No longer rental fleet fodder, the 2016 Malibu is impressively modern and refined.
Review and photos by Tom Sedens
Click on any picture to see a larger version.
The Malibu nameplate has long caused us to cringe, for many of the previous generations have been bland and uninspired, seemingly engineered expressly to end up in rental and corporate lease fleets. Chevrolet must have woken from some kind of slumber, because the all-new 2016 Malibu has arrived with some real swagger in its step. And it is a refreshing change.
It all starts with a sleek, sculpted exterior. No longer the plainest car in the segment, the new Malibu looks long and low, and I found that it has some serious stance, bringing a true presence to the road. Its front fascia is expressive, without deviating too far from the current corporate snout, and the LED daytime running lights make a nice impression as it comes down the street toward you.
I really liked the newfound confidence in the Malibu styling and the whole thing comes off as quite a bold statement, to be honest. Particularly when compared to former Malibus. And those 18-inch rims shod with meaty 245/45s look fantastic!
The changes don’t end on the outside. I took a load off in the handsome leather seats – which are heated, power-adjustable and very comfortable – and let the refined cockpit soak in. The materials feel nice and the three-tone scheme – a couple of earthy tones which contrast nicely with the stitched brown leather panels on the dash and door panels – is luxurious. On top of that, the fit and finish appear to be outstanding.
I loved the fantastic steering wheel – grippy and surprisingly compact, it felt great in hand. Chevy adds an excellent driver information screen between the gauges but the real winner is the 7-inch MyLink touchscreen. It’s sharp, responsive and sports a clean interface. Its job is to handle your phone and vehicle settings, the navigation and the sweet-sounding 9-speaker Bose system. It has all the newest tricks too, including Apple CarPlay (which I tested, and it’s outstanding) and Android Auto. Something that caught me off guard in a seemingly well-equipped car was the manual climate control system – you have to step up to the hybrid or the Premier trim to get an automatic climate control, which I find a bit weird.
There are plenty of high-end touches though, like the huge sunroof overhead with a power sunshade, the 4G LTE wi-fi hotspot (that can handle up to seven devices), a back-up camera with dynamic trajectory lines and the universal garage door opener.
In the past, the Malibu’s rear seat has been too small to be competitive in this category. But now even the back seats are a nice place to be. First of all, the rear doors open wide to make getting in and out easy and once I got in, I was impressed with a spacious seating area. I found ample leg and head room, although both of those are slightly limited in the narrower, raised middle seating position – with that said, it still works for a third adult passenger. A major improvement!
My three kids were more than happy with the room in the back. And guess what else they were happy with? The plug-in situation. Two USB plugs, a 12V plug and a regular household plug all on the back of the console – thank you, Chevy, for understanding my kids’ charging needs!
The Malibu has a few thoughtful places to put your stuff. The centre console has a smallish rubberized tray at the front, where you’ll also find a couple of USB plugs, the auxiliary input and a 12V plug. I liked the handy vertical smartphone slot (my iPhone 6 fit perfectly) at the back of the console with its wireless charging capability, as well as the carpeted bin under the armrest lid.
A big sedan comes with a big trunk – 448 litres worth of it in the Malibu’s case. And the 60/40-split rear seats fold down to create more room if you need it.
Under the Hood
Chevrolet didn’t hold off in the engine bay either. A brand-new turbocharged 1.5-litre 4-cylinder shows up here, mated to a 6-speed automatic. It puts out 163 HP and 184 lb.ft of torque. While these numbers don’t impress on paper, it’s important to note that this large front-wheel drive sedan only weighs 1418 kg (3126 lb) and the power-to-weight ratio is just fine, thank you very much. The new Malibu sets out to make you proud at the pump – Chevrolet rates it at 8.7 L/100 km (27 US mpg) in the city and 6.3 L/100 km (37 US mpg) on the highway. I ended up with an average of 9.4 L/100 km (25 US mpg), which is pretty awesome for a big sedan that is stuck in slow, stop and go commuting with a couple of freeway drives thrown in.
Obviously this engine’s forte is not drag racing, although it never feels slow or underpowered. When you do step on it, and once you overcome the momentary lag, it doesn’t get buzzy and it never feels stressed out. It has enough torque to have some character, and pulls surprisingly well in all gears. There’s a little 4-cylinder snarl, but just enough to remind you there’s an engine under the hood. But where it really excels is in everyday driving, where the engine just shows up and does its job. That’s obviously the point and Chevrolet did a great job tuning this engine for this application.
The transmission is smooth, with an occasional hesitation between shifts – I appreciated that it didn’t always immediately head for the highest gear possible, and would often stay in the appropriate gear for the situation. Gears can be shifted manually with an awkward pivoting button on top of the gear selector that, to me, never felt natural to use.
And the surprises just keep coming. The new Malibu’s suspension is really, really well sorted. It starts with a sporty ride that borders on Euro-firm – you won’t find any of the float you might expect. But what made me even happier was the surprisingly agile feeling for a large sedan. Any time I took on a corner or a curve with some gusto, I was impressed with well-controlled handling, predictable steering (it’s speed sensitive) and a competent, balanced car.
Chevy makes a big deal about the work they did to handle road and wind noise, and they aren’t kidding. The Malibu is very quiet and refined, including at highway speeds. This goes for the Malibu’s auto start/stop technology as well – it’s not intrusive at all, and if you’re not paying attention, you might not even notice your engine shut off and started again when you took your foot off the brake. It is very smooth and other higher-end brands could learn a thing or two here. Visibility out of the car is very good, and the brakes are powerful.
As I came to the end of my time with the new Malibu, I found myself truly impressed with what Chevy has done here. It’s a great-looking everyday driver that would be a smart, comfortable ride to commute with. But Chevrolet decided to go all the way with this one, and added a nicely designed, well thought-out interior, and a truly modern drivetrain that finds an ideal balance between performance and efficiency. If more performance is required, you can always step up to the Premier trim and get a 250 HP 2.0 turbo four with an 8-speed automatic.
WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor) was quite high. While she’s not a big fan of sedans, she noted that it was an exceptionally smooth driving car and she said the interior looks like it belongs in a vehicle that costs a lot more.
The Malibu is a serious contender in the seriously crowded mid-size sedan category. Yes, the perennial best-sellers are still here (waves at Accord, Fusion and Camry), but plenty of other options exist from competition that wants a piece of the pie. The Nissan Altima, Chrysler 200, Kia Optima, Hyundai Sonata and VW Passat all do their best too, and in the past, the Malibu brought up the rear as it always felt about five years behind the curve. But no more. The 2016 Malibu competes on all fronts, and it does it well.
Disclosure: Vehicle was provided by Don Wheaton.
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Pricing: 2016 Chevrolet Malibu
Base price (LT trim): $25,245
Options: $1,145 iridescent pearl tricoat; $150 block heater; $2,850 True North Edition; $995 Convenience and technology package; $2,620 Leather package; -$1,480 credits for True North Edition and Leather package
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $33,275