Do you remember the Chevy Malibu of the early aughts, when it had the sex appeal of Canadian farming equipment and the amenities and handling characteristics to match? It sported reliability ratings that were on par with its appearance, and was a good indication of how lost in the woods GM had become since the golden era of the Chevy Tri-Five sedans.
But regardless of how uninspiring the Malibu became, it sold quite well after its reintroduction to the U.S. market in 1997. Now in it’s ninth generation, the mid-size sedan of middle-class America is back with a brand new take on being built right, and after just twenty minutes in the car, we were quick to realize just how right on the mark GM got it.
By outfitting it with a 2.0-liter turbocharged engine, Chevy has gone to fisticuffs with other forced induction vehicles like the refreshed Kia Optima, the turbo Hyundai Sonata, and the boosted 2.0-liter Ford Fusion. By doing so, it has beaten Japanese automakers to the punch, and with its restyled aerodynamics, attractive interior, and sensational standard amenities, the farming days look to be long gone for the Malibu.
Adding a turbo to the redesign leaves the new Malibu head and shoulders above all the previous generations that came before it. So ditch those old images of the Malibu looking and performing like a stranded combine, because for the first time in recent memory, it deserves to be on your must-drive mid-size sedan shopping list.
Say goodbye to soft lines, rounded headlamps, plump proportions, and shortened wheelbase; the redesigned Malibu does away with all of its old shortcomings with an emphasis on style and road presence. With a wheelbase that’s almost four inches longer than the old version, angular aero updates that are equal parts Volt and ‘Vette, and a set of super sharp “ninja star inspired” alloy wheels, the new Malibu is bigger and bolder in every way.
Exterior pros and cons
+ The sweeping decklid, integrated stainless exhaust ports, and that newly chiseled nose all look terrific.
+ LED headlamps, running lights, LED-clad door handles, and arrowhead taillights all look great.
+ Rolling on a set of slick, 18-inch alloy wheels, the stretched wheelbase looks great from any angle.
– From dead-on, the LED lights on the lower fascia have a kind of Ant Man-type vibe to them.
– No power folding mirrors, active grille shutters, or sunroof.
– The bold, angular, super-hero-like front fascia tapers into clean, crisp side panels, which lead to… some sort of anti-climactic rear quarters.
Putting forth a respectable 250 horsepower and slightly more torque, this 2.0-liter turbo Ecotec motor is a splendid four-cylinder alternative to a V6. Once paired with GM’s eight-speed automatic transmission (the first to find its way onto a FWD vehicle), drivers will see 22/33 miles per gallon gains for city/highway, with 26 MPG overall average being the magic number. Zesty and decisive, this powertrain combo totally lives up to its role.
Powertrain pros and cons
+ 250 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque are both solid numbers, and turbo lag was virtually undetectable.
+ The eight-speed automatic is equal parts refined and reliable, giving reasonable fuel gains in return. Fun fact: The unit is actually sourced from Japan.
+ Grippy traction control technologies, whisper quiet operation levels, and the ability to run on 87 octane.
– No paddle shifters or gated gearbox to take advantage of all that turbo fun. Just a couple of buttons on the gear selector, neither of which inspired visions of performance.
– With it’s new lease on life, how about a new sport model to go with it? A potent V6, for instance?
– Flat-out, the 2.0-liter Ecotec four-banger revs hard and fights for every second to sixty, but doesn’t feel as confident as some of the competition.
Chevy went all in with the soft touch materials on the Malibu, and for the most part, the interior hits all the right marks in good fashion. With its diamond mesh trim pieces and sensationally soft seats, polished metallic plastic accents, and LED cabin lights, the classiness you’ll find punches above its weight. Plus, that additional four inches along the wheelbase means passengers in the backseat get more legroom, so praise the automotive gods for not taking an airline approach to occupant comfort.
Interior pros and cons
+ Brilliantly crafted dash, trampoline-grade seat flexibility, a dual-stack glovebox, and a steering wheel that telescopes out quite far.
+ Electronic E-brake, LED cabin lights, backseat reading lamps, express windows on all four doors, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter, and plenty of headroom.
+ Chevy has given the Malibu’s backseat an overhaul, and there’s now loads of legroom for everyone.
– Noticeable rattles in the rear, no heated/vented seats, oddly creased steering wheel.
– Many of the center stack’s control knobs felt loose, creaky, or cheap, and some of the smaller storage areas seemed cramped.
– Only the fuel pedal gets some sporty aluminum love, and while the MID was brilliant, the cluster design itself looked a bit obtuse.
Tech and safety
That eight-inch touchscreen is both responsive and snazzy, as is the driver MID. With both android Auto and Apple CarPlay on board, 4G LTE WiFi, a bunch of safety tech features, and GM’s tried and true OnStar system, there’s a lot to like within the folds of this bowtie.
Tech pros and cons
+ Both the eight-inch infotainment touchscreen and brightly lit driver MID are colorful, easy to use, and informative.
+ Apple CarPlay and Android Auto now come standard alongside 4G LTE WiFi.
+ Accident mitigation, lane keep assist, blind spot warnings, variable cruise control, and all of the other modern day safety tech you could want is here.
– Lane keep assist is not as precise as it could be.
– The only way to get the navi to work is by engaging OnStar.
– Rear seat doesn’t get any charging ports, and there’s no option for a heads-up display like you can get on the Mazda6.
From a driveability standpoint, the new Malibu was a real surprise. Those advertisements where they try to get clueless people to guess what kind of car it is also stands true for how well it performs, as it proves that Chevy is ready to rid itself of all the preconceptions consumers had from previous models.
The turbo spools readily, and even though zero to 60 times hover in the six-second territory, it puts it all to the pavement in a surprisingly ardent fashion. Unfortunately, the soft suspension causes some floating around the interstate at higher speeds, and steering and brake inputs can be soft and mushy, resulting in some nose-dive under heavy braking.
But this isn’t supposed to be a track-ready luxury sedan like the Buick Regal GS, nor is it trying to be. The 2016 Malibu is content with being a sharply redesigned, cushy commuter car that just so happens to have a turbo on it. It does its job quietly and quickly, doesn’t whine when you wail on it, and has just the right amount of creature comforts to make rush hour traffic borderline enjoyable.
Wrap up and review
The rebuilt Malibu hits all the right combos in the proper order, landing it a top spot for best redesigns in recent memory. From it’s bewitching interior and sharp external architecture to its capable turbo 2.0-liter motor and eight-speed gearbox, this sedan has squashed all thought that this is just another mundane Malibu.
While it would be nice to see some heavier control knobs, heated/vented seats, and maybe a different steering wheel, all of these issues are easily overshadowed by all of the Malibu’s freshly minted advantages. It has all the space you need, all while not being too unwieldy while galumphing down the freeway.
At $29,495 after delivery, this 2LT model is right on the money too in regard to what the competition is charging for similar sedans. GM deserves an ovation for this one, as it is a complete divergence from all prior manifestations, and stands as a platform for what the bowtie brand is capable of in the near future.