features, 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 wife 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.
At its last redesign, the Malibu got a bit longer and a lot lighter and more rigid. The nose of the then-new Malibu got dropped and stretched. It looks good, with the same design cues as the larger Impala, but with better proportions. In profile, it looks balanced. As a midsize sedan, Malibu is on the small side.
The doors are wide, the windshield pillars are slim, and the rear window and taillights are narrow. From head-on, the Malibu almost looks bold, at least compared to when it was humdrum.
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, the Malibu feels light and nimble, a pleasure to drive, compared to most midsize sedans. It’s impressively agile.
The 1.5-liter turbo gets by fine, even on long freeway jaunts, with its 163 horsepower. The only time it really works hard is on mountain grades. Even when it’s pushed, the engine stays quiet. The 6-speed automatic upshifts at the right time.
The turbocharged 2.0-liter engine is more powerful and refined. It will satisfy your need for a V6. It accelerates with enthusiasm. It doesn’t have or need driving modes, because the standard fixed calibrations deliver fine performance without fuss.
Among the lightest sedans in the midsize group, Malibu feels firm but well-composed, with its suspension tuned for comfort. There’s a minimal amount of engine drone. Most wind and road noises are suppressed, though rough surfaces might transmit some vibration.
The Malibu Hybrid borrows technology from the Volt, and can briefly run on battery power, but it’s intended to be driven in a conventional manner. It’s quite quick, accelerating to 60 mph in 7.8 seconds. And unlike many hybrids, nothing is lost in the sharpness of the handling, from the all-gas model. The steering feels no less vivid.
The Chevy Malibu delivers composed handling, quiet ride, efficient powertrains, comfortable interior, good value, affordable, spacious for a midsize, 30 mpg with the base 1.5-liter turbo having enough horsepower and torque to be there for you. Putting it that way, it sounds pretty darn good.
Sam Moses contributed to this review, with staff reports.